Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Q and A's - Kicking

I'm working on a Sonita story. But the question of a horse kicking came up, and I think it's important to address it.

summersmom says:

I have a mare that has started 'cow kicking' at other horses recently. She never did it before, and at first I thought it was something 'left over' from her over protective mothering instincts being that I weaned a foal off of her in July. I just noticed this behavior within the last week and I suddenly realized she may be doing this out of fear from an attack by another horse in July.

Let's analyze this scenario first. Summersmom admits it was the first time she didn't look to see where the other mare was. Obviously she won't ever do that again. No finger wagging from me, I've learned my most valuable lessons the hard way, I think we all do.
Horses have two responses to danger. Flight or fight. Being prey animals they will only fight a perceived danger if they don't think they can escape.

A horse kicking is saying, "Move away, now."

The mare who attacked Summersmom's mare was more than likely telling the mare to move away from the gate. Mare's with babies feel safer in a group. She didn't want to have the group broken up and was trying to move Summersmom's mare and foal back into the pasture. Because Summersmom was holding onto her mare she couldn't go where she was told, so she got beat up for it. If the mare had moved the first time the other horse pinned her ears, or if Summersmom had chased her off, none of this would have happened.

Fairly simple when you think about it. Now Summersmom's mare Rockette, is freaking every time another horse comes near her. Mainly because she has learned she can't get away from another horse when Summersmom is with her, the flight option is gone. So she feels she has to take charge of things, and the fight is on.

That said, guess what? I DON'T CARE. SHE DOESN'T GET TO KICK. PERIOD.

There's a few things Summersmom needs to do. The first is reassert her dominance over other horses.

When she catches Rockette, she needs to drive the dominant horses completely away from the two of them. I do this by swinging the end of my very long lead rope. I'm not afraid to wack them. Remember, that boss mare kicks a lot harder than you can. She needs to body block the dominant horses and not let them near Rockette.

I have had dominant mares run other horses into me and the horse I'm trying to catch, so watch them. They know how to keep the herd together.

Rockette is nervous at the gate because she got her ass kicked there. I don't blame her. But I would ignore her. Give her plenty of loose lead rope so she can move away, (I'm assuming she's been trained to NEVER crowd you) open the gate and go through. Don't soothe or praise her, you're just going through a gate for goodness sake. Do make sure you're protecting her though, once she understands you will drive away any potential attackers she'll be able to relax.

When I have a kicker there's a few things I'll do. I will work the horse pretty thoroughly so the fresh is off before I start. Then I will stand in the middle of the arena and have a friend on another horse circle me. My friend will slowly spiral the horse down until I get a reaction from my little Rockette. My reaction only needs to be pinned ears by the way.Then I will put the pedal to the metal and leave. I do mean hustle that mare out of there, by whatever means necessary.

My horses will lope off with a smooch from me. If yours won't then kick, spur, smack with a crop, whatever. But she needs to git, and git now.

After she is away from the scary horse I'll lope around the arena a few times. The I stop her, relax my reins, and start the whole process again. Every time Rockette lets the other horse come a few feet closer without a reaction I'll have my friend take the pressure off by moving the circling horse off a ways, stop, and rest. I repeat this exercise until Rockette is letting the horse circle around pretty darn close. She will too, once she understands she can move away from her perceived danger. Rockette will learn she is allowed to move away from danger when she feels trapped, even though you're riding her. She will begin to actually assess the situation before she reacts.

The next thing I do is play "Leap frog" on the rail. The more people involved in this the better.
I trot Rockette along the rail and have the horse behind her pass. Have them pass with enough room to be safe, but then they cut in front of you, everybody settles, and then you pass. Keep trotting through the entire exercise. Loping gets wild, and walking is gives everybody too much time to worry. Eventually I leap frog at a lope and walk.

The trick here is that as the other horse passes you, the second you feel your mare tighten up, you WIGGLE. I mean grab the horn, sling yourself back and forth, jiggle the reins, bang your butt on the saddle, just flop around. Your horse will immediately refocus on you believe me. By then the other horse will be past, and the crisis is over. Continue on as if nothing happened. Eventually as you pass the other horse, or it passes you, Rockette will flick her ears back to you, expecting you to lose your mind again. Relax, don't wiggle, give Rockette a pat. If she forgets and puts her attention on the passing horse wiggle again. Rockette will learn she is safe from attack when she pays attention to you.
I started this when I was giving little kids group lessons. When a little kid has a kicker they don't have the strength or timing to discipline the horse. This works so well I started using it myself. I haven't looked back. Plus it's fun. And it makes you look like a loon in front of your peers, something I think everyone needs to do once in a while.

Then comes step three. This is hard, but by now you and Rockette should about be fixed. Have your sacrificial lamb, er I mean friend, come by, and whack your mare. I'm serious. She can just swing her reins, or give her a tap with a crop, but another horse needs to come by and move your horse. You have to sit there, then scoot her forward, and get her away. Then relax, pat Rockette and do it again. Eventually she'll turn to face the oncoming horse, don't have your friend thump her. Have the friend move off and release the pressure. Give Rockette a pat.

When I ride, all of my horses are expected to allow another horse to move them any time I want, this includes studs. If they try to fight I'll get after them. (the horse being moved) In my mind it's a job requirement.

It's my job to ensure other riders are safe around me. It is never another riders responsibility to be aware of what my horse might do. A pink ribbon in my horses tail means I can't control my horse. It means I shouldn't be allowed in a group of horses as far as I'm concerned.
Rockette will learn she is expected to give to crowding, bumping, or passing horses because you expect her to. When she listens, you keep her safe.
By taking these steps it will help you establish three things.

You will be back in the role of leader and protector for your horse.

Your horse will know she is allowed and expected to move away from a threat.

She will know to focus back to you and let you decide the course of action.

I hope this helps. I would make this my priority to fix before I took my horse anywhere in public. Good luck.


  1. Mugs, excellent post! I have a question though. Your explanations seem to focus on why this works for a horse who is kicking out of fear. Do the same maneuvers work for a horse who is kicking because she wants to dominate other horses in the arena? Our problem mostly comes up when horses are passing us going the other direction. Horses coming up behind her dont bother her anymore.

    I had just been doing my best to work the little mare hard whenever she pins her ears at anyone.

  2. I use the same approach with every horse. Summersmom's horse is kicking from fear. But as I have said before and will say again, "It's good to know the reason, but it's never an excuse."
    Kicking is kicking in my book.

  3. Hey, that's cool! I've never had to deal with a kicker, but I will definitely file this away. It totally makes sense.

  4. Mugwump, thank you so much! As soon as I can talk one of my friends into helping me I'm going to try this. It definitely makes sense and I did have this feeling as if she was afraid I just couldn't protect her. She hasn't spent alot of time in the pasture recently with more than one horse but I make sure each time I bring her in that I make a big production of driving that other horse away before we go through the gate. Running me over to run through the gate and get away is not an option. I'm still fairly new to being a horse owner (just over a year) but have found an amazing trainer that is teaching me to become the boss. We've made some big steps and each time she respects me more than the last.
    I do have a silly question though, the steps you take, are they all in one session or do you spread them out over 3 sessions?

  5. OK - here's my problem. I have started a 6 year old mare that up until 3 months ago, was only used for breeding and never had any undersaddle training that we know of. I've got her walking, trotting, and cantering, both directions on the correct leads. She is still nervous at the canter and tends to be very quick. That's not my problem, as she is starting to relax. My problem is that she won't pick her feet up and tends to trip - a lot. A couple of times we almost went to her knees and would have if I hadn't basically caught her and brought her back. I'm starting to have nightmares of us going down and me being seriously injured. Any suggestions?

  6. Awesome suggestions, Mugs. You rock!

    P.S. I hope the new job is still going well?!

  7. I love your no excuses, direct approach. Just finished day 2 of no spooking or crowhopping and trying not to antagonize my horse by picking at her.

    Thanks from both of us.

  8. Mugs, you are so on it with a prompt and clear response to a great question.

    You are spoiling us!

    Thanks =)

  9. worldshowbound- For what its worth, my trainer has me doing trot poles. We started on a lunge and then did under saddle stuff. It forces them to 1)Pick up their feet and 2)Pay attention to where their feet are. I was using them to help my mare develop muscling to support a round frame, but she also now picks her feet up more when she's collected.

  10. Hey Mugs,

    There is no way that I can find to contact you directly.

    Would you be willing to e-mail me so that I can send you some thoughts directly?


    If you prefer I can post here. Thanks

  11. Awesome. I love playing leap frog. Another thing that game does is teach horses it's ok to be anyplace on a trail ride. Worked many times over with lead bound horses on trails.

  12. That's essentially what we do with dogs translated into horse. Thanks Mugs!

    Understanding why an animal is doing what they're doing helps us humans figure out how to correct the behavior and move past the issue. It's not necessarily being permissive (though some people do that).

