Thank you, Scoutrider! I did read every word.
So the first thing to do is recognize the type of biting. Okay, that makes sense. And it also makes sense to cure the problem rather than the symptom. But even if you find it's dominant biting, you don't think that smacking the horse (even gently) would cause them to become afraid of you? Because even though that's what a herd leader would do, no matter how hard we try we still look like predators to horses.
At least that's what I've been thinking lately. My biggest concern is causing the horse to fear me rather than respect me.
Thanks again for your insights!
If I have one issue with NH, it is the assumption that a horse cannot possibly see the human as anything other than a predator. If the predator/prey animal gap couldn't be crossed, there would be no way on earth that a human would ever get close enough to smack the horse or for the horse to bite the human; pony-puff would be across the state line, saving his hide the minute he got wind of a human. That's clearly not the case; we ride, compete, breed, and enjoy our horses, whether as partners, friends, colleagues, whatever. IMHO, it takes quite an experience to convince a domestic horse that a human is in the same league as an alligator or a cougar. We might "look like predators", but if we act like horses, and communicate on their terms, any instinctual fear atrophies pretty quickly. There are some good debates on this forum on the predator-prey animal dynamic.
Something that I would like to note is that if I smack a horse, the smack is part of the increased pressure of moving the horse out of my space yesterday. Pinning the horse to the wall and smacking him repeatedly is not the name of the game; essentially what I'm saying to the horse is "That was really bad, and I want you out of my space because my hand's gonna be there in a minute". Something I find key in correcting horses is dismissing emotion from the equation. If I'm leading a horse along, and he darts in and tries to nip, I will have a hand up to pop him and drive his forehand away. Once the horse is respectful, I go on as if nothing had happened.
If you have the opportunity, I strongly recommend visiting a herd of 10+ horses and just watching them interact in the pasture. If a lower-rung horse gets into the space of the alpha-horse, she (it's usually a mare) will react in the same way to a sudden "challenge" like a nip. She'll squeal, pin her ears, and push the challenger away, backing herself up with her teeth or heels if the challenger doesn't heed milder warnings. Just because she's a prey animal doesn't mean that she won't get a little physical to get her point across. When the lower-rung horse does as she asks, she goes back to "neutral".
IMHO, where "natural" horsemanship comes in is using the same kind of mechanism as alpha-mare to get your point across. The horse already understands what you're saying. Instead of going to Germany, flagging a German speaker down on the sidewalk and yelling at him in English, you try to communicate in a language that one party already knows: you take a stab at German. Instead of trying to teach the horse "human", you use "horse" to communicate.
I don't worry too much about my horse being afraid of me. Sometimes, a healthy dose of "fear" is what's needed, if you take my meaning. Not "OMG I hear her car pulling in, I'M GONNA DIE TODAY!" fear, but "she's nice, and she takes care of me, but I'd better do as she asks or there will be consequences" fear. I want the horse, for the safety of all involved, to have that second kind of "fear". I have smacked my horse before, and as far as fear goes, I have never
had to do any more to catch him in the pasture than stand at the gate and whistle. 9 times out of 10 he beats me to the gate.
He has several acres over which he could flee from me, but he chooses to meet me with nickering, pricked ears, and a friendly expression.
I read the article that you posted, and while some of the points are quite valid (such as the idea of moving the horse's feet to establish respect, and the difference between fear and aggression), there are others that I would like to qualify, if I may, mainly the portion about bits causing pain and fear: yes, bits are capable of causing pain and fear, but it isn't the bit that does it. It's the monkey holding on to the reins and jerking away, or the incorrectly adjusted headstall. Bitless is fine and dandy, but a bit, snaffle or otherwise, is by definition a communication tool, not a torture device. But, that's another topic that's had a lot of attention on other threads.
Justsambam has excellent points as well.
Good heavens, I'm wordy tonight... sorry about that...