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Is It Safe To Walk Behind A Horse

If you are new to the world of horses, the first thing you’ll want to learn is how to interact safely around them.  Horses are large animals and sometimes injure people who don’t pay attention.  A horse’s biggest defense is kicking with their powerful hind legs.

I always heard horror stories about the dangers of walking behind a horse.  Even when I got my first horse, I never would walk behind it.  Eventually, I learned that it’s not as scary as you think.

So, is it actually safe to walk behind a horse?  Yes.  It is safe to walk behind a well-trained horse if you follow a few simple steps including maintaining contact with your hand, speaking calmly and walking tight to their hind quarters.  The other option is to walk far enough around that you are out of kicking distance.   

Moving safely around horses is easy once you learn the basic steps.  Keep reading to learn the best way to do it and why it is necessary to do it right.   

How do you walk around a horse

Horses have a visual blind spot directly behind them which prevents them from seeing you walking there.  As grazing animals, their instinct is to run away or kick if something sneaks up on them.  When walking behind a horse, the goal is to maintain their attention so they know where you are at all times.  Remember, a startled horse poses a kicking hazard.

There are two safe options for walking behind a horse; close with contact or out of kicking range. 

Follow these steps for walking closely behind a horse:

  1. In close quarters or while grooming, it’s best to approach a horse near the shoulder where they can see you.  
  1. Place your hand on their side and keep contact as you walk your way toward their hind end. 
  1. Run your hand over their rump as you walk close to their back legs around to the other side.
  1. Don’t walk so close that you bump their hocks or pull their tail.  

Walking this close seems counterintuitive but it is actually safer than walking three to five feet behind them.  If they kick, you are standing close enough that their feet will hit you before they’ve had a chance to fully extend their leg and deliver a full-force kick.  This will probably still hurt but it is unlikely to truly injure or kill you.

If you are working with a horse that misbehaves or one you are unfamiliar with, play it safe and walk way behind them out of kicking range.

In both situations, using your voice in calm tones also allows them to hear where you are even if they can’t see you.

Will a horse kick you if you stand behind it

Walking behind a horse has its risks but a moving target is less likely to be kicked than a stationary one.  Standing directly behind a horse in the kick zone should be a cause for concern.  Again, horses cannot see directly behind their big back ends and if you are standing there quietly, they might forget you are there and then suddenly react if you startle them.

You can groom their rump, back legs and tail while standing off to the side.  There is no reason to stand directly behind.  Sometimes tail braiding requires a more square on approach but you should always exercise caution and pay attention to the cues your horse is giving you.

Can a horse kick sideways

We’ve talked about horses kicking backwards and how to safely navigate around their rear end.  But we must not overlook that horses can move their back legs forward and to the side as well. 

This is called “cow kicking” when a horse uses a back leg to kick toward something standing near its side.  This type of strike typically doesn’t carry as much power as a rear kick but depending on the location that they hit you, injuries can vary. 

Horses can also strike out with their front feet.  All of their legs are designed for speed and protection. 

However, rarely do horses kick at their owners sideways.  They usually know you are there and they’re less likely to be startled when they see you at their side.  Cow kicking is most likely going to occur when grooming or treating an injury cause’s unexpected and significant discomfort to the horse. 

Warning signs that a horse will kick

Most of the time horses will use body signals to warn of an upcoming kick.  Why waste energy or potential injury to themselves if a warning gets the offending party to stop whatever they are doing?  The following are things you should watch for that indicates your horse is feeling upset. 

  • Ears laid flat against their head.  Pinned ears are the number one visual that your horse is upset.  Content horses keep their ears forward and swiveling around listening to their surroundings.
  • Vigorously swishing their tail.  Especially, when no bugs are present.   
  • Stomping or lifting their feet.  This is a visual que that they are agitated and ready to kick.

It is important that you recognize these signals so you can either prevent the kick or quickly get out of the way.  Sometimes all it takes to stop a kick is to divert their attention toward something else.  If their leg is lifted, you can shift their weight or get them to walk which requires them to put that foot down.  Horses don’t usually hold grudges and will move on once they feel the situation is better.    

Do horses kick for no reason

Horses do not just randomly kick.  There is always a reason: biting flies, annoying bees, colic, a sore foot, annoyance, space issues, fear, being startled, playing.  This list could go on and on.  The point is, you may not be aware of the reason and just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Sometimes your horse may be trying to kick at another horse or animal and you are between them and get in the way.  

When an insect bites, a horse usually reacts one of four ways.  They may bite at it with their mouth, swish their tail, stomp or kick with their feet or run away.  If your horse is tied up during a grooming session, they can’t bite at the fly nor run away from it, and if tail swishing doesn’t work, the last option is to kick.   

If your horse is getting fidgety, stop and see if you can solve the problem for her before she feels threatened and kicks.   

If you are the problem, maybe picking at something that hurts, listen when she tells you to stop.

Horses also kick to establish dominance in a herd.  The most powerful and dominant horse becomes the boss.  Some horses have dominance issues that carry over to their human handlers which requires heavy training and may or may not be correctable.  

What do you do with a horse that kicks

What do you do with a horse that kicks?  If a horse is dangerous and constantly lashes out, I would not keep him.  The risks are too great if you are not a professional horse trainer.  And even a professional trainer might agree that the chances of injury are not worth taking on the challenge of training.  

On the other hand, it’s worth keeping a well-trained horse if their only issue is kicking when people or other horses come up behind them.  This is workable.  You will know how to safely interact with your horse and stay away from areas that bother him.  It is also up to you as the horse’s owner to warn others that your horse is a kicker.   

There are standard visuals you can incorporate while riding that warns others of potential problems.  Tying a red ribbon into a horse’s tail lets other riders know they kick and to stay far enough back.  A blue ribbon tied in their forelock signifies a biter.  

These ribbons should always be worn when riding with others who are unfamiliar with your horse to let them now if your horse bites or kicks.         

Can a horse kick kill you 

Being kicked by a horse is dangerous.  The severity of an injury depends on where you are standing and how hard they kick.  

If you are in the “safe zone” right behind a horse, you are most likely to only be bruised by a kick.  However, standing a few feet behind a horse at a distance where they can fully extend their legs during a kick, you are more likely to break an arm or leg.  

If you receive a full force kick with both hind legs to the torso or head, you can be severely injured or even killed.  Horses are very powerful and can deliver hind kicks up to 2000 pounds per inch.  Not only are horses extremely powerful, they kick faster than you can get out of the way.  

Exercise extreme caution with children.  Small kids should never be allowed around horses unsupervised.  They are just the right size to receive a kick in ways that are more harmful than for adults.  Children also may agitate horses or startle them from behind without realizing the danger signs.  

Final thoughts

Moving safely around horses is easy once you learn the basic steps.  Always exercise caution even around your own horse.  Becoming too comfortable can lead to accidents.  Some horses rarely kick, but you should never assume they won’t.  

If you follow the few simple steps discussed above about maintaining contact with your hand, speaking calmly and walking tight to their hind quarters, you should be able to walk safely behind your horse.  

With unknown horses, or when being close isn’t necessary, just make sure to walk far enough around that you are out of kicking distance.