Horse Biting

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Horse Biting

  2008 Cherry Hill   Copyright Information

Dear Cherry:

My horse keeps biting. He has done this since he was born. I have tried not giving him food from my hands. That did not work. He has a salt block. He is in a pasture. I would like to put him with my other horse, but my mom won't allow it. She is afraid the other horse will hurt him. The horse that bites just gets worse as he gets older. He especially bites men and will bite any chance he gets. How can I break this habit? B


Dear B:

    To cure biting you need to tell the horse that his behavior is not acceptable WITHOUT being abusive and WITHOUT making it seem like a game to the horse. If you just dab at the horse to tell him to quit, it will just invite him to play more. Horses bite each other in play. It is best to discourage this when the foal is very young and never let it form into a habit. It seems cute when the foal is young to let him lick and nibble you but when he gets bigger and has large teeth, it can be very dangerous.

    First of all, how old is your horse and is he a gelding or stallion? Young horses tend to bite more than older horses because they are investigating things BUT young horses are easier to train NOT to bite than older horses. Stallions tend to bite more often than geldings. Let me know the age and sex of your horse and I will have a better idea how to answer your question.

    Also, please let me know your level of experience training horses. If you are not a very experienced trainer, this might be a problem that you will need a professional to help you with. If the horse is getting worse, this is not good.

    Also, I am puzzled why you don't want to put your 2 horses together unless the older horse is big and mean and the younger horse is just a weanling or yearling. You know, sometimes, older horses train the younger horses to have good manners. If the biter learns that he can not bite the older horse (or he will get bitten, chased or kicked for it!) then it probably would make him think twice about biting humans. There is nothing like natural herd behavior to help you sometimes. However, your mom might have other reasons for not wanting to put them together?

    I need to have a lot more information from you before I can give a more thorough answer. In the meantime, be sure to read the articles on ground training on my roundup page because it sounds like this horse needs a thorough ground training program. 

Dear Cherry:

     The biter is a 4 year old gelding. I am OK with most horses but I do not know what else to do with this one. There is no professional any where near where I live. I would love to put my 2 horses together. My mom say the 2 fighting when the biter was a weanling. She has not allowed them back. I know it would be good for them both but she won't listen. Also, when the biter was a baby I did not own him, a neighbor did. I would not allow him to bite me. She thought it was cute and allowed him to bite her. I have been dealing with this ever since then. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks. B


Dear B:

     Horses bite to play or assert their dominance. When this horse was young and was nipping the previous owner, she, like many other people, thought it was "cute" but didn't realize when the horse gets big and the habit turns to biting that it is dangerous and hard to break.

     Here's what I can offer. You can use one of several methods. Because I don't' know the nature of your horse and I don't know your experience, you are going to have to make a choice.

     If you slap a horse on the muzzle when he bites, you have to do it hard enough so he knows you are not playing. If you do it mild to medium, he will
interpret it as in invitation to play or it could make him head shy. So mild slapping makes things worse. Giving the horse a knuckle sandwich
isn't usually the best answer either although with some horses it would end the problem with one application.

     If you chose to use retaliation as your method of trying to cure this horse from biting, you need to reprimand him within 1 to 2 seconds of when he bites (or tries to bite) you so he associates it with the biting. Be careful because you could hurt your hand on the hard portions of his head or if he is fast, he could learn to bite your hand when you reprimand him.

     I don't know your horse. I have pretty good luck figuring out the intensity to respond with when a horse first nips at me and that "nips it in the bud".

     Another method is to use a lead chain with your lead rope and when the horse reaches for you with his teeth, give him a tug on the lead. The chain should be set up to run over the bridge of the horse's nose in conjunction with the noseband of his halter. This is shown with step by step photos in my book Horse Handling and Grooming.

     Another method is harder to set up, but it makes the horse punish himself rather than you reaching out to try to slap his muzzle or giving him a tug on the lead rope. If there is a certain time or place that he tends to nip, be ready with an item, such as a wire brush taped around your arm or wherever he tries to bite you. I borrowed a parts brush from my husband's shop, taped the handle to my arm, bristle side out of course, and when the horse lunged at my arm when leading, his nose contacted the metal bristles and he reacted with the flehmen response(curling his lips and lifting his head) and then shook his head. He started thinking about whether he wanted to do that again or not. That was step one. He tried once more the next day, half heartedly and I casually moved my arm a little closer just as he half-lunged at my arm so he again got the bristles and that was the last time. It seems to make quite a bit of difference if you can handle it without reaching at their head with your hand...and be casual, as if, gee, did you run into a bristled brush? It is as if they are correcting themselves.

     One more thing, the less of an issue you make of it the better. If he does it when you are leading, just keep heading straight forward as you
make the correction. If you are grooming, be matter of fact, make the correction and continue, don't stop what you are doing.

     By the way, I also knew a guy who had a stud who nipped at the back of his hand when leading and the guy took two pieces of silver duct tape about 8inches long. He put one across the back of his right glove. He put about 4 thumb tacks in the other piece, inserting them into the sticky side so the points came out the non-sticky side. Then he taped the thumb tack tape over the top of the tape on his glove, so now he had a thumb tack sandwich on the back of his glove. (This way, he could remove the whole sandwich from the glove and reapply it to the glove or his sleeve until the stickiness wore out.) When the horse tried to bite his hand, the horse's nose hit the thumb tacks instead and he soon quit. This was a confirmed biter and you might not have to do this but it gives you another picture of what I am talking about - letting the horse punish himself.

     The bottom line is that biting is so dangerous that I know folks that have had whole fingers and chunks of their hands, arms, and even their chest muscles removed by a horse, often just "playing" so be consistent with what you use and please let me know how you make out.

     Be careful and get help if you can. 

 

 

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