There’s a reason why they say you should stay clear from the back end of a horse – the force of a horse’s kick is strong enough to warrant a visit to the ER. Depending on the site of the injury and force of the kick, it can threaten vital organs as well.
In short – you certainly don’t want to be on the receiving end of a horse’s kick. And in any event, as a horse owner, you should know the warning signs of a horse that’s preparing to kick.
Because horses can be snappy and jumpy, I find it important to discuss these aspects including what to expect when kicked by a horse and horse aggressivity mitigation techniques.
How Strong is a Horse’s Kick?
After one of my veterinarian friends was kicked by a horse during a routine health check-up, I flat-out asked her – “How did it feel to be kicked by a horse?”
After expressing her displeasure at my morbid curiosity, she replied: “It’s as you imagine it – swift and it hurts like hell.”
Luckily, the horse didn’t show her the full extent of what it’s capable of and she only injured one of her shins but admits it could have been much worse.
I didn’t press her further on whether the horse showed any signs of aggression or anger, and whether it was an avoidable event, or whether it came out of nowhere.
But in most cases, horses don’t want to hurt us, nor do they kick us out of nowhere. They’re not confrontational animals and usually a kick is often preceded by several signs that you should not dismiss.
If it can happen to a vet, it can certainly happen to you too – and it can be much worse than what my veterinarian friend experienced.
A horse’s kick has been measured to be at a speed of around 200 mph (about 321 km/h) and a force of 2000 pounds of force per square inch.
To put this in perspective, that’s almost as bad as a heavyweight boxer’s punch (1420 pounds of force) and almost half as bad as a crocodile’s bite (5000 pounds of force).
No matter how you look at it, it’s not a pleasant experience and not one that you would walk away from without any injury.
Luckily, most horses will let you know that they’re about to kick you and you’d better learn to watch out for those signs before you find yourself face to face with a horse’s hoof.
What are The Warning Signs That a Horse is Preparing to Kick?
Horses like humans can get angry for a variety of reasons including stress, fear, injury or pain, grooming styles they don’t agree with, you name it.
Your job as a horse-owner is to recognize the signs of stress or anger in your horse, try to calm your horse, and mitigate any possibility of injury either by removing yourself or your horse from the triggering situation before things escalate.
But I have some good news too – horses are good at communicating their anger / fear through a variety of behavioral cues.
Here are the behavioral signs an angry or fearful horse might exhibit that should let you know things are about to go south, if something doesn’t change:
- Tense body posture
- Widened eyes (you may miss these if you’re at the back end of a horse)
- Swishing tail
- Ears pinned back
- Flaring nostrils (you may not see these, but you can hear them)
- Baring teeth
- Stomping the ground or pawing
- Turning to show hind leg
- Raised head
Taken in isolation, these signs can mean something else too. For example, horses that bear their teeth may do so due to something called the Flehmen response, which is a natural reaction to smelling something unusual or bad.
When taken together with the other signs, however, a horse baring its teeth will be a definitive indication of an angry horse.
Of all the behavioral cues I mentioned, raising a hind leg while having flared nostrils or a raised head, is one of the more serious indications of anger.
When you notice this behavior in a horse, it’s no question that a horse is about to leave its mark on you and send you on your merry way.
You should in no way approach a horse in that condition, especially not from behind and even more so if you’re inexperienced and you don’t have an established relationship with the horse.
The best you can do in that situation, is to remove yourself from it, before things get very serious and potentially fatal.
How to Calm an Angry Horse?
Besides recognizing the signs of anger in your horse, it also helps to learn how to calm your horse down.
Responses should always be situational, based on how familiar you are with the horse and what’s causing it to be upset or angry.
Usually, it’s something serious – or perceived by your horse as serious – if your horse is going to such great lengths to let you know that it’s upset.
Here are some things you can try to calm your horse down:
- First, remove yourself from any danger (avoid getting at the back end of a horse)
- Approach your horse from the front, issuing commands
- Commands should be situational – if the horse’s anger is driven by fear, try to speak in a calming, soothing tone; if its anger is directed towards you, reprimand the horse and assert dominance
- You can also try to remove your horse from the situation if its anger is caused by fear or getting spooked by something
- If your horse is angry because of an injury, pain or discomfort, try to identify the painful area and treat the injury or discomfort.
As a new horse-owner, it’s important to spend time with your horse and take the time to learn its triggers, fears and behavioral cues.
It’s also important to spend as much time as possible training your horse and desensitizing it to grooming, sounds, and other possible triggers such as the presence of other animals on a farm, for example.
And most importantly – believe your horse when its behavior is suggesting that he’s angry enough to kick you.
Under no circumstance should you approach an angry horse from behind, even if you think you know what you’re doing.
You may end up spooking an already scared or angry horse and it won’t take much to push the horse over the edge.
Is a Horse Kick Dangerous?
Yes, a horse kick can be very dangerous, even lethal if the force of the kick is strong and if vital organs are affected.
A kick in the chest or a kick in the head can result in death if the kick is strong. Even if no vital organs are affected, a horse kick can shatter bones and cause soft tissue damage.
Only about 15% of horse-related deaths are due to kicking, others are caused by accidents such as falling off a horse, for example.
Still, even with a low fatality rate, it’s important to pay attention to how your horse behaves and watch out for the warning signs.
How to Protect Yourself from Injury?
Protective equipment like helmets or body protectors can also help reduce the risk of a severe or life-threatening injury. But preventing injury in the first place should be your primary strategy.
Here are some of my recommendations on how to prevent being kicked by a horse:
- Whenever you’re grooming the horse or checking its back hooves, stand on the side and never at the back end of the horse.
- Learn to read the body language of your horse and how to recognize the warning signs that you’re about to be kicked by a horse.
Horses can also kick sideways, but that’s a less serious kick that won’t put your very life in danger. Mind you, it could still break your bones but without it being potentially fatal.
What to Do if You Get Kicked by a Horse?
If you’re injured by a horse kick, you should seek medical attention immediately. A visit to the ER is warranted. Doctors will check for any signs of internal bleeding, bone fracture and other injuries.
Even though you might downplay the effects of a kick you’ve suffered, you could still have damage to vital organs or internal bleeding that constitutes a potentially fatal medical emergency.
Now that you know the risks involved in getting kicked by a horse as well as the warning signs of a horse that’s about to kick, you can prevent these types of injuries.
By watching out for the warning signs, staying clear of the back end of a horse, and implementing calming strategies, you can avert dangerous situations such as being on the receiving end of a horse’s kick.
Although they’re rarely aggressive, remember that horses are prey animals that get spooked easily. It’s also important to learn what triggers your horse and how to soothe it in case it gets stressed or aggressive.Horse Facts