The more time I spend around horse people, the more I have noticed that we have an attitude problem about getting injured and particularly about getting kicked by a horse. It seems that we wear a badge of honor for surviving a kick (which we certainly deserve since some people don’t survive it!).

Just yesterday I was listening to a tale from a local veterinarian whose leg was severely injured by a client’s horse. Thank goodness she was able to resolve the issue with surgical repair and seems to be healing beautifully.

Some of us (veterinarians, technicians, emergency rescue personnel, etc.) have even more exposure to the possibility of a kick due to our work. Kicks are a common enough to those who simply are leading or playing with horses, much less when one has to evaluate an injury or treat it up close and personal.

To avoid getting kicked, take care when moving near or between two horses standing or tied near each other.

Photo: Rebecca Gimenez

Personal story: I was kicked really hard when I was a teenager by a loose horse in a pasture that I was riding in. He ran up to say “hello,” I thought, then whirled to kick and my horse got out of the way, but my leg did not. I still have to bone swelling to prove it happened.
So how can we minimize the chances of getting kicked by a horse? I am sure that many of you have good ideas, but this would be my top list of ways to prevent injury kicks.

  1. Do not enter the space with a horse (and particularly more than one horse) at feeding time. Horses are most aggressive at feeding times, and while attempting to fend off another horse, might accidentally catch you in the crossfire. Additionally, horses that normally would never consider kicking you on purpose, might do so as they get so excited about feed.

  2. Spend time with your horse reducing his tendency to kick by desensitizing him to having his feet and legs, tail, body, and belly handled. Teach him that he doesn’t need to defend himself from you. A few minutes spent regularly just calmly brushing and picking hooves, rubbing the animal and checking for bruises or hot spots will pay off by teaching him that you aren’t trying to hurt him. (Plus, your farrier and veterinarian will appreciate your kind and easy to handle horse.) If you have a particularly ticklish or testy horse spend extra time getting him used to having ropes, whips and other items around his legs and feet as part of a desensitization program.

  3. Learn more about horse body language so that you can tell when a horse is moody or aggressive. We all have heard not to walk up directly behind a horse where he can’t see us well, but this pays off especially if you are walking through a herd of loose horses. You might be able to spot a developing problem and more easily step out of the way. Don’t pin a scared horse into a corner, a trailer, or even a stall as it might kick just to defend itself from you. And watch all the horses around you, so that you don’t endure the kick that was aimed at another horse.

  4. When you are forced to get close to a horse for grooming, injury treatment, saddling, or even applying methods to rescue him from entrapment, try to stay close to the animal with one hand on his body so you can feel his tension. This even works when handling the hind end. Although you will still get hit by the force of the kick, the forces should be less and the leverage that the kick has to break a bone is lessened.

  5. Don’t walk between tied horses (crossties, high-line, opposite wall ties, etc.) that might kick at each other and accidentally get you, or worse, entrap you between them skirmishing. This extends to riding with friends: Never let your horse get close enough to their horses’ hind end that it could kick at yours. Horses are amazingly fast, and your horse might turn just in time to let you absorb the blow on the side.

As you can imagine, handling horses is a constant learning experience. The best thing we can do is not become complacent or allow ourselves to be distracted when around horses. What are your comments and stories? Please share your stories if you have ever been kicked: How did it happen and what did you learn?