Have you ever wondered how strong is a horse kick? If you’ve been riding for a while chances are good that you’ve been near or on the receiving end of a kick, or know someone who has. The horse kicks as a defense against danger, when they’re frightened, annoyed, or in a foul mood. Sometimes a kick is unpredictable, and other times you can see it coming and take corrective action. Ultimately, you definitely want to avoid getting kicked as a horse is capable of doing a lot of damage to the human body.
If you’ve ever been kicked, you know just how strong and quick a horse can be, and it may leave you wondering: “can a horse kick kill you?” Yes, a horse’s kick can kill if you’re unlucky enough to be struck in the right area of the body. However, you can avoid getting kicked and maintain control of your horse by taking the right actions.
Here’s a look at why horses kick and how to stay safe at all times.
Why Horses Kick
Horses are prey animals that are at the mercy of predators that are equipped with sharp teeth and claws. Humans aren’t necessarily a predator of horses, but a horse doesn’t always have the luxury of deciding if you’re a friend or foe and is more likely to make a fast judgment to protect itself through kicking.
A horse is not totally defenseless against a predator, but it’s usually at a disadvantage due to its blunt teeth and binocular vision. Predators tend to attack horses from the rear due to this being a blind spot in the horse’s vision. In response to this, the horse has developed a powerful kick as an offensive response to an attack.
The main thing to understand is that the reason why a horse kicks is that it feels threatened or pressured and lashes out with a kick as a defensive response. Just understanding this can help you prevent yourself from getting kicked.
There’s often no warning beforehand, as the horse is being ruled by instinct in the moment. A horse may kick because it’s not happy with a situation, does not want to respond to a request to move, doesn’t like being handled in a particular manner, or is reacting to pain somewhere in its body. However, horses will also kick during play or if they simply feel good.
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Visual Blind Spots are Trigger Zones for Kicks
Horses are grazing animals that spend their time foraging with their heads down. They have a monocular vision that allows them to see two things at once but can engage in binocular vision when they look forward at something. You know a horse is focused on a single object when its head is up and its ears are forward. The rest of the time, the horse sees different images on either side of its body.
Horses have blind spots directly behind their eyes and behind their body. That’s why you’re always warned not to approach a horse directly from behind. A horse can’t see you in their blind spot and may perceive you sneaking up on them if they don’t know you’re in its vicinity prior to approaching. You’re always at risk of a kick, even with the gentlest of horses, when walking up to a horse in its blind spot.
Approaching from the front, even in a blind spot, has minimal risk of a kick as the horse can hear you approach and move its head to put you into its vision. A horse may swing its hindquarters away from you to look at you visually if you’re in its rear blind spot, but you can’t rely on a horse to always be considerate. It’s best to assume that the potential for a kick is strong and to approach a horse in their field of vision.
The Potential Dangers of Being Kicked by a Horse
The estimated kicking force of a horse is 2,000 pounds per square inch with an average speed of 200 miles per hour. Compare that with Randy Johnson, who had the fastest and strongest baseball pitcher in the history of the MBA. He pitched a baseball at an average of 102 mph, slightly more than half the speed of a kicking horse. Getting hit by a fastball hurts, but not nearly as much as getting kicked by a horse!
A horse that strikes at full kick is aiming to severely maim or kill an attacker. So, can a horse kick kill you? It absolutely can, especially if you’re struck in a vulnerable area such as your skull. The horse kick is powerful enough to snap your neck or break your skull in a split second, especially if the horse is wearing shoes. The potential for blunt force trauma lessens a little bit if a horse is barefoot, but not by much.
Horses don’t always kick at full strength, however, so the risk and seriousness of injury obviously depends on the strength of the kick. But you can still sustain injuries when a horse is pulling their kick. You may sustain injuries ranging from a large bruise to fractures or broken bones.
How to Avoid Getting Kicked
A horse that’s had minimal handling and training is more likely to kick compared to a domesticated horse that’s been trained. Some other reasons a horse may be more likely to kick are:
- poor handling
- the horse learned that kicking means people leave it alone
- the horse is frightened and not responding to attempts to calm it down
- the horse is simply looking to play and not caring about where it throws its hind legs
Paying attention to your horse’s body language helps you avoid getting kicked along with how you handle them. Always walk a horse with a hand near the head and between the head and the shoulder. You can use a lead rope to keep yourself out of kicking range, and you can bring your horse’s head around if they start cutting loose. The goal is to swing the horse’s hindquarters away from you so you’re not in the line of fire.
When you’re working with a horse that you’re unsure of, always approach it from the front or side in its direct line of vision by its shoulder. This way you can see the hind legs at all times and watch for the move to kick. This also keeps you out of reach of a kick and enables you to pull a horse’s head around to put them off balance. A horse can’t kick easily if it has to move its hindquarters in the opposite direction.
Always stand close to a horse’s hindquarters as you’re working with them. The force of the kick relies on being able to fully extend the leg at speed. Standing close to a horse’s rear means a horse can’t put their full strength into the kick, much less extend the leg far. You’re still going to get hurt, but the injury is less likely to be severe.
It’s always a good idea to not approach a horse from behind, especially if you haven’t made noise to announce your presence. Talk when you’re walking near a horse’s hindquarters, stand close to its body, and make it a point to put a hand on its body when you’re close enough to touch. A trained horse recognizes these signs as non-threatening contact and is more likely to stay relaxed as you go about your business.
Steps to Take After Getting Kicked
It is very difficult not to take retaliatory action after getting kicked. Sometimes a horse kicks because it’s aggressive and has found that lashing out with kicks gets it out of an activity. Other times, a horse kicks because it’s truly frightened of a situation and doesn’t know what to do. Corrective action is needed, but you have to be careful and make the right moves in the moments after a kick if you are able.
Countering aggression isn’t always easy, but if you know beforehand that the horse is likely to kick, keep a long whip handy and stay out of reach of the hind legs. When the horse goes to kick, take your whip and tap the offending leg firmly with a loud “NO” at the same time. The goal is to let the horse know that you’re in charge and that aggression isn’t going to be tolerated. You don’t have to be mean; just be firm and ready to respond to the attempt to kick.
A nervous horse that’s prone to lashing out is one that requires gentle handling, awareness, and consistency. They may also need further training to instill in them the mindset that they can relax and that they’re not in danger. Keeping a whip handy as an extension of your arm also helps defuse the urge to kick by holding the whip against a leg that comes up for a kick and tapping if necessary.
If you have received a hard kick that results in immediate pain, seek medical attention and save the correction for another day. Sometimes a kick is a situational reaction, sometimes it’s a behavior that needs correcting. Once you know a horse is a kicker, you can work on training out the behavior after you’ve recovered from your injuries. There’s no rush and your health is your number one priority.