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


Kicks at People


Horses that try to kick people are extremely dangerous. A kick can occur so quickly that a handler does not see it coming at all. A severe kick can be fatal. Generally, otherwise gentle horses might kick at people out of surprise, fear, when in pain, for self-preservation. Wild horses that have not been handled naturally kick when cornered.

Horses with training problems may habitually kick out of aggression, or to bluff handlers. Horses are taught this behavior in the same way they are taught to engage in many other unwanted behaviors. They perceive it to be easier and more rewarding than alternative (desirable) behaviors. "Cow-kicking" is kicking out to the side or forward and is a somewhat different behavior.

Numerous physical problems, usually involving pain, could cause a horse to kick at people. Your vet can help you determine whether this behavior is a result of physical pain or another disorder. If a physical cause is ruled out, look to yourself, your own handling technique, and others who have handled your horse as both the cause of the problem and the solution.

  • Code Green

    Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources
    • Some vets have valuable advice regarding behavioral and training issues.

your role


What To Do

Your first responsibility is to protect yourself and others from injury. If you know that a horse has a tendency to kick, always warn handlers, vet and farriers, so that they may take appropriate precautions when handling the horse.

Generally, you can avoid being kicked by being careful not to surprise a horse. Let horses know where you are at all times by maintaining contact with them. Always halter horses to maintain some control of them when asking them to do anything or performing treatments on them.

If you do not know how to solve this problem (or are not making quick progress solving the problem) then engage the help of a trainer who knows how to stop this behavior. Your vet may or may not have an interest in helping your horse overcome this behavior.

What Not To Do

Do not try to solve this problem unless you are experienced and confident in your technique.

your vet's role

For horses that kick, vets may need to take particular precautions when performing procedures. Your vet may consider whether there might be underlying conditions that are contributing to the problem. Beyond that, they may have ideas for teaching a horse not to kick. The most important part of that is making the undesirable behavior a consistent detriment to the horse.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • When did you first notice this behavior develop?
  • What are you doing to prevent the behavior in the future?
  • What is the breed, age and sex of the horse?
  • Does the horse's general health seem good to you otherwise?
  • Does the horse's behavior seem normal otherwise?
  • Is this a mule or donkey?
  • What is your experience level?

further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP