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Horse Kicking Out in Canter? Here’s What to Do

Whenever you are riding at a canter, and your horse kicks out, you might think it’s out of disobedience or playfulness, but it could be much more severe than that. Let’s find out what to do and why horses sometimes behave this way.

Many factors can cause a horse to kick out in canter, like a behavioral problem, pain high up in his hind leg, suffering from lameness, or a neurological condition. Look for swelling, asymmetry, and lameness in his back and legs, and contact a vet to examine your horse for a medical condition. Behavioral issues can be corrected with the proper training.

Let’s investigate why your horse is acting out and doing this. We need to look at all the possible reasons that could be the cause.  There are no quick fixes when it comes to horses. Here’s what you can do to eliminate a probable cause.

Medical reasons why your horse is kicking out in canter

Some horses kick out at the canter due to pain high up in their hind leg or hip, and you want to rule that out as soon as possible. The first option to eliminate a medical problem with your horses’ hip, pelvis, or back you should contact your veterinarian to assess your horse’s general health and soundness. 

Your vet will perform a lameness and other neurological exams to rule out any medical issues that could cause this behavior. In some cases, your vet will prescribe phenylbutazone medication to see if the action stops. If your horse is showing a positive reaction to the medication, it might well be that your horse had pain all along, and pain is playing a role in his kicking behavior.

You may want to dot a few notes down for some questions your vet might also ask you like:

  • When you first noticed this behavior?
  • Did you see any lameness at the time?
  • When was the last time your horse behaved normally?
  • You might have to explain what kind of exercise you do with your horse.

Once your veterinarian has done all the appropriate exams and ruled out all possible physical issues for this behavior, you could start by eliminating the other possible causes for this kicking-out naughty behavior. 

Behavioral problems causing your horse to kick out in canter

Let’s look at some behavioral and other issues that could be causing your horse to kick out in canter.

  • A horse can act out from the pain in his mouth. Have an equine dentist examine your horses’ teeth regularly to avoid any broken or sharp teeth hurting your horse’s mouth from the inside.

    Horses need regular dental checkups to eliminate sharp enamel overgrowths or broken teeth.  A horse needs to have their dental exams at least once a year. When they get older, you should schedule dental exams every six months.
  • An ill-fitting saddle can also cause discomfort and cause your horse to kick out in the canter. If you suspect your saddle is not fitting correctly and your horse is experiencing pain, have a saddle fitter look at your horse and saddle. 

    The saddle fitter would adjust any part of the saddle that doesn’t sit comfortably on your horse. All horses differ from one another, and your saddle might be pinching or rubbing him the wrong way and causing him pain.
  • You should also look at your horses’ tack; start with the bridle and bit. The bit might also be the reason your horse reacts when you ride your horse. Does the bit pinch your horses’ tongue anywhere? Horses have very sensitive mouths and will react if the bit hurts them in any way.

    If your bit is pinching your horse’s tongue or cheek, he could react by kicking out. Try changing your bit to a gentler horse-bit like a snaffle. Also, pay attention to your noseband. Does it fit correctly, or does it pinch your horse anywhere?  Do this with all your other tack to eliminate the problem.

Leg aids and how to tone down the signals to stop your horse from kicking out in canter

To start first, you can try riding with a looser rein to lighten your hands. Don’t always ask your horse to be on the bit; just be content you have light contact. When you ask your horse to transition into the canter with constant legging your horse on when your horse doesn’t want to go forward, your horse could also just get annoyed and kick out. 

Excessive aids will inevitably make him non-responsive to your leg. Slightly decrease the pressure when you are legging him on into canter transition. Your horse must learn to go forward into the canter on his own with just the slightest nudge from your leg. If he ignores your leg, come back with a harder squeeze or a small tap with your whip and loosen your reins by keeping your hands supple.

How to stop your horse from kicking out in canter

Going back to basic groundwork, you can start working with your horse on the ground in a round riding ring.  Keep your horse saddled and bridled with a gentler snaffle bit while using a lunging rein. 

Now lunge your horse through all transitions in both directions. Whenever your horse kicks out when asked to transition into a canter, change the direction and start again. Keep repeating this every time your horse bucks or kick out.  When your horse gets it correct, let your horse keep going for a few strides and slowly go down to a stop and start again.

It helps to have a good warm-up session with light work in figures of eights, circles and allowing him to stretch out at walk and trot. Lunging is a good idea before riding to get rid of excess energy and get your horse focused.

Correcting this behavior as it happens on the spot is the best way to deal with it. Whenever your horse kicks out at a canter, turn his head while at a trot and make him go into a circle and then straighten him out and ask for a canter again

Bucking or kicking out takes a lot of energy. He will not spend it all on bucking when he knows he has to do more work. The idea is to move him forward through it and not let him think this behavior is acceptable.

Riders instinctively want to stop when a horse kicks out or buck. It is better to continue forward motion. Do not stop. Horses learn that bucking or kicking out gets them out of work.

When you feel a kick or buck coming on, try to keep your horse’s head up and keep the forward motion going.  If he does kick out or buck, remember to sit back, keep your heels down and gently pull up on your reins.  A horse cannot buck with his head up. Don’t get off; when you get off, it also teaches the horse that bucking gets rid of his rider.

Work on yourself by staying focused

Don’t get stressed or startled when your horse bucks and kick out in a canter. Keep control of your emotions and try to remain calm. It can be upsetting when your horse bucks out but don’t react out in anger or fear. The buck is not big, and you won’t fall off, so don’t be scared. Don’t share your panic with your horse.

Start again

Focus on staying calm and use aids with a smooth escalation. Once the buck has stopped, slow down to a walk and start again, asking for a transition from a trot to canter using smooth aids. Don’t reward the horse for his behavior by giving up or stopping.

Start again by asking for a canter. Once you get into a canter without a kick or buck, remember to reward and praise your horse. Positive reinforcement is significant in training. By praising your horse when your horse gets this correct, your horse will understand what behavior is required of him and that it pleases you. 

Making a fuss when he does something well enforces correct behavior. Hopefully, the behavior will stop, and you and your horse can enjoy a pleasant calm outride without any issues.


Although we have established that there can be many physical reasons a horse kicks out when asked to transition into the canter gait, we have also concluded that behavioral issues could also be a reason for this behavior.

By eliminating any physical discomfort and pain-related issues that might be the cause, with the help of your veterinarian, you might want to focus on other reasons your horse could be doing this. You now know that doing some extra groundwork training with your horse will help your horse stop it from bucking or kicking out in the canter.  

Anrie Diedericks

I've been around horses since I was 6 years old and started competing at the age of 9. Horses are my greatest passion and I am thrilled to be able to share my 23 (and counting) years of experience and knowledge with you.

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