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Breaking Your Horse's Habit of Kicking
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Breaking Your Horse's Habit of Kicking

There is no justification for allowing a horse to continue the habit of kicking. He will be a danger to people, other horses, and even to himself since he can cause injuries to himself as well. For a horse, if there is no physical reason to justify it; kicking is an acquired bad behavior that needs to be nipped at the bud. For instance, he may have had to protect himself against aggression from other horses in the past, or wasn’t trained properly, or he is just bored or stressed. There are many approaches you can take to break the bad habit of kicking, but you will need to exercise a lot of patience.

Physical Issues

As expected with any negative habits, rule out any physical issues, especially if your horse kicks during a ride when no other horse is around him, or if he tries to kick under saddle but not when on the ground. Be sure to note the exact instance of kicking when you are riding. If he kicks when you apply leg pressure on him, or when you want him to transit to a faster gait like a canter or lope, then you need to check for hind-end issues like sore stifles, lower back or hocks.

Ground Training

Horses are instinctive herd animals, and therefore behave according to their herd’s pecking order. A horse that is striving for dominance over other members of its herd will display a number of aggressive habits, including kicking, until its competitors have backed down and shown respect to the “boss”. Move your horse around a circular pen severally, changing directions every time. If he tries to turn to face you or attempts coming towards you without permission, wave a lunge whip or rope at his hindquarters to scare him. However, do not hit him. He should change direction by turning his face away from you until he has sopped his aggressiveness. Do this a number of times using a rope halter equipped with a long lead till he has accepted you as dominant in his relationship with you.

Ponying Lessons

If your horse is fond of kicking at other horses as you ride, consider “ponying” him with another friendlier horse. If you don’t have expertise or experience in ponying, it is very important that you seek help. Mount another, more calm horse that yours likes, riding them as you lead him alongside it. Keep the two about 4-6 feet apart. Coil your horse's lead rope around your palm in such a way that you can easily let go in case he pulls at you violently. Perform several short practice rides as you watch out for any aggressive signs on him. In these maneuvers, progressively perform turns and halts till you are satisfied that he has started to behave perfectly. Lastly, try riding him alongside other horses and if he is still kicking, take him through another round of these ponying lessons.

Using Tools

You can use some simple negative reinforcement to help you break your horse’s kicking habits too. The key here is that your horse should prompt that negative consequence. For example, if he routinely uses kicking inside his stall to get your attention or demand for food, you can try a kick chain. A kick chain refers to a leather bracelet that has an attached chain which can be buckled to your horse's kicking leg. When he kicks, the chain will hit him on the leg. There is another device that operates via sensors that are attached to stalls. When he kicks, the sensors will detect it and he will be squirted with water. Progressively, your horse will learn to associate kicking with pain and stop doing it to save his skin. However, if you suspect that he is simply bored, you can provide him with stall toys that are specially designed to help relieve boredom.


Image source: flickr.com

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  1. jst4horses
    Kicking. Horses alone in a round corral or arena can kick..........but ........I trained out bad horses at the track and for show barns. Some of these horses had gotten to where NO ONE could enter the stalls because they had either been abused, or allowed to kick to keep people out. I really like the part of the article that says look for sore places or injuries. Some horses kick, or buck, or both under saddle, or even in just certain exercises because IT HURTS. Most horses kick out, or kick up the back legs because it sooner or later gets rid of the rider............I remember one particular race horse that used to wait for his exercise rider to dismount, and attempt to snap his back foot right into the riders head as the dismount was in progress. Of course, no riders wanted to ride the beast, and no jockeys wanted to ride it in races........the vet had made sure NO injuries, and we went to work............this was a very smart horse and did NOT like the riders, but rather than cause trouble at the start or during the track jog or work, it would wait until the rider was not able to protect him or herself............WE used our caresticks and some ground work, along with a fast and willing rider.........to get this horse over that habit. We just reinforced the no touch and rider space habits in the horse.................AND watched for the second to intervene and stop the process in the brain, rather than the rear leg. I have trained out other bad boy horses who had similar problems with kicking the riders due to the saddle pinching them during the dismount.......we just got a different pad, and tightened up the saddle cinch a bit so it did NOT slip around and grab a pinch of the horse during the dismount..........The article is a good one as far as NOT letting a horse under saddle, or while working kick at you or anyone else. There is an episode of the Dog Whisperer in which an equine therapy stable was having problems with a horse trying to kick the side walkers, and dogs bothering the horses. Pat Parelli joined Cesar Milan and they worked out the issues.............One reason shown on that program for the kicking was disrespect for the people. Pat showed them how to build the respect BEFORE putting riders up there.

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