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Mechanics of a Horse Kick – How – and How to Avoid (Part 2)

Posted August 26, 2009 12:01 AM by SavvyExacta

A horse's hindquarters can pack many pounds of force on the victim. How does that happen? And how can you avoid being on the receiving end of that delivery? In Part 1 of this series we learned why a horse kicks. If you master that information, there's a good chance you know enough to evade the back end of a frightened or moody horse. This blog entry will explore those ideas further. In Part 3, I'll explain what happened when I was kicked by a horse – and the lingering effects.

The impact of a horse's kick can be as strong as being hit by a small car traveling 20 miles per hour. A few years ago, a girl was kicked in the stomach by a horse at a show. She was taken by helicopter to an emergency room where an MRI showed a perfect outline of a hoof on her liver.

A strong kick can damage internal organs and break bones. Even a "gentle" one can cause bruising.

How Does a Horse Kick?

  1. If a horse is going to kick, he typically starts showing some of the behavior discussed in Part 1 of this series. If he's afraid, he acts defensive. If he is aggressive, he may strike and crowd your space. If he's in pain, he may be uncooperative.
  2. Strikes from a front hoof are different than kicks from a rear hoof.
    • Front hoof strikes can hurt, but generally do not pack as much power. These are usually the most painful if the horse is wearing a shoe – particularly a shoe with studs (like cleats for sports) or other "add-ons".
    • Rear hoof kicks pack the most power because of the force of the powerful hindquarters. Let's look at how these work.

There are three types of kicks from the rear legs.

  1. Forward – A horse kicks forward, toward the belly, by pulling its hind leg and hoof up. This is usually because something is irritating him, like an insect or dripping water.
  2. To the Side – This is called cow kicking because cows do it when they don't like to be milked. You wouldn't think a horse can kick sideways, so this tends to get a lot of people.
  3. Straight Back – This hurts the most because it has the most power. The horse uses its hindquarters, tendons, and ligaments to wind up and send the hoof straight back.

How Can You Avoid Being Kicked?

Now that you know why a horse kicks and how he does it, here are some ways to avoid getting hurt: Note: some are easier said than done!

  1. Forward – Don't put your head, or other body parts, under a horse's stomach! This is easy. There's really no reason to be under there except for grooming or saddling, which only requires a hand. You can peek from the side. Also, watch for twitching muscles on the belly or a swishy tail - signs a horse may reach up to kick away an irritant.
  2. To the Side – Watch out for pinned ears, a swishing tail, or other signs of irritation when working at the "back end".
  3. Straight Back – Although it seems counterintuitive, it's best to pass as closely behind the horse as possible to minimize the impact of a kick. The further away you are, the more the horse can "wind up" and deliver the full impact of a kick. Think about being punched; if you are a few inches away from your attacker, it doesn't hurt much – but more than a foot away would be painful.

Overall, remember to think about the situation. If the horse doesn't like to be saddled, be wary during that time. Always be cautious when passing behind a horse. When approaching the animal, talk to it and let it know you're there, and put a hand on the hindquarters so it knows where you are even if it can't see you.

Resources:

https://www.whmentors.org/saf/kick.html

https://www.horsekeeping.com/ask-cherry/20080503-cowkicking.htm

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#1

Re: Mechanics of a Horse Kick – How – and How to Avoid (Part 2)

08/26/2009 11:55 PM

1 friend gone from kick another in a wheel chair for life.

If a horse decides to kick you they will kick you and you won't see it comming. Horses are very smart and some I belive harbor a grudge if you mistreat them even once. I have seen a 12 year old girl come flying thru the barn; he dad said the horse set her up for a kick. He watched it happen and it seemed the horse planned the kick long before after it happened. Just like you would hit a fly.

He was in shock for a long time at what he saw but he sold the horse.

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#5
In reply to #1

Re: Mechanics of a Horse Kick – How – and How to Avoid (Part 2)

08/28/2009 7:02 AM

Yes, some horses do hold onto past experiences as I talked about in Part 1. Others are merely accidental, such as those out of annoyance at insects.

My question is, if the dad you mention saw the horse "scheming" in advance, why didn't he warn the daughter? Of course accidents happen and kids often have to learn the hard way (it took me being stepped on barefoot to learn to wear sneakers while giving my pony a bath when I was 8 or 9). But sometimes you need to pull that kid out the way to avoid a serious accident.

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#2

Re: Mechanics of a Horse Kick – How – and How to Avoid (Part 2)

08/27/2009 9:36 AM

I've been bitten and thrown, but never kicked. Thanks for the 'heads-up' advice!

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Re: Mechanics of a Horse Kick – How – and How to Avoid (Part 2)

08/27/2009 12:10 PM

In part one horse were discribed as prey animals but that is only to the predatorys as I see it.

To others like us humans a horse can also be the dominate partner in a relationship or submissive. The bad penny or the best friend the same a any animal that accepts us in their lives.

Why a horse does not bolt for the 4 winds given the chance is beyond me even when boken to be ridden, harnessed and used by humans you can see the joy in their eyes when a new horse approaches. The excitment of meeting a new member of their own you might say. Hot and cold receptions are expected by mear humans but one horse to another it is very hot or very caring I don't think I have ever witnessed a cold welcome between horses.

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Re: Mechanics of a Horse Kick – How – and How to Avoid (Part 2)

08/28/2009 6:58 AM

This is a good point, and probably something I should have mentioned (although these entries were a little on the long side already).

Horses are herd animals and establish dominance - a pecking order - throughout the herd. When a new horse is introduced to an established herd (wild or domestic) the pecking order will be duked out all over again until he or she finds his or her appropriate spot in the chain. This is usually determined by aggressive behavior, ears laid back, fake biting, real biting, and yes, kicks.

It's important for the human to ensure the horse doesn't think he or she has established dominance above the handler. So, a person should properly handle the horse at all times - horses may be cute or pretty, but remembering that they are often 1,000+ pounds is critical. It's similar to making sure a big dog is properly leash trained - although that big dog probably can't do as much damage so easily!

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#6

Re: Mechanics of a Horse Kick – How – and How to Avoid (Part 2)

09/09/2009 12:56 PM

"The impact of a horse's kick can be as strong as being hit by a small car traveling 20 miles per hour."

In a paper published in The Emergency Medical Journal, studies show that a horse's kick can transfer a force of more than 10 000 Newtons to the body, causing fractures of the skull or other bones, as well as sever internal bruising. There was a study of seventeen riders who had been kicked. "Seventeen kicked equestrians were unmounted at the time of injury. Eight of seventeen patients sustained contusions of the extremities, the back, and the trunk. In nine patients an isolated facial injury was diagnosed. Five of nine patients needed referrals to the department of plastic surgery because of the complexity of the facial soft tissue wounds. Three underwent maxillofacial surgery."

So, being kicked by a horse would be akin to being hit with a bowling ball going 80 mph.

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