How to Curb Your Horse’s Urge to Kick

Kicking is an innate behavior that is undesirable in the domestic horse. The behavior can be suppressed through careful training. In the wild, horses react to predators in one of two ways: by fleeing, or if they feel trapped, by threatening and kicking.

On the ranch or stable, domesticated horses may try this same maneuver on their human handlers if they don’t want a person near them or they sense fear, danger, imminent pain or territorial compromise.

A Defense Response

“Kicking is the horse’s most common defense mechanism,” says Dr. Ross Hugi, an equine veterinarian in Mundelein, Ill. “It’s the thing a horse will do as a response to either not wanting to flee or not being able to flee.” For instance, if a stallion approaches a mare and she doesn’t want to mate, she’ll often kick him. Generally speaking, if two horses get in a fight, they kick each other.

When a horse kicks a human, it’s often due to fear. “A horse may view a certain person as a threat and see no way of escape when that person comes into his stall and so the horse may try to protect himself by kicking,” Hugi says. Or perhaps the horse is just irritable; he might kick to try to prevent his owner, or the farrier or veterinarian, from doing something he doesn’t like.

A horse may also kick when he’s startled from behind. “Your horse has a spot right at his tail and if he doesn’t see you coming, his natural response may be to kick,” says Dr. Kathryn Houpt, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell University.

Kicking is a behavior that we should not reinforce. Kicking reactions can be reinforced in foals, so you must be very careful how you pattern your training during the early months of development. Foals as early as two days of age will start to “backfire” in response to your needling of them by slapping them gently on the rump, startling them, or approaching them while not clearly in view. However amusing or benign, it is important to avoid this interactions with young foals and to approach them in a slow, methodical, visually obvious fashion. Entering their domain in a crouched position, for example, can help.

Tips to Protect Yourself

Be Consistent and Patient

Seek Professional Help