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Buffalo Creek Pony Club

Don't Get Kicked
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DO NOT GET KICKED!!

Types of Kicks
Kicks can generally be classified in two ways, the rear kick and the "cow kick." The rear kick is self evident. The cow kick is a strike forward with the hind leg. If you are behind the horse you could receive a rear kick. If you were standing alongside him at the rib cage, you could receive a cow kick.
There are six primary reasons a horse will kick. Understanding what they are will help you assess your situation and take appropriate precautions.

Playful Kicks
The playful kick is also called the "kick that kills." Horses will often play "Tag, you're it" with a nip or the flash of a hoof while running past a playmate. Since horses have good side vision, they usually dodge the kick and chase the mock aggressor or wheel their butts around in response. Humans who do not enjoy lateral vision and inattentive horses tend to get kicked. Both unwitting horses and humans have been killed this way.
Part of the problem stems from the flick of the foot being expressed as a form of attention getting gesture, "Wake up! Let's play!" Thus if you are daydreaming while your horse is playing, you could actually invite such an approach. If you are in an area with playful horses you must stay alert and wave them off if they approach to "buzz" you!


Exuberance Kicks
The exuberant kicker may fire in excitement when first released into a play area (e.g., being turned out for exercise) and accidentally catch the handler who just released him. A horse which has never displayed this behavior might do so when turned out with other horses or when something is present which excites him. We always back exuberant horses down the lead rope a couple of times, get their attention, have them face us when we unhalter them, then hold them in place with the lead rope around their neck until we take a couple of steps back.
Fearful Kicks
A fearful kicker is akin to a fear-biting dog. He feels threatened and trapped and is doing nothing more than what he feels he has to do to protect himself.
Freshly captured feral horses and previously abused horses can offer the handler a fear kick if they are not handled correctly. These horses will appear tense, their tails clamped against their buttocks, heads high, eyes wide open and sometimes nostrils flared. In such circumstances the handler should be careful not to pressure the horse into a flight or fight decision, especially if the horse is cornered or secured and cannot flee.

If I see a frightened horse "loading up," I will yield him some space. I'm not relinquishing my authority and position by doing this if I time it correctly. The conversation which is taking place is the horse telling me, "Human, I can't take much more of this!"

My appropriate response would be to step back one or two steps to say, "OK, horse, I'll give you a little space with which to get a grip on your emotions." What I don't want to do is to push the horse to the point he has to cock a hind leg and threaten to fire at me. If I wait that long to yield, he could develop an association between his aggressive behavior and my getting out of his way. Once he discovers this "tool," he'll be really difficult to work with and this will no longer be a problem suitable for a novice to deal with.

An effective alternative to triggering a showdown is to let the horse leave and in a controlled environment, put him to work in a safe endeavor such as longeing in a circle. He needs to work off his stress and get his emotions under control before you can do much with him and longeing gives you an alternative where you can get yourself out of a tough spot but still remain the leader.

Disrespectful Kicks
The disrespectful kicker is basically saying "up yours." He'll cock his rear end toward you and flash you the bottom of his hoof. Disrespect seldom involves actual contact, however you can be accidentally struck and unchecked disrespect often leads to more aggressive behavior as the horse starts to believe he is the more dominant of the two of you.

As you can see from the second frame in the sequence, the horse is watching me and is well clear of me before firing, however he can get quite a bit of extension with that hind leg. I certainly don't want to be closing distance on him at this point!

We handle disrespectful kickers with an immediate aggressive response. This horse typically fires and runs and we'll pursue him from a safe distance making it clear in no uncertain terms that we are angry with his display and we'll make him work. If on a longe line or round corral, we will quickly send him out and make him yield several times (as an offended dominant horse would), but at the same time anticipate his asking forgiveness by his looking in towards us with a more submissive posture and expression. At that point we would become immediately relaxed, let him come in and positively reinforce his decision to behave himself just as we "negatively reinforced" his infraction.





