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Medical Index
Horse Facts and Tips
First Posted: July 5, 2010
Jan 23, 2011

Horse Kicking Vice

by Debora Johnson

Have you ever seen a colored ribbon tied around a horse's tail? Often you will see a red, green or yellow ribbon tied to a horse's tail. This is quite common in the fox hunting field or on trail rides. These ribbons are warning signs to other riders. Usually the green ribbon indicates that the horse or rider is "green" young or inexperienced and may be given to unexpected behavior. As it relates to the horse that may include kicking. The red ribbon usually indicates that the horse is a "kicker." Stay clear. A yellow ribbon indicates that the horse is a stallion. Stallions tend to kick and bite. They are usually more aggressive in nature and do not like others in their space. Kicking is a vice that can cause great injury to anyone working around horses, to other horses, to the kicker himself, and to property.

There are two types of kicking, cow kicking and rear kicking. The following explains the difference:

Cow Kick - Have you ever been standing by a horse's rib cage and had that horse bring his hind leg forward a give you a kick? Have you ever been riding a horse had felt the horse's hind leg kick forward, for example, in a canter? That is a cow kick.

Rear Kick - This is the type of kick that is most familiar. A horse just kicks out backwards with its hind leg or legs.

Types of Kicking Vices

  • Aggression - Pretty straight forward! The horse will turn his hind end toward you and let fly!
  • Confinement
  • Following too closely - Horses do not like their space violated so following too closely can be quite dangerous.
  • Not enough exercise - Pent up energy can cause a horse to kick.
  • Too much rich food
  • Mimicking behavior - A learned behavior from another horse. You often see this with cribbing.
  • Boredom
  • Fear/Defensive behavior - Usually occurs when horses are feeling threatened, trapped or persecuted. Look for flared nostrils, clamped down tail, widely opened eyes and high head carriage. This behavior can be directed to anything from humans, to other horses, etc. It is part of the flight or flight response for survival.
  • Rapid social changes (revolving stablemates)
  • Disrespect - Usually displayed when the horse displikes handler. Be careful to not get trapped in a close space like a stall or against a wall! Mostly a warning of a cocked foot so you can see the hoof or the horse or the horse may aim his/her rear in your direction. There is not always contact of a kick. This behavior often escalates to outright agression because the horse loses respect for the handler and feels dominant.
  • Playing behavior
  • Exhuberance - Usually caused by excited horses being turned out or at play.
  • Protective of personal space, food and territory
  • Pain
  • Likes the sound (as in stall kicking) - "Play it again, Sam" I like the sound of my own hooves agaist the wall. This can be very dangerous to the horse as it can cause broken or fractured bones, jammed or hurt connective tissue, etc. It is also destructive to property.
  • Abused horse - Get away from me because you are going to hurt me!
  • Nuisance - Horses will kick out at biting flies, etc. or at being touched by a handler in a way that bothers the horse. Sometimes trickling water such as sweat, ticks, gnats, even dirt on the underbelly or thee back of the legs can annoy a horse.

As indicated above a kicker is dangerous to himself, to anyone working with him, to anyone riding too close and to property. The kicking behavior can be "contagious" to other stablemates just as a cribbing horse can teach other horses to crib. Talk to your vet about the problem. In my opinion it is best to get professional help when dealing with a kicker.

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