Application of the Kicking Strap
I am a great advocate of the kicking strap for one very simple and very good reason. It‘s the cheapest insurance you can have for bucking and kicking, whether premeditated, from temporary insanity or due to high spirits. I‘m also a believer, if you wait until your horse actually kicks the vehicle, you‘ve waited too long before applying it. It is for these reasons I never put a horse into training without using a kicking strap, and usually never dispense with the kicking strap until I‘m sure the kicking/bucking lesson has been well learned.
Now, despite the name, this strap does not prevent your horse from kicking. What it does do is prevent your horse from lifting his hindquarters to the point that he can actually hit something with his back feet should that be his intent! It is sometimes called a bucking strap because, if the horse can‘t lift his hindquarters, he can‘t buck! Voila!
To illustrate why I advise a kicking strap, let me tell you a little story!
I had been driving three years before I discovered the value of a kicking strap. My second driving horse was a little (barely 14.2) Morgan mare we had picked up at an auction for our son. She was obviously someone‘s retired western pleasure horse and she was awesome on the trails. She was hardy and willing and kept up easily with the larger horses. We called her Baby Doll because she was (usually) the sweetest thing on four legs. I started driving her after our son outgrew her and I had lost the Thoroughbred mare I had been driving in old age (she died at 19).
So, driving withdrawals soon to be sated, I taught Baby Doll to drive. When I first started driving her, she had no idea that she even had back legs. Every bit of work she did came right off the front end. She had a resistor muscle that rivaled anything I had dealt with before and an accompanying swayed back. By the end of our second year of driving, she had lost the resistor muscle and the swayed back and was pushing with her hind end. Swell! But, along with that, she had discovered that she could do other things with her hindquarters!
One day, out of the blue, she lodged a protest. She wanted to stop and visit the ponies that had come running up to the fence we were passing. When I insisted we resume our work, up came the protest in the form of two back feet. In the process, she got a leg over one shaft and destroyed the box on my cart (not that it didn‘t need replaced anyway). My passenger (new horse person) spent the rest of our drive home with her foot out on the shaft so she could exit quickly if Baby Doll started kicking again. Not a pleasant trip home with the dash missing and the box swaying back and forth beneath us, and all for want of a kicking strap!
She was a wonderful little horse and she taught me an incredible amount about fixing movement problems in driving horse. I drove Baby Doll four more years and did very well in combined driving, but never without my trusty kicking strap (except in the dressage arena). I use a kicking strap to this day, on every horse I train.
There are two basic designs of kicking straps, of which I recommend only one. The design I don‘t recommend fastens at the crupper and, when the horse moves it hindquarters left or right in the shafts, the kicking strap pulls the backstrap and crupper left and right, which is very irritating to the horse.
The design I recommend has a tab which extends forward from the kicking strap and fastens into the back strap buckle. This tab allows the kicking strap to slide across the top of the horse‘s hindquarter without pulling on the backstrap or crupper. It also allows for the strap to be positioned just behind the highest point of the hindquarter without interferring with the horse‘s movement.
Adjusting the kicking strap
With the horse and cart on level ground, there should be the width of one hand, and one hand only, between the kicking strap and the top of the hindquarter. This means, if you can stand your hand on its side between the kicking strap and the hindquarter, it‘s the right length. This amount of room is necessary to allow for the horse‘s natural movement. When a horse trots or canters, the hindquarter bounces up and down about this much.
I’ve written a kicking strap construction article. If you have any questions, email me after reading that article.