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Horses That Kick

February 23, 2009

Expert advice to quell a kicking horse’s bad habits.

America’s Horse Daily received the following question concerning a horse that kicks her owner. AQHA Professional Horsewoman and friend of Daily Julie Goodnight offers some advice that many riders will find useful.

Question:

I need some help with one of my mares. She is trained, but she is not ridden much. I always longe her before riding because she is powerful. When I take her out to longe her in the arena, she turns as she moves out into a circle on the longe line and kicks out to the side and has hit me three times now. Each time is a little higher. I know that this has to do with not handling her enough. She is smart and I am always careful with her (and all horses). She doesn’t do this to the stable hand that lets her out and longes her. I am pretty experienced, but this has me baffled as to how to handle this without getting too rough with her.

Answer:

You have to expect that horses will kick out when they are on the longe line, working a circle on a lead line or even working at liberty in the round pen. The whole purpose of the kick is for defense when the horse is being attacked from behind, either from a predator or from a more dominant horse. When we work the horse on the circle, we are basically attacking the horse from behind, therefore you must expect that the horse will kick out.

Always be aware of your horse’s hip and whether or not it is moving toward you or away from you. Long before your horse picks up a foot to kick, she’ll move the hip toward you as a sign. Doing lots of disengagement of the hindquarters from the ground will help.

When you are longeing or circling a horse, your job is to be aware of exactly where the kick zone is on the horse and to keep in mind that when the horse is moving, the kick zone expands. Try this exercise for learning the horse’s kick zone: have someone hold a well-trained, quiet horse for you while you pick up a hind leg. Give the horse a moment to relax then slowly pull his foot as far forward as it will go (which is almost up to its foreleg) and make a mark in the dirt. Then gently pull the leg to the side as far as it will go (the distance will surprise you) and make another mark. Finally, extend the foot fully behind the horse and make a mark. Now extend those marks to make a box—this is your horse’s kick zone. You should always know exactly where it is, where you are in relation to the kick zone and take extra cautions when you are within it (like when you are grooming or cleaning front feet and especially when longeing/circling).

When you longe, you should always have a whip, stick or flag to use as an extension of your arm so that you can signal the horse without entering the kick zone. You should always be aware of exactly where the kick zone is and make sure you are never within it when you put the horse out on the circle. Make sure the hip is moving away from you and if it is not, gesture with your whip at her hip to move it away.

As you stated, your horse’s behavior is an indication that there are some holes in her training and with your relationship. I am not a big believer in longeing a horse to get her energy out before you can do anything with her. That simply makes her explosiveness habitual and is an excuse for poor behavior.

There are lots of articles in my Training Library that address these sorts of issues.

Even if you only have limited time to spend with your mare, you can make this time more productive and improve your relationship and your authority with her by doing systematic ground work exercises. My Lead Line Leadership video takes you through a whole series of exercises, including circling work (and a demonstration of the kick zone), that are just what the doctor ordered for you and this mare.

Be Safe!

Julie Goodnight
CHA International Spokesperson