Before you can start to think about preventing your horse from kicking you first need to understand why he’s doing it in the first. Horses often use kicking, along with other forms of body language, as a method of communication and, unless they’re in pain, will very rarely kick without any warning at all.
Is it always bad when my horse kicks?
Some horses will also kick and buck when they’re first turned out, this generally is because they’re happy and have a lot of excess energy. They show their joy and release their built up energy by kicking out.
It might sound silly to say but kicking is important to horses. As long as they’re not actually hurting anybody or other horses you shouldn’t try stop them for kicking while they’re turned out. It’s a natural part of herd life and helps them to know their position within the herd.
Why is my horse kicking?
There can be a number of reason why a horse has started kicking and finding out why is the first and most important step in stopping them kicking altogether.
Is your horse kicking because he’s in pain?
Kicking can sometimes be a sign that a horse is in pain, they can’t tell you something hurts so they try to get rid of the pain themselves. If, for example, your horse has a problem with his back that causes him a lot of pain he’s not going to want anybody riding him so will instinctively try to get them off. This will seem like a bad habit but instead it’s actually a call for help and treating it as a habit can often make the problem worse. In this case it’s imperative that you find the cause of the problem and treat that rather than the kicking itself.
If you notice that your horse is kicking every time you groom a particular spot on him then it’s quite likely that he’s suffering some sort of pain or discomfort which is why he’s kicking. It may be something as simple as being gentler when you groom him while stop him kicking.
Is fear causing your horse to kick?
Fear or anxiety can be a trigger for kicking in some horses and can sometimes occur because you’ve dealt with ‘pain’ kicking as a behavioural problem rather than dealing with the cause. If you notice that as soon as you approach your horse with, for example, a bridle he starts to kick then the chance are he’s worried about it in some way and is trying to tell you to not come any nearer with it.
In this instance it can be more difficult and take longer to deal with but can still be prevented. Like horses who kick due to pain it’s important to deal with the root cause first rather than presume it’s a behaviour issue. The first thing to do is get the vet to make sure he’s not in any actual pain. If he’s still kicking after this then you need to reassure him that it’s okay to be worried but nothing is going to hurt him.
To start with, if you can, leave whatever is cause your horse to worry where he can see it. If it’s his bridle you could hang it up opposite his stable, he can then see it and will, in time, realise that just because he can see if it doesn’t automatically mean he needs to worry. When he’s used to that approach him while holding it but stroke him, offer him a treat and then walk away again. The idea is to ‘reprogram’ his brain and associate positive memories with the item rather than just the fear and anxiety.
As I say this will take time but if you’re patient your horse will learn that it’s nothing to worry about and will stop kicking.
If your horse is frustrated this could be why he’s kicking?
Horses who kick their stable door or walls are often doing so out of anticipation and frustration, they know you’re preparing their food and don’t want to wait for it – they want it now! This type of frustration kicking can also occur after transporting your horse but before you unload him – rather like a child’s “are we there yet” he’s eager to get out and stretch his legs.
If your horse is kicking because he wants his food then it’s easy to stop this by either making all of this feeds for the day in one go then giving them to him at the normal time or by giving hm his food first before the other horses. The latter isn’t really possible though if you have more than one horse kicking for this reason.
If, on the other hand, your horse is kicking before you unload him then, if possible, try to remove him from the trailer as soon as you arrive. Your horse knows the difference between stopping and traffic lights and arriving at your destination and some people have found that keeping the engine running until you’re ready to unload will stop this type of kicking.
There is a train of thought that says if your horse isn’t hurting or upsetting any other horses nor is he putting anybody at risk then ignore him kicking. While this clearly won’t work for everybody if your horse is kicking to get your attention and doesn’t get want he wants he will stop in time. You can also line the stall with rubber to help deaden the sound of the kicking, this will make it harder for your horse to get a reaction from kicking because it’s not making as much noise.
Does your horse kick out at other horses when you’re riding?
If your horse only kicks while you’re riding then he’s doing it to make sure other horses don’t get too close to him. Generally the kicks will only be warning kicks and won’t have the power to hurt other horses but if a person gets in the way they can still do real harm to them. How close other horses need to get to your horse before he gives them a warning kick will depend on your horse – some horses will kick if a horse comes within a few feet while others will do so even if the horse is over 20 feet away.
It’s important that your horse wears a red ribbon in his tail when riding in a group or public place if he kicks like this. This won’t help to prevent him from doing so but will alert other riders to the problem.
To prevent your horse kicking out at other horses that are close behind him you need to tell him off as soon as he does it. You don’t need to shout at your horse but a stern ‘no’ to tell him that was wrong. While doing this you also need to praise him when a horse gets close and he doesn’t kick. The best way of doing this is to use a clicker, when he’s behaved with horses behind him press the clicker, praise him and if possible give him a treat. This method will work but you need to be patient with him though.
Is your horse kicking because he’s bored?
Some horses will kick out of boredom but luckily this is generally easy to fix. If your horse is on box rest then try to give him as much stimulation as possible, I recently wrote an article on how to prevent boredom which might help.
For horses that aren’t on box rest try, if you can, to turn them out as much as possible. Horses don’t like to be enclosed for prolonged periods of time so try to turn him out as much as you can. If the weather isn’t bad why not leave him out 24/7 but make sure he has use of a shelter if he wants it.
Do horses kick in the wild?
Horse do still kick in the wild but around 99% of the time it’s a ‘play kick’ and is because they’re either happy or are just playing with other herd members. It’s also a natural part of herd life to establish the pecking order. Horses will very rarely kick out at each other to cause harm in the wild although competing stallions will occasionally ‘fight’ each other. Horses are smart animals and understand the damage they can do to each other which is why they don’t often fight each other.
What are kicking chains?
Kicking chains are short chains attached to cuffs that can either be put just above the horse’s hock or around his fetlock, the idea is that when the horse kicks the chains will hit his leg and this will stop him from kicking. This is the theory and while they do work for many people it’s worth noting that they won’t work for everybody. Some people have found that they’ll scare and stress other nearby horses because of the sound of the chains moving.
Are kicking chains cruel?
The chains are short and light enough to not do the horse any harm but some horses will become very stressed by the noise and the chains hitting them. If you do want to use them it’s always a good idea to try them out on your horse in his stall first, this way if your horse is stressed by the chains you can quickly remove them.