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Why Do Horses Kick, and Can a Horse Kick Kill You?

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I’ve been around horses most of my life and can confirm horses kick people. I often get asked why this happens, but unless you see what transpired, it’s challenging to provide an answer, but there are typical reasons.

Horses kick to defend themselves, but they also kick to display dominance, blow off energy, or when frustrated. A horse’s kick is powerful; it can break bones and most certainly kill you.

Some people believe their horse is a chronic kicker and accept its bad behavior. But there is an underlying cause, and if nothing is done to discipline the animal, the problem will worsen, and someone is likely to get hurt.

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Horses kick to dominate.

Horses are huge animals, and they pack a powerfully dangerous kick. If your horse has a habit of kicking, it needs to be fixed pronto. Getting your horse to stop this threatening pattern takes experience and persistence.

I think this behavior is too dangerous to fix by reading articles or watching YouTube videos. It would be best if you had the help of a professional or someone with years of experience to work with your horse to stop it from kicking.

Horses are prey animals that live in herds. In each herd, there is a pecking order. They typically run and kick at each other to establish the group pecking order.

The horse that stands its ground and runs others away is dominant. The horse that intimidates all the others is the leader of the pack.

When a horse charges or kicks at you and others, it’s learned that it’s the boss over humans. This belief likely developed because of inferior training methods.

To fix the problem, the troubled horse must learn the proper pecking order at your farm; you are the leader. Teaching your animal the appropriate hierarchy takes time and skill.

You must stand your ground and force your will on the animal. Imagine if this horse was introduced into a new herd. It would likely charge a couple of horses and kick at them.

The pack leader would see the behavior and put the new horse in its place, either by driving the animal out or kicking it into submission. It wouldn’t take long for the horse to know its place in the pecking order.

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Horses kick when scared.

Horses that experienced an unpleasant episode might kick in response to stimuli that remind them of the occurrence. They fear something terrible will happen and strike out to prevent it from occurring again.

The stimuli could involve a saddle, a dog, or a particular area of their body. For example, a negligent farrier hurts a horse by driving a nail into the animal’s foot.

From this point forward, it fears the pain associated with someone lifting its foot, so it kicks to stop the action. The animal must learn to trust again and be desensitized to the stimuli causing fear. Again this isn’t a lesson to be taught by a novice.

There are real and severe consequences that happen when working with frightened horses. I urge you to bring on an experienced horseman to assist you.

Picture of our yearling kicking while on the walking wheel.
Yearling Kicking on the walking wheel

Horses kick to blow off energy.

It’s common to see a couple of young horses running and kicking up their heels on chilly mornings. The running and kicking in the air is their way of playing and blowing off some energy.

Often you can tell when walking a horse to the pasture your animal is getting excited. When this happens, try to settle your horse and have it turn to you before releasing it.

I’ve seen playful horses throw up their back feet and almost kick a person’s head. Be safe and teach your horse proper manners. He should stand quietly before you let him off the lead rope.

Teaching manners takes time, but it will prevent injuries to you and possibly your horse in the long run. If a horse is allowed to be disrespectful, his behavior will become worse and more dangerous.

Horses kick to send a message.

Horses communicate with members of their herd through various means. They signal with their ears, mouth, and body language. But their most formidable means of communication may be a stiff kick.

Please get me out!

We had a horse that kicked the trailer wall when he was left in a trailer longer than he thought was necessary. It wasn’t much of a challenge to interpret his message: I’ve been locked up long enough, and the trailer is stopped, so get me out now.

Trailers are an unnatural environment for horses. Remember, horses are prey animals, so they like open pastures and the ability to see predators approaching. The trailer is dark and confining.

However, horses can be taught to be comfortable in a trailer and even learn to enjoy riding in a trailer.

I want some food!

Our horse also would kick the stall wall when we fed other horses. This communication was also easy to understand: hurry up; I’m hungry.

You don’t want a horse kicking stall walls mainly because they can injure their legs, ankles, or feet. Hopefully, they only throw a playful message and don’t whack the heck out of the wall.