Aggressive Kicks
An aggressive kicker can be particularly dangerous, although more predictable than a playful kicker. The aggressive kicker is likely to confront you "rump-on / head on." By this I mean he's not likely to engage in a sneak attack. He's likely to wheel his butt around and come straight at you. If you suspect a horse is aggressive you need protective equipment and you have to know what you are doing.
When I confront an aggressive kicker I make sure I'm wearing a helmet and have a 12 ft. horse handling rope and the layout includes somewhere for me to send the horse. As soon as he starts to load up to kick me, I'll go after him aggressively twirling the rope at his hindquarters. I have to make him uncertain about his aggression and decide to leave. I will not pursue him.

Committed aggressors will often come after me a couple of times more to see if they can intimidate me. I have to not only hold my ground, but take some of their territory each time they try me out. I will not try to prolong the tension and I will always give the horse a clear escape route.

If I am fortunate enough to encounter the horse in a round corral or small arena, I will send him off on longe as best I can. As soon as he has had a chance to blow off his anxiety, I will cause him to yield several times. The instant he shows me that he is willing to be submissive, I will back off and let him rest. Unlike the disrespectful horse whom I will encourage to come in right away and be buddies when he shows me good behavior, I'm going to keep the aggressive horse at a respectful distance for a few outings until he can demonstrate to me that he can keep his aggressive tendencies in check, at which point I will extend some trust and attempt to make friends.

Nuisance Kicker
Incidental accidents occur with nuisance kickers. These horses cow kick when they are irritated, typically by flies, but they can also cow kick when they are irritated by the handler's touch. Cow kicks don't sound dangerous, but they can take the form of sharp blows although many are little more than very uncomfortable "brush-offs."
Horses which are poorly groomed, fly infested or have dirty teats or sheaths may be uncomfortable and kick at their underbelly. When we see a horse displaying this type of behavior, we try to resolve the nuisance which is causing the cow kicks, bearing in mind that the horse is likely to bring a leg forward as we work on him.

Horses similarly can kick backwards at nuisances which could be nothing more than irritating sweat running down their legs. Again, observing the horse for a short while before handling him may reveal the presence of these irritating nuisances.

To be safe, before we handle a nuisance kicker we will attempt to keep the horse standing square and if he is overly fidgety, someone can hold his near side front leg up so that the horse can't cow kick on that same side. (Please note that some horses can cow kick on the opposite diagonal, so you need to be on the same side as the lifted foreleg.) If the horse insists on putting his front leg down, you should stay clear of the "kicking arc" when working near his belly or rib cage.

General Notes:
Don't surprise the horse. Let him know where you are at all times. Stay alert to unusual movements or weight shifts. Don't let yourself get placed between the hind end of any unproven horse and a solid object such as a wall or fence.
Little kids can easily disappear into a horse's blind spot, then pop into view when they make some sudden movement, startling the horse. Children have been seriously hurt by horses who have never kicked before when they have been playing in or have run up into the horse's blind spot.

When grooming around the hind end, stay close to the horse on either side. It's safer to be shoved than smacked. If you sense the horse is going to kick, you can push away from the horse and at the same time move him away from you. Don't linger directly behind the horse "in the gun barrel." When picking up feet, notice the "arc path" of the foot and make sure you don't put your leg or feet in line for a kick or stomp if the horse takes his foot back.

With unproven horses, pay attention not only to the horse but to things going on around you. Don't get uptight about it as that may serve to unnerve the horse, but be aware and if external things start to happen that you can't control and that appear to upset the horse, back off until things subside and you can make a safe approach.

Over the last few years it has become painfully apparent to me how "complacent" we become about our equine friends and how well behaved we THINK they are. The truth is that horses are EXTREMELY unpredicable, no matter how well we THINK we know them. Take for example my 29 yr old QH "Fancy" whom I had known since his birth. I would have trusted my life to him, and had on many occasions. While trail riding on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I bent over in front of him, something I had done many many time before and would never have thought twice about. He bit me in the kidneys with such viciousness that I now have a scar for life. I was lucky, all I was left with was a scar, many others aren't so lucky. I have several friends who have been kicked in the face, one of our own members was kicked in the chest just last summer. Don't become a statistic, always be on the alert!!!

This information was found via the web and an article called "A Kick Away" By Willis Lamm