Everyone will accept that horses kick, and most assume the back legs of the horse are the most dangerous area of the animal. Yet the front legs are equally as lethal, the power and destructive forces of a strike can inflict deep tissue wounds and shatter bones. A strike, striking and striking out are all terms associated with the horse using the front hooves to kick. There are different forms of striking, each depending on the level of threat, and the amount of force the horse needs to apply. In the last article we saw that a horse starts with gesturing by raising one front hoof, this would be the same as a boxer raising his fists, the gesture is both defensive and threatening. If neither party backs down, then the only course of action is to use those fists, or hooves in this case.
Low Level Striking
This action is applied with three hooves remaining on the ground, with the fourth aiming to inflict damage to the shoulder or front legs. Low level striking is more likely to occur when each horse is facing one another for a number of reasons. To start with, this would be the next stage after hoof waving, so it’s a natural progression, the hoof is already locked, loaded and ready to be used. Another reason is universal for any species, in that energy should not be expended uselessly. A serious wound to the shoulder or leg at this point could render the opponent incapacitated, and the fight would be over sooner rather than later.
Low level striking can also occur when a horse is attempting to kill or maim predators such as snakes, coyotes and even crocodiles. In this case both front hooves can leave the ground and quite literally pummel the intended target. In theory this action could still be thought of as striking, but stomping would actually be a more descriptive term.
Image credit – photographer Rob Palmer (the dog survived)
This particular manoeuvre causes catastrophic injuries due to the speed that stomping can occur, along with the full body weight of the horse bearing down on its intended target. Furthermore the forward action of the horse will result in all four hooves trampling its prey, finishing by kicking out with the back legs as the horse moves away from the animal. It is very unlikely an animal without the speed and agility of a dog would escape unharmed.
With both front hooves off the ground the horse is partially rearing, and putting more body weight into the downward motion of the strike. Damage can be inflicted with either or both hooves simultaneously. The opponent’s defensive response would be to also rear to avoid injury to the head and torso. Thus, the fight escalates to full rear high striking.
The High Strike
While many animals display deimatic behaviour as a defensive mechanism, it’s more likely the horse is standing (rearing) in this image to not necessarily to look larger but to utilise its front hooves, while attempting to avoid the opponent’s hooves. Additionally the posturing and attempts at intimidation was initially demonstrated pre-fight, but to no avail. Each, at this stage, will attempt to be higher than the other. The horse using his weight in the downward motion post rear is also used to inflict injury. So while the horse is attempting to strike at the full rear, he also has the opportunity to use his teeth and hooves while bearing down on his opponent, powered by the full weight of his body. Therefore it is important in this case, to be higher than the opponent, to both avoid, and to inflict injury.
Next Time – Biting!
Further reading – Part 1
Images: By kind permission of photographer Gary Odell