The Horse Forum banner

How to deal with a horse that bites

8162 Views 13 Replies 14 Participants Last post by  loosie
There are so many different ways that people choose to deal with a horse that bites, what do you do?

I own a horse who is lovely and respectful while I lead her and ride her, but when I groom her/ brush/ tack her up/ tighten her girth she snaps and throws her head around or bites.(Her saddle