What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Striking with Front Feet


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.

  • 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.
You also might be observing
Very Common
Less Common
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your role


What To Do

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.

What Not To Do

If you are not confident managing this behavior, do not try. Seek help from a qualified trainer and/or your vet.

your vet's role

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.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • When did you first notice this behavior?
  • Is the horse a mare, gelding or stallion?
  • Describe how your horse's behavior has changed?
  • Does the horse's attitude and appetite seem normal?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?
  • Do you feel confident in managing the training aspects of this behavior?
  • Do you have a relationship with a qualified trainer who can help you?

Treatments Your Vet May Recommend

A way to resolve the condition or diagnosis. Resolving the underlying cause or treating the signs of disease (symptomatic treatment)

Very Common
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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP