Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Striking with Front Feet

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

Code Green - Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

  • If this problem seems severe and has come on suddenly.
  • The behavior seems random and not directed at other horses, animals or people.

Code Green - Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources

  • Some vets have valuable advice regarding behavioral and training issues.

Striking with the front feet is usually an aggressive or defensive behavior directed at a perceived threat or it happens in the presence of another horse. It is a natural herd behavior and is common in both stallions and mares.

However, when solitary horses strike out with the forelimbs for no apparent reason it can indicate painful or irritating conditions affecting the face, mouth or head.

In rare cases, horses with specific brain conditions, injuries or illnesses can spontaneously and randomly strike at no apparent target. If all other causes are ruled out, there is a rare psychologic disorder in which horses can show this behavior, often along with biting at the sides, limbs or chest.

Striking can also be directed at people. Certain untrained or poorly trained horses may strike when they feel cornered, threatened or pressured. Striking behavior can be worsened by excessive downward pressure on the face with a halter. Horses that have not been trained to yield to pressure are more likely to engage in this behavior. Some horses will strike violently when they are being twitched.

Regardless of the underlying cause, striking is a very dangerous and an undesirable behavior. Handlers standing in front of a striking horse can be severely injured. It can be hard to predict when a horse will strike.


Above all, be careful around a horse that strikes. If you do not know how to handle the behavior, do not try. Get help from a qualified trainer. For horses that strike when handled, underlying training problems must be addressed so that this behavior ceases. Breeding stallions can be trained not to strike when being handled.


Horses that are striking randomly, undirected at people or animals and without apparent reason, should not be handled and should be examined immediately by a veterinarian. Physical causes should be identified or ruled out.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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