I suggest not responding to the animal kicking, don’t rush down the aisle, and feeding the animal. If the kicking is harmless, ignore it, and hopefully, when it sees the message isn’t getting the desired response, the behavior will cease.

Stall wall kicking can also be a stress relief behavior associated with stall boredom, similar to cribbing, weaving, and excessive stall walking.

You’re getting too close.

If you trail ride much, you see horses kick when they feel that others are getting too close. Some horses turn and bite as well. This activity should be corrected immediately because it is dangerous to the following horse and its rider.

Once while with a large group of riders in Bogue Chitto National Park, one horse kicked another it felt was encroaching it while we were single file and on a ridge. The kick spooked the horse, and it came close to tumbling into a deep ravine.

If your horse kicks at others, reach down on the reins, pull hard to one side, and kick your animal. Give him a little workout and then return to the group. Don’t let the horse get away with being bad.

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A kick from a horse can kill you.

Horse kicks can and do kill people. I knew a young barrel racer that was kicked while cleaning her horse’s stall and died. The animal had no prior history of kicking.

This wasn’t the only instance that I know of where a horse kick killed someone. I was also told about another local person who died from a kick to his head when working a green horse in a round pen.

Death caused by a horse kick is not speculative; it happens. That’s why I encourage you not to try and fix habitual kickers without experienced help. One wrong move and it could be fatal.

Horses have extraordinary power in their hindquarters, and when the power is unleashed in a kick, it is deadly.

Picture of my horse getting spooked and ready to kick at something.

How do you stop a horse from kicking?

Dominate kicking

Most horses kick to dominate the object of their strike. To stop this type of kicking requires exerting your leadership over it. This means you have to work the horse until it submits.

Correcting a horse that’s been in the dominant role for a long time is challenging and takes time and expertise to remedy. It would be best if you did a lot of groundwork.

Make the animal follow your commands, first working in one direction and then the opposite on a lunge line. Teach the horse to stand still and ground tie. Use hobbles on your horse.

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Do kick chains and hobbles work?

Both kicking chains and hobbles hook to a horse’s legs and can help stop a horse from kicking. Kicking chains are a tool that can help stop your horse from kicking its back legs. They’re like bracelets that go around their lower hind leg with a chain hanging.

When your horse kicks, the chains make noise, and the loose chain ends can swing and hit their legs, discouraging them from doing it again. These chains can be helpful if your horse has a habit of kicking the stall walls during feeding time or getting aggressive with other horses in the barn.

You can also use hobbles to prevent a horse from kicking. Hobbles are straps or chains typically placed around a horse’s front legs and are used to restrict the horse’s movement.

However, there is also a side hobble that connects a horse’s front leg and hind leg. When a horse is wearing hobbles, it is more difficult for them to lift its legs high enough to kick.

Hobbles and kick chains should be combined with reinforcement training, behavior modification, and desensitization. I wrote an article you can read here on how to use hobbles, and there is also an excellent training video included you can watch.

Here are some exercises Clinton Anderson teaches that you can watch on YouTube.

If you’ve never watched Clinton Anderson videos before, I suggest you take some time and watch a few. He has an extraordinary method he uses to work with problem horses and explains his reasonings well.

A horse that kicks is extremely dangerous. If you don’t intend to fix the problem, get rid of the horse. If the animal does not willingly submit to human dominance, it isn’t adequately trained and is a risk to anyone in contact with them.

How do you tell if a horse is going to kick?

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Know your horse, and don’t ignore warning signs that it is getting mad. It will communicate before kicking. They invariably let you know their opinions; you have to be smart enough to understand.

Unfamiliar horses typically approach each other and communicate with their body to establish dominance. The one with a more authoritative or aggressive presence is dominant.

If neither convinces the other of its superior authority, ears pin, and biting and kicking start. If a horse switches his tail at me, stomps, or moves toward me uninvited, I’m on alert.

Before horses kick, they typically pin their ears flat on their head, swish their tail, or stomp their feet. You have to understand the situation and be aware of what is going on between you and the horse.

Most horses kick only after sending you messages they think clearly communicate their intention, and you ignore them. A good example is a horse that walks into its comfort zone, lifts its head high, pins its ears, and stomps the ground.

To the animal, they clearly warned you to get away, or they will move you. Your reaction should be to immediately step toward the horse and move it out of your space. If you don’t watch out, this horse is prepared to express its dominance by kicking you out of its newly acquired space.

How you can prevent being kicked by a horse.

Teaching your horse respect and good manners is the best way to avoid getting kicked by a horse. When you lead a horse into a pasture to turn loose, have the animal stand quietly, then take off its halter and step away.

Playful horses get excited when turned out and often throw their back legs high in the air. If its feet strike you, it could cause severe injury. When approaching a horse, always let them know to avoid startling them.

It’s best to greet a horse from its side and walk to its shoulder at 45 degrees. If you intend to walk to the opposite passing, the animal’s rear, put your hand on its hip.

Learning how horses communicate is also essential to avoid being kicked by a horse. Take heed of the warning signs, pinned ears, stomping, and swishing tails.

Be dominant over your animals, and it’s less likely your horse will kick you.

Do horses kick you when you’re behind them?

Yes, horses sometimes kick when they are startled by someone approaching from their rear. Horses are prey animals and have survived thousands of years because of their ability to sense danger and respond appropriately.

Horses have excellent peripheral vision and can see almost 360 degrees. However, they do have a blind spot directly behind them. When a person approaches a horse from the rear, they don’t see or smell you, so they think you’re a predator and might kick.

When something encroaches on their blind spot without warning, their instinct is to strike, bolt, or strike and bolt. To avoid this, always approach horses from the side or front and let them know you are coming into their space.

When you approach the horse from behind, give it a vocal warning to let it know someone is coming.


Horses kick to dominate others. You must take control of your animal, make him pay attention to you, and follow your instructions. Your horse has to understand you are in control.

Teach your horse to respect you and have manners. This doesn’t mean you have to be rough or brutal but firm and gentle. Don’t let the animal invade your space or touch you without an invitation.

You don’t bend to his will but make him bow to yours, don’t give the horse the slightest hint that you are not in charge. You can do this with your voice, a firm push, and by swinging a whip.

The whip isn’t for striking the animal but rather to swing and hit the ground to force it to move back or in a direction you want it to go. Your dominance must be absolute.

A firm grasp of the horses’ herd mentality is essential when training horses. It’s a hierarchy system with only one boss. You are not doing the horse any favors if you let it think it’s in charge. Your behavior confuses the animal.

Your expression of submission may inadvertently signal to it that a kick is warranted. Proper manners and training could save your or someone else’s life, so take horse kicking seriously.

Horses kick for reasons other than dominance, such as when they are being playful or feeling frustrated. These are common types of kicks but are not typically a problem unless your horse kicks often and injures itself.

Horse kicks pack a lot of power and can cause severe damage and even death if they strike a person in a vulnerable spot. Always be careful around large animals and take precautions.

Remember these essential things about horses, they have a herd mentality, they are prey animals, and each one is an individual. We can make generalizations, but every horse is unique.

But if you take your time to learn about horses, lean on the experienced horseman, and respect the animal, you can train just about any horse to have manners and break them off of kicking.


Does it hurt the horse when you kick it?

There is no definitive answer to this question since it depends on the horse and the person doing the kicking. Generally speaking, though, kicking a horse is not going to feel too good to a horse. However, I will gently kick a horse on its cannon bone to get its attention.

What happens if a horse kicks you?

There are many potential outcomes if a horse kicks you, depending on the severity of the kick and where it lands. A horse’s hoof is large, sharp, and hard, so it can cause cuts and lacerations, broken bones, internal injuries, and even death.

Can a horse be mad at you?

Yes, horses can be mad at you. If you treat them poorly, they may become resentful and even hostile. A horse is a complex and social creature, and it’s important to remember that they deserve our respect and care.

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