Kicking Problems

Q. My horse constantly kicks his stall, and in the pasture he's very rough with other horses, biting and kicking them. How can I stop this behavior?

Jess, Boulder, Colo.


A. There are many possible causes of the behavior you describe. It would take a more detailed history to comment specifically on your horse, but I can make some general comments on this type of behavior.

Physical discomfort--With these behaviors, you'd first want to rule out physical discomfort. Horses that are uncomfortable can often be bothered by other horses coming near. And as strange as it seems, some horses don't appear to appreciate the stall walls as an effective barrier. From your question, I couldn't tell whether the stall kicking is toward neighbors in adjacent stalls, or just kicking out and contacting the walls as some horses do when in pain. For a behavior specialist to evaluate the situation, a video (several hours at least) of the horse in that stall under the usual conditions associated with the kicking can be useful.

Food-related aggression--Another common aggressive behavior is food-related aggression. You would want to know if this aggression toward herdmates, or kicking at the walls, is associated with feeding time. This can happen at pasture if you are supplementing with grain buckets, or at the time that you bring them in for feeding.

Another peculiar pasture situation that provokes aggression in otherwise peaceful horses is an artificial water source (tub or automatic water bowl). Even though there is lots of water and time to drink, grouped horses usually go together to water and often fight over it. Even when there's a huge tub, or multiple tubs, one horse might try to control access, as he would with a grain bucket. This is one of those hard-to-understand features of domestic horse management that are often blamed on the horses rather than on the artificial conditions.

Here in Pennsylvania, it has become environmentally correct to fence livestock away from creeks and natural bodies of water. Often we hear of herds that never fought over water from a pond or stream bank fighting over water from a non-natural source. In addition, related injuries became problematic.

For more on food- and water- related aggression, see Pasture Feeding Aggression, Seven Deadly Sins, Kicking Out at Feeding Time, and Feeding Time Pawing.

About the Author

Sue McDonnell, PhD, Certified AAB

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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