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Kicking is an aggressive vice of horses and is particularly dangerous because it can lead to injuries to the horse, to handlers, and to other animals. The force of a horse's kick has been compared to the impact of a small automobile moving at 20 miles an hour.

Emergency room workers can attest to the shattered bones and traumatized soft tissue that result from the impact of a kick. In fact, a kick to the chest has caused handlers to go into cardiac arrest. Horses sometime injure themselves when they kick stationary objects, causing fractured bones in the limbs or within the hoofs.

Most horses kick by lifting the hind legs forward and kicking back in a sideways motion. Another kicking motion is known as the "cow kick," which is a strike forward with the hind leg usually aimed at someone standing alongside the horse at the rib cage. The form of the kick varies with the size and conformation of the horse.

Nearly all kicks are preventable, and given the fact that they can be crippling, disfiguring, and even fatal, any horse owner or handler needs to take quick action each and every time a horse resorts to kicking behavior. .


  • Body language that indicates a horse is getting ready to kick
  • Aggressiveness
  • Malicious behavior
  • Bad temperament
  • Nervousness
  • Fearfulness


Horses engage in kicking behavior for a number of reasons, but in nearly all cases they are sending a message. Often, that message is that they feel threatened. Wild horses resort to kicks to protect themselves from predators and more aggressive horses. By lashing out at the aggressors, kicking is used as a defensive weapon.

When a horse kicks to get his way or to let the handler know that he is in charge, he is acting out to enforce a hierarchy, which might be fine within a herd of horses, but when it is to gain dominance over a handler, it becomes a sign that training issues are involved and the horse is using the kick as an intimidation factor.

Horses also engage in kicking behaviors to show that they are frustrated. When they begin kicking stall walls or the inside of the trailer, it is usually because the handler is not acting as quickly as the horse expects, and it becomes a way for the horse to let the handler know he wants out, desires food, or something else. Frustrated kicking occurs because the horse is antsy, and often the horse's body language reveals this impatience.

Some horses kick when they are feeling good or playful. Quite often, this kind of kicking is seen when horses are frolicking in a field. It is a way to burn off steam and get good exercise. In this case, no harm is meant, but the kicking can lead to accidents, either with other horses or with people.

Pain will cause some horses to kick. A horse with a sore back may lash out when the saddle is placed on his back. Many horses will kick or paw at their belly area when they are colicky.

Some horses kick when they are being groomed, because of pain caused by tugging at the mane, tail, or another area, and sometimes out of annoyance because it is taking too long or discomfort is involved.

Some horses will kick out while being ridden when other horses get too close to their hindquarters. The message is "back off and stay out of my personal space." Often, these horses would never kick at a person, but some mares, for example, are very strict about their personal space and take offense when another horse comes close to them and their rider.

Prevention and Treatment

Preventing kicks will depend on the temperament of the horse and the reason for the kick. To begin with, always let a horse know that you are approaching and where you are at all times.

Stay alert to unusual movements or weight shifts. Don't position yourself between the hind end of a horse and a solid object, such as a wall or fence.

When grooming, stay close to the horse on either side. When picking up a foot of the horse, notice the "arc path" of the foot and make sure you don't put your leg or foot in line for a kick or a stomp. If a horse becomes agitated or obviously nervous, back off and give the horse time to adjust to the situation.

A little bit of horse psychology can go a long way. Sometimes all that needs to be done to stop a horse from kicking is to let him know in no uncertain terms that the handler is in charge. Getting the horse moving on the handler's terms is often the best discipline in a situation when a horse might resort to kicking.

If a horse is kicking stall walls or other objects that might injure him, kicking boards may be installed. These are two-foot-deep shelves running along the stall perimeter at stifle height and will keep the horse from kicking the wall.

In cases of frustration, relieving the frustration is the simplest way of preventing kicking. Act promptly when the horse expects to be fed or let out of the trailer.

For horses that kick while being ridden, special precautions should be taken to warn others not to come up too closely behind the horse. Any time a horse kicks while being ridden, the horse needs an instant reminder with a sharp pop from a crop or the end of the reins to bring attention back to the task at hand.

Taking the back position when riding in a group, staying out of crowded arenas, and being vigilant will help to reduce kicking behaviors. Keeping the horse's focus on the rider and establishing a good riding relationship will make riding more enjoyable and safe.

When kicking is an attempt to establish dominance over a handler, reforming the kicker can be very difficult. Often, the services of a professional trainer are necessary to reestablish ground rules of hierarchy and personal space.

Instant correction with a tug of a lead, a smack of the palm, a sharp word, or the tap of the crop on the hindquarters will work with some horses. This discipline must be delivered instantly and while the handler is out of striking range.

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EquiMed Staff

EquiMed staff writers team up to provide articles that require periodic updates based on evolving methods of equine healthcare. Compendia articles, core healthcare topics and more are written and updated as a group effort. Our review process includes an important veterinarian review, helping to assure the content is consistent with the latest understanding from a medical professional.