Return to Questions and Answers Index

Q&A    Questions and Answers:


Hi Bob,

We recently purchased a paint pony for our 10 year old daughter. He's an 8 year old gelding who was owned by another girl but hasn't been ridden for a couple of years.

We've had problems with him bucking, but the trainer & my daughter are working on that with good results. (Pulling reins to the side by rider's leg, then releasing & driving along rail in arena.)

However, yesterday, he kicked another horse on a trail ride and then another horse in the training arena. No one was hurt, thank goodness, but this is of course a great concern. We turned him out with two other horses yesterday afternoon, to see if perhaps they would put him in his place, but they got along fine. What would you suggest?

Thanks for your help,

- A greenhorn mom


Horses kick for a variety of reasons, not just meanness. It may be just a playful kick; a horse's way of saying "Tag, you're it!" It may be a swat at an insect or other annoyance. It may be a kick caused by fear, or a way of saying, "Give me some space," or, "Stay out of my blind spot."

Whatever the motivation, it's always a serious problem that can have fatal consequences in the blink of an eye.

The first question that came to my mind when I read your letter was, "What on earth was that other horse doing within kicking range?!?!" Sure, you can train a horse so it won't kick 99 times out of 100. But that 100th time can still kill you. So, my rule number one is:

Nothing comes within kicking range.

Some applications of this rule include always turning a horse to face you before you enter a stall. No matter how well-behaved the horse, I always keep my arm straight out and touching the horse's flank, hip, or leg whenever I'm near the horse's rear. When passing behind the animal, I stay well out of kicking range -- even with a well-mannered horse like Willy. Remember, a horse doesn't have any eyes on its rump. It may simply be kicking at a fly, but it will still break your leg if you happen to be walking in the blind spot.

Some trainers will tell you that in cases where you must walk behind a horse within kicking range, you should stay right next to the horse in order to minimize the force of any kick. I say, in such cases, refer to rule number one. If the situation requires you to walk close behind a horse, change the situation. Even if you have to lean your shoulder into that half-ton of horseflesh to turn it, get that rear end aimed in a safe direction. I know of no law that says you have to commit suicide around horses.

When riding through a herd of loose horses, steer your mount well out of harm's way - especially around mares. A mare will have a strong tendency to kick at geldings and even other mares that get too close to her breeding equipment. (I assume that you wouldn't be crazy enough to ride a stallion in the same field as a mare. That sort of thing can get you killed real quick.)

Rule number two is:

Always expect a kick.

You can never know for certain that a horse won't develop an itch on its belly and decide to scratch it with a sudden cow-kick (forward kick). On a trail ride, I always travel as if the horse ahead of me had a red ribbon on its tail. [For the uninitiated, on a trail ride, you should always tie a red ribbon on the tail of a horse that's known to kick.] What if that horse ahead of you started out with a ribbon... but it fell off before you got behind the animal?

Now that I've got that off my chest, let's move on to the question of reducing the number of times your horse will kick. (Remember, every horse will kick under certain conditions.)

Once again, the key to minimizing kicking lies in establishing your authority as the lead brood mare, keeping the horse's attention on your cues, and building your animal's trust in otherwise fear-producing situations. Sacking out the critter's rear end will reduce the tendency to kick at things in an effort to clear out his blind spot. Don't try to make him kick. As soon as you sense that he's thinking about kicking at the annoyance behind him, take the pressure off momentarily by cueing him to do something else or simply walking away for a minute.

If a horse tries to kick at you out of disrespect, put him in his place by asserting your dominance. In a field, use your lariat or a carriage whip to drive him outside of the herd - and keep him there until he indicates his submission to you. Then gently restore him to your good graces - and to the herd. The same approach can be used with the frisky colt that wants to play tag. In general, kicking will tend to diminish in the course of normal round pen training.

In all of this training, never forget the two rules above.

For more on this topic, check out the excellent essay in the Equestrian Safety Series, Staying "A Kick Away" by Willis Lamm at

Fanny kicks at a bug
Fanny isn't misbehaving - just trying to get rid of an annoying insect - but even as a yearling her sudden cow kick could do serious damage to someone careless enough to stand within kicking range

Happy Riding!

Previous Question  |  Next Question

Return arrow Return to Questions and Answers Index

Return arrow Return to the "Learning More About Horses..." page

  The contents of this document are not for reproduction.