Is Your Horse Kicking? Here's What You Can Do

October 08, 2021

Is Your Horse Kicking? Here's What You Can Do

A horse kick has the potential to transform a peaceful afternoon with an equestrian into a dangerous and frightening situation. Horse kicks are dangerous, and usually unexpected - not even the most experienced trainers can always anticipate a kick coming. 

However, there is a logic behind why a horse kicks. This is an instinctive reaction that could indicate many things they're experiencing. 

If your horse is kicking, we're here to help explain what might be the problem. Below, we'll share some explanations about why horses kick and what you can do to calm them down.

What Does a Horse Kick Look Like?

Horse kicks can happen in two ways. They might kick sideways with one leg, nicknamed a 'cow-kick.' Or, they might kick backward with one leg. 

No matter which way the horse kicks, they become truly dangerous if anybody is close by. When both hind legs are engaged together, they can reach an adult person as high as head level and cause a serious blow to the ground.

Why Do They Kick?

Trainers and people who care for horses view kicks as a tool for communication. Kicks are not a reflection of a poorly behaved horse. Rather, they're instinctive reactions. Even the most laid-back and friendly horses will kick from time to time. 

Sometimes they are playful and might take place when a youngster is leaping about a field. In other cases, a bossy or aggressive mare might use kicks to show dominance towards its trainer. However, in a large proportion of cases, kicks are a form of defense mechanism. They are a reaction to a perceived threat. This could be from feeling aggression from its herd, for example, being walked into a dark horsebox or simply feeling cornered in its stall.

Kicks can even indicate emotion. Maybe your horse is angry, hurt, frustrated, or even happy. However, kicks usually indicate annoyance. With frustration, there is a difference in general demeanor from when the horse is frightened.

Kicking can also indicate pain in a horse's body. For example, kicking from the abdomen is a common sign that a horse suffers from stomach issues.

Why Is It a Problem?

Kicks are a problem because they can be debilitating to both the horses and those working with them. From one horse to another, kicks can cause real damage and are one of the most common causes of fractions in these animals. 

Some will develop bad habits of repetitively kicking their walls or stalls. This can cause permanent injuries, with harder kicks leading to severe strains and fractures.

According to the Emergency Medicine Journal, a horse's kick can transfer a force of more than 10,000 Newtons to the body. Horse care should be a rewarding experience, and no one should put themselves in danger of being kicked or badly hurt due to unnecessary kicking.

Can Anything Be Done to Stop Horse Kicking?

It is essential to deal with a kicker right away. The good news is there are several things you can do to stop horses from kicking. In general, you must get in the habit of listening to your horse and responding to its needs.

You can help reduce a horse's anxiety in horse training by slowly working through any issues with compassion.

Out in the field, you can see whether there is a problem with the herd. Aggressive herd-mates are one of the most common reasons that kicking might occur. Some bossy horses have a history of using kicking to try to show dominance, and they must be trained.

You can reprimand your horse to discourage them from kicking. A tap with a crop on its hindquarters can be effective if done straight away. In other cases, a tug of the lead shank may work better.  

How to Avoid Being Kicked

Safety has to be an absolute priority when it comes to working with horses, and that includes knowing how to avoid being kicked. 

Whatever your relationship may be with the horse, watch out for where you are standing. In particular, try your best to steer clear of the hind legs. With playful horses, turn their face towards you as you remove their halter or shank and step backward as you exit the space. 

Hierarchy is hard to establish if a horse has spent years dominating the riders and trainers around it, so working with a professional to help you is highly recommended. 

What to Look Out For

Body language is absolutely crucial in helping you decipher any behavioral issues that could lead to kicking. In horse training, kicks may seemingly come out of nowhere. But more often, there has been some earlier indication of the horse's mood. 

For example, pinned ears indicate frustration or fear. When a horse senses a threat, it will try and move away from the danger and may subsequently raise its hind legs.

When a horse is annoyed, you'll usually see head flipping, lunging forward, pinned ears, and a slightly different body language combination which is apparent when you are with the horse.

Should I Try Kicking Chains?

Physical tools can help you handle this behavior. For example, kicking chains, which are tied between hind legs, become a sort of horse training method. The idea is that when the horse kicks, the chain attached between its hind-leg will now hit its own legs. Over time, this repeated pattern may teach the animal not to kick.

However, in reality, you should only use kicking chains cautiously. This is because they do not solve the root problem affecting your horse. There is often a simple reason why they are kicking, such as hunger or discomfort. Kicking chains will discourage the behavior, but then the horse will lose a way of communicating issues. 

It is also the case that kicking chains sometimes create a new problem. They can cause further damage if the horse tries to run away from the pain while still chained at the legs. 

Time to Ride

Kicks are used as a way to communicate, but this behavior brings significant risk to themselves, other horses, and their caregivers.

However, with good horse care and training, you can identify behavioral issues and get to the root of what's causing the kicking.

Hiring a professional horse trainer to help with kicking is recommended. An expert can help mitigate the risks involved and help you work with more stubborn horses. 

Curious to learn more about horse care? Join our mailing list now to find out more tips and facts. 

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