My Show Horse Kicks

by Dana Hokana | August 3rd, 2011 5:04 PM | No Comments

Q. Hi Dana,

I have a four year old mare that I have owned since she was a yearling. She has been in training all this time and is doing great in the showpen. My problem is that she is unsafe to work with on the ground. I know her breeder and my trainer is very reputable so I highly doubt she has ever been mistreated. However, she seems to have some trust issues and will kick out if you try to work with her feet…in particular her back feet.

It appears that she kicks out in a fear/dominance state and is perfectly pleasant so long as you leave her feet alone. The problem is that I feel she should be safe for anybody to work around at this age. I need to put hoof polish on those feet and I’d like to pick them out and inspect her frog from time to time etc. (It seems NOBODY handles her feet at all except the farrier must, so I don’t know how she will ever get used to hoof handling.)

My trainer is completely unconcerned with her back foot behaviour and is very excited about her big wins in the show pen. This is trainer with many World Champion horses and riders in his barn so he’s no backyard butcher. I have been riding/showing for several decades but I am a complete novice at showing at this new higher level. I have always believed that “safety” comes before show ring awards.

I suggested my mare should be “severely punished” for kicking but several top trainers disagree and suggest this will cause more fear and more kicking. I am at a loss on what to do and I also  fear liability if somebody gets hurt.



A. Dear Melanie,

I completely understand your concern, and I would be very concerned also.  You definitely have a big liability issue if she were to hurt anybody, and I’m sure you don’t want anybody hurt by your horse.  I feel that at shows and around show horses, people are trusting and relaxed because most show horses are safe and quiet and are handled frequently.  In my opinion that would mean you have to really watch and warn people around her!  As far as whether she should be severely punished or not I also have seen horses that have become worse with behavioral issues after being severely punished.  I do agree that is a risk.  I will give you my opinion but without me seeing the horse I’m not completely sure of the right answer.

Most likely her bad behavior is learned behavior.  Proper handling when a horse is young is very important.  I’m only guessing but she probably got away with that enough times and backed people off until it became a learned behavior.  I would start by hobbling her or have someone pick up a front foot and practice over and over just touching and rubbing her hind legs.  I would talk to her and be as relaxed as you can in a situation like that.  If she kicks at you I would sharply correct her, but then I would go back to rubbing or petting her.  Make sure you have proper help and make sure she is restrained so that you cannot get hurt.  Also make sure your trainer is in agreement as I am assuming she is in his care for his opinion.  I encourage you, out of respect to him, that you and he discuss it and make a plan.  I am just telling you what I would do if she were in my program.  Many times, horses learn negative behavior as a type of fear response.  They know the punishment is coming so they fire out or react in anticipation of it.  The way to get a horse over that is to build a positive response by staying at it in each situation until she calmly accepts it.  Be prepared to spend as much time as it takes each and every time you work with her until you “win.”  You need to really read her correctly to know how much is fear and how much is aggression.  Also know that if she is hobbled or restrained she could hurt herself.  I feel that this could take a lot of time to get her over this problem with hours and hours of work.  This is a serious dangerous problem and I feel it is worth the time, knowing there is some risk to you guys and your horse!  Remember you have a large animal that you have to constrain enough to be able to handle her and restrain her negative behavior into acceptance.  There is a fine line between correction for negative behavior and reconditioning her to be OK with a person walking up and handling her hind legs.  The longer she’s acted this way, the longer it may take to get her over it.  Just a suggestion, if your trainer is extremely busy, you may offer to hire a person you both agree on to help to retrain your mare.

Good luck to you.  I know this is a difficult situation, but it sounds like you have a great mare and trainer and is worth doing all that you can to make her a nice safe horse.




About the Author

Dana Hokana is one of the top female trainers in the Quarter Horse industry, and currently operates Dana Hokana Quarter Horses in Temecula, California. Raised in Southern California, she has had a lifelong love for horses. Dana has trained multiple Western Pleasure circuit champions, winners at major futurities, and horses who have placed in the top ten in Western Pleasure at both the All American Quarter Horse Congress and the AQHA World Championship Show. Riding her own stallion, Invested Dimension, she captured an AQHA Reserve World Championship title in Senior Western Pleasure.

Dana’s DVD series entitled “The Winning Strides Series,” is designed to educate horse owners and riders from the basics of horse handling and horsemanship, to competing at high levels in the show arena. Skilled at teaching in an encouraging, relaxed, non-intimidating way, she carries these traits into the instruction in her video series. Dana will be a featured clinician at the Mane Event in Red Deer, Alberta, and has spoken at the Equine Affaire in Pomona, California and was a clinician at the Equine Affaire in Massachusetts and Columbus, Ohio, focusing on topics from grooming to western pleasure.

Now is your chance to have your questions answered by Dana! Just submit your question using the comment section below or the email link, and she will respond to select questions in future posts.

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