  13. Hey Mugwump,

    I return again, what have you done with clients in the past to help them build confeidence?

    I took a bad fall off of a colt, his first day on the property. He was previously abused, but now is calm and willing as can be. I, on the other hand, am still extremely nervous when riding him undersaddle. I've ridden for years and have trained horses, but now with my own colt I've turned into the world's largest chicken.

  14. I was on a Christmas ride last year, and a mare that has been in the group for years and years has started kicking, sometimes it is another horse or a person. It isn't my mare.

    The Christmas ride is such that the one girl with the wine gets off her horse and goes to the door and give a bottle of wine to a pasture owner, one that lets us ride over the fields in winter.

    While she was doing this, another girl while mounted was holding the reins of this mare. I didn't know the mare had a new kicking problem. I've known the horse for years, anyway, I'm sitting there stupidly on my horse, and this horse starts circling the lady mounted, and circle slowly, by the time I noticed that she was circling in my direction it was too late, I immediately took a rein and turned my horse to get away, which instead of lining up my horses chest, lined up my shin which took the full brunt of a shod kick. Lucky it didn't break my leg.

    Now, the girl appologized and said oh the mare doesn't like ponies (I happened to have ridden a pony that time). But, then later I heard from three other people that they had been kicked too. This mare has been to tournaments and was State Champion (dressage, jumping and cross-country competition).

    I don't think it's a crowding issue, as no one was crowding her, rather it was a purposeful and determined attack. We were far enough away, and if I had known she had kicked other people/horses I would have clued in the one holding the reins and also got my butt out of there. We were a group of about 7 riders.

    What's that all about? This mare did have a first foal the year before.

  15. Great explanation, mugs!

    I love the idea that while you try to understand WHY, you don't get hung up on it. One of the things I see a lot in the NH world is the "my horse was abused so..." or the "oh, my horse doesn't do...". NH puts such a strong focus on understanding the horse that sometimes people get hung up on it and turn it into an excuse, rather than a reason. And actually, as Fugs so often points out, this is not so unlike how some stallion owners behave. "Well he's a stallion so he can't..."

    Reason = explanation for behaviour.
    Excuse = justification for MISbehaviour.

    I really love how you try to understand why the horse does what he/she does.. but you don't stop there! You still expect good behaviour from those horses, regardless of their "horsenality" or their history. That was a difficult concept for me to grasp but I really like it.

    It's seen a lot though - and not just in horses. Even in school or with people there's this corruption of reasons into excuses. "I have __ so I can't do __" Or "he's from a broken home so he's allowed to be __" Um... NO. Not OK!

    Now, certainly, you can't just smile and expect them to be cured. It does take longer, more effort, to make a kicker into a polite horse - to take a badly behaved child and get him well behaved - but it can AND SHOULD be done.

    Sorry.. off rant/soap box. I just really liked what you had to say there!

    Keep up the Q&As.. but don't forget the other stories! I love the Mort/Sonita stories just as much as this stuff... maybe more!

  16. Hey mugs, Not post related but I thought you could use this

    mugwump banner If you use it make sure you put it as the background and make it sized to fit. If you want colours etc changed on it just ask :3

    Save it and upload it onto your blogger as I will be deleteing it soon because it eats up my bandwidth. Hope you like it.

  17. mugwump, I've only had the one horse who ever tried to kick--this would be Sunny, my little palomino plug of a trail horse, and he's really not much of a threat. He's bought into me as boss hog at this point and I don't see this behavior. But I don't doubt it would resurface if he thought he could get away with it. Great post!

  18. summersmom-I only do one step at a time per riding session. When they get that I move to the next. Sometimes you will have to repeat a step many times over several days, so this could take a long time.
    worldshowbound- first make sure there aren't any soundness issues, sore bruised feet or the beginning stages of absesses will make them stumble-then get her out of the arena! Riding over uneven ground and having to think will help. Backing up hills will strengthen her hindquarters and help her rebalance-the ground pole suggestion is good-lack of drive can be involved-but trotting out on the trails or even in a field works wonders.
    cbrewster-this is a question I'll cover in a post, soon, I swear.
    austriancurls-I don't know the mare so I can't second guess. Kicking still means "get away" be it from aggression or fear, if it's a nasty horse I go straight to step three. I will reaffirm myself on the ground and teach the horse to face me when I approach-always-and then I do the same on horseback.
    lonesplainsman-rant away! I also hope you guys feel freee to write in and offer up your ideas on these issues.
    Sydney-thanks for the banner!


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