Any horse might kick under the right circumstances, and the possibility of becoming the target of a well-aimed hoof is always with us. Most of us learn commonsense guidelines of defensive horsemanship early on, but it's easy to get complacent among trusted horses. To stay safe, it's wise to always keep these rules in mind:
Stay alert. Focus your attention on the horse you're working with as well as any who are close by. Pay attention to a swishing tail, pinned ears, flared nostrils and other signs that a horse is getting annoyed, and take steps to diffuse the situation before he "blows up."
Watch herd interactions. Steer clear of any who seem alarmed or threatened by your presence. Also sidestep any developing skirmishes.
Avoid carrying feed or treats through a herd. Horses can become competitive and/or aggressive to get to the food, and you could inadvertently be on the receiving end of their blows.
Don't ride among loose horses. A horse at liberty may send yours a "don't come closer" message that puts your leg in the line of fire.
Tie horses far enough apart so that they can't kick each other. You'll also need a safe buffer zone so you can remain out of reach while walking between them.
Stay close to a horse's body when working around him on the ground. The most damaging kicks happen when a horse has enough room to fully extend his leg. Kicks at close range hurt but are less likely to cause serious injury.
Put away your cell phone. Whether you're on foot or in the saddle, stop talking, texting and indulging in other smartphone activities. Safety around horses requires your full attention.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #427.