Horses kicking other horses, other livestock, pets or people can be very dangerous. Some kicking is normal and not a cause for concern. Horses normally kick at flies, and they kick when playing.
Even the gentlest horse may kick when startled, but some horses pick up a bad habit of kicking aggressively at other horses and at people while being ridden or handled. This is definitely cause for concern.
In this article, we explore the reasons why horses kick and provide good advice to help prevent and deal with this problem. Read on to learn more.
Why Do Horses Kick?
There are many reasons why horses kick. The first thing you must do when dealing with problem kicking is determine why your horse is kicking.
Here are some triggers to look for:
- Defense of food, foal or even of you if the horse feels another horse, animal or person is presenting a threat
- In response to being startled by the sudden approach of a person, horse or other animal from behind
- In response to unfamiliar equipment that has not been properly introduced (especially a cart or wagon)
- Out of sheer boredom if kept in a stall or small corral for extended periods of time
- In response to anticipated pain from improper saddling and girthing
- In response to a disliked animal (e.g. cat, dog, goat, pony, donkey)
- In response to improperly fitted, loose or dragging equipment
- Self defense against another aggressive horse or a predator
- To ward off unwanted advances by a stallion
- Unskillful handling (especially by a farrier)
- Romping and playing with a friend
- Pests such as ants in the pasture
- Prickly weeds in the pasture
- In response to crowding
- Pain in the belly (colic)
Clearly, some of these reasons make sense. If your horse is kicking because you are hurting him when you tack him up, or you have decided to hitch him to a wagon or cart with no introduction, or he has been startled, crowded or threatened by another horse, animal or person, or he is bored out of his mind, the burden of change is on you.
Keep your horse healthy and safe. Don’t sneak up on your horse. Prevent other people and animals from harassing him. Learn to introduce, apply and use equipment correctly. If he has a strong dislike of a certain type of animal, don’t take any chances. Keep him separate from that type of animal. Be sure your horse has ample room to move around and exercise.
Aggressive Kicking Needs Professional Help
Horses that kick occasionally for a logical reason are different than horses that kick out of meanness, disrespect or defiance. A spoiled horse is one that has learned that it can avoid interaction and get its own way through aggression, including kicking.
This can be very hard (if not impossible) to deal with. A horse that greets you with aggression and/or kicks defiantly while you are handling and grooming him needs professional help from a good trainer.
You will need training too, to learn how to deal with this horse once his training is successfully completed. Aggressive kicking is a bad habit, and it won’t take much for a horse to slip back into this habit if all his handlers are not on the same page with the same, effective training and handling techniques.
How To Prevent Kicking Or Nip It In The Bud
First, avoid situations that will cause kicking. If your horse doesn’t kick now, keep it that way by treating your horse with respect and providing stewardship that protects him from poor handling and upsetting, frightening, aggravating situations.
- When working around your horse, remember to veer wide around the hind legs unless you are grooming and need to be in close. Make sure that anyone who comes around knows to stay back, no matter how gentle your horse is. Don’t let people walk up close to his rear.
- Work with your horse on responding to leg aids so that you can signal him to shift his rear end to one side or another when riding. This will enable you to redirect him and move him out of the way in the event another horse comes up too fast or moves in too close.
- If your horse does have a tendency to kick, you should tie a red ribbon onto his tail so that others will be warned. You might just do this anyway to prevent others from crowding you.
- If you are riding in a group, keep yourself and your horse positioned so that other horses aren’t running up on his heels. If this becomes problematic, drop to the back of the group.
- Always call out to your horse when approaching him from behind so that he will know you are there.
- Always introduce new equipment gradually so that your horse can become accustomed to it.
- Don’t allow service people (e.g. veterinarians, farriers, etc.) to mishandle your horse.
- Don’t let children and small pets run under and around horses.
- Don’t force your horse into crowded situations.
Horses who are handled fairly and humanely don’t usually kick, but any horse who is startled, bullied, threatened, hurt or mishandled may start kicking. Once this behavior is learned, it can quickly become bad habit. For this reason, you must always be vigilant and avoid situations that would trigger a kick response.
Be Aware Of Your Surroundings And Pay Close Attention To Your Horse
Determine what triggers kicking in your horse and eliminate triggers where possible. When riding, keep your eyes peeled so that you see his triggers before he does. If you see a situation brewing that may cause kicking, redirect your horse before he is triggered.
Watch your horse’s body language as you handle him and as you ride. Pay attention to the direction of his gaze, the set of his ears and the way he moves and reacts to the surrounding area. If you are riding, you’ll feel him tense or recoil in response to stimuli.
Learn to recognize signs that your horse is about to kick and make necessary adjustments (e.g. change direction, move away from the trigger, drop back in the group) to prevent that from happening. With time and patience and careful stewardship, your horse may eventually lose the need to kick.