BY DEBORAH JANE NICHOLAS
When somebody is about to walk behind my horse and they ask, does your horse kick? I always feel a bit tongue-tied. Obviously I would like to say no, but in truth all horses kick. Although I am almost certain my mare won’t (this time) because I am aware she has seen the person approach her. If she’s not eating, stressed, frightened, in-pain, half asleep, or being eaten by flies, then yes, I am almost certain she will not kick you.
Horses have taught me many valuable lessons over the years, even the painful lessons have been important as these are the ones that have kept me safe later on. The speed, accuracy and power of a kick is something to behold. I was kicked twice in a fraction of a second 2 inches above my left knee cap many years ago, the dent in my leg will be there permanently. I regard this as physical reminder of my stupidity.
My mare displays disdain toward dogs, foxes, even rabbits, so her kicking out doesn’t surprise me at all. More than one hapless labrador has been sent flying across the yard over the years. Yet there is another lesson I will never forget, and it’s far worse than being kicked myself.
One day when the vet asked me Does your horse kick? I actually did say no. But this wasn’t my mare this time, this was my gelding Oscar. He was the most trustworthy and sensible horse I have ever owned. Very reliable on the yard, on hacks, in heavy traffic, riding through cows and sheep, nothing really phased him. If he was to feature in an advert he would be described as ‘good to do in all ways’. So on this day as the vet stood poised ready to give a flu and tetanus jab and asked Does he kick? of course I replied no.
Complacency at its best, as I soon learned.
As that needle entered his rump he lifted both back legs high off the ground and kicked out at the vet. This was an experienced equine vet, and I have used him for years. Although, perhaps after that experience he may learn that when an owner says no, they may mean not thus far. We both moved with lightening speed, not that I am suggesting a kick isn’t faster than a human can react, a kick is far quicker…we were just lucky and my horse missed, I can only think deliberately.
I laughed, but out of shock and surprise more than anything, as this event was far from comical. The reason this is such a valuable lesson is because even with the most trust-worthy horse you can never, and should never, categorically state a horse will not kick. My gelding was approximately 20 years old when this happened. He was experienced with vets and with life. He was comfortable around me and the yard. But for whatever reason something was different for him that day. If he hadn’t missed his intended target then I would be describing him as a 20 year old horse that never put a hoof wrong, was good with children and all animals, but then one day out of the blue he killed someone. Furthermore these things happen every day all over the world. It’s usually the trustworthy horse and the one that has never kicked out before. We assume because the animal has never kicked, it never will.
We become complacent over time and stop reading the signals, and this is generally why it happens. The horse has become a best friend and a trusted member of the family. Owners only see good ol’ dependable Barny or Doris that likes a morning carrot and the occasional flap-jack. Believe it or not, this will be the horse that kicks you, simply because you have let your guard down. In some ways owners can become blind to the signals, as I did with Oscar.
Freak accidents are going to happen, although I am aware of some professionals that dispute this. But spend enough time around horses and it’s likely a person will get kicked at some point. Yet staying mindful of the environment and the situation, and understanding the behaviour and psychology of a horse, will profoundly decrease the chances of this occurring.
Anthropomorphising the equine is a mistake, and this is without a doubt why most people get into trouble. The horse doesn’t understand cuddles, pats, kisses or being told he’s a good boy. I doubt there is even love, although I wish there was.
After kicking a human a horse will not feel sorry. He will not understand his mistake should a handler punish him. He will have no concept of why he is being told off. There is no residing in the dog-house in the equine mind. He will simply identify threat and incapacitate that threat, and think no more of it.
A horse should at all times be regarded in all its formidable entirety. It isn’t good ol’ Oscar that would never harm a fly. This animal has been around for over 50 million years and if those hooves and lightening quick responses weren’t needed, nature wouldn’t have provided them.
Therefore when somebody is about to walk behind my horse and they ask Does your horse kick?
I should just reply in the affirmative.