Horse Stall Kicking

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    Horse Stall Kicking

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Few vices can be as destructive to your horse, your facilities, and your peace of mind as stall kicking.  Stall banging, a related habit, is the hitting the stall walls with the front hoof and knee.  Some stall kickers stand with the hindquarters near a wall and rhythmically thump the wall with one hind foot while the head bobs in a reciprocating motion as if such behavior brings a sense of contentment.  Others may kick or bang whenever someone is in the barn in at attempt to get attention and food.  Another style of kicker may rock fore and aft a few times and then let loose with both hinds at once.  There can be several such explosive bursts in a row, but because of the energy and balance required, this double-barreled kicker cannot reproduce the characteristic metronome-like thudding of the one-legged kicker.  The explosive kicker, however, can wipe out a stall wall in a single kicking bout to say nothing of the damage that can be done to his hind legs.  Capped hocks and curbs are often associated with chronic stall kickers; carpitis with stall bangers.  Loose, lost, or shifted shoes are common with stall kickers.

     Certain horses have a predisposition to neurotic breakdown when faced with insufficient exercise, excess feed, or constantly changing neighbors.  This tendency may be genetically inherited, formed from early experiences with the dam or training, or may simply develop later in life.  Often, when a neurotic tendency is coupled with a precipitating cause, such as insufficient exercise, the result is a vice such as stall kicking.

     Kicking is part of the socially acceptable play among horses, so stall kicking may begin as a natural behavior but may quickly become an exaggerated and obsessive habit.  Like many stable vices, stall kicking may be socially contagious.  Neighboring horses might merely mimic the behavior of the kicker or might get involved in kicking as an interactive game.  And some horses seem to interpret the sound of kicking of a nearby horse as a threat and will kick in defense.  However, stall kicking is not usually an act of aggression toward another horse.  It is most commonly a means of reacting to domestication or training stresses or a playful diversion invented to thwart boredom.

     In some cases, kicking, however, does occur between neighbors who don't get along.  A mare that has gone out of estrus (and in some instances, those that are in estrus) may kick at the horse in the next stall whether it is a stallion, gelding, or another mare.  Others may have a personality or pecking order conflict.  And other horses that are protective of their feed and personal space, may use kicking as a territorial protection measure.

     Some horses have learned that a great way to elicit attention from humans, and perhaps even get an extra measure of feed, is to kick.  The noise brings someone to the stall often with a diversionary flake of hay or a handful of wafers.  The kicking horse has not only received what he wanted but he has actually been rewarded for kicking.  The more times a horse is rewarded for a behavior, the more difficult it will be to change.  With the long-standing confirmed kicker, there may be no cure, but there certainly are better ways to deal with the vice than using feed as a pacifier and inadvertent positive reinforcement.

     Before aggressive remedial measures are implemented, however, a kicker's exercise and feed programs should be carefully evaluated.  Any horse, and especially an energetic, inquisitive horse, should have active, sustained exercise at least five times a week.  Active, sustained exercise commonly consists of longeing, driving, or riding.  Turn-out usually does not yield sustained exercise  - after a few leaps and bucks, the horse rolls and may be ready to come back into the barn.  A horse's ration should be tailored to meet his energy needs.  Too often a horse's ration is set when he is being regularly ridden but is not adjusted when the riding program is interrupted by an injury, poor weather, or the owner's schedule.  An overfed, underexercised horse is a prime candidate for developing any of a number of stable vices.

     As with all undesirable habits, treatment can consist of psychological or physical means.  Any treatment is more successful if it is applied before a habit becomes deeply ingrained.  A psychological cure requires identification of the cause of the kicking.  A physical cure is aimed at identifying and eliminating a symptom (kicking) of the problem.

     From observations, it seems like some horses are actually soothed or placated by the sound of their own hoofs thumping.  In such cases, some success has been obtained by padding either the stall walls, the hooves or both.  If stall kicking is obviously due to boredom or confinement, the horse can be given additional work sessions or turn-out time in a pasture or run.  If this is not possible, often a stall toy offers a diversion.  When kicking is due to an incompatible neighbor, shifting the horse's position in the barn may help.  If kicking is a means of begging for a treat, tying the horse in his stall so that he cannot reach a wall often prevents kicking but may precipitate pawing.

     If a horse has developed a chronic kicking habit or a non-specific overall crankiness, it is best to deal with the symptom of the vice - - the kicking itself.  Anyone working with or around a horse that has a tendency to kick is in great potential danger.  When trying to change the deeply ingrained habits of a determined kicker, be aware that the horse could hurt you and may end up hurting himself.  So, if you do not feel totally competent handling a horse that kicks, get some professional help.

     Formal leg restraint lessons such as hobbling, scotch-hobbling, cross-hobbling or side-lining can teach a horse he can't and shouldn't kick but such methods are impractical and dangerous to leave on an unattended stalled horse.  Affixing horizontal boards on edge around the inside of the stall could prove beneficial.  Attaching them at rump height could prevent the horse from getting close enough to the wall to kick; fixing them at hock height would result in the kicker contacting the board with his flexor tendons, thereby discouraging him from kicking at the wall but creating the possibility of him being injured if he is persistent in his habit.  A turn-of-the-century remedy suggests hanging a heavy iron object above the area in the stall where the horse customarily kicks.  The object should hit the horse on the top of the rump as he raises up his hindquarters to kick.

     Kicking chains have also been used successfully.  A chain is suspended from a leather strap which is fastened above the hock.  The horse is reprimanded by the chain each time he kicks.  Another, simpler, self-training device is a specially shaped horseshoe.  It should be circular and brought together at the heels so that it just fits over the leg at the cannon and will slide down over the fetlock and rest on the coronary band.  Every time the horse kicks, the shoe bangs the pastern.  The question may be raised whether such methods are humane.  If a horse has developed a habit of relentless pounding which results in damage to his legs and broken and splintered boards, a fairly convincing remedy needs to be implemented.  Before trying any corrective measures, be absolutely sure that the horse is receiving regular adequate exercise, appropriate feed, and has reasonable neighbors.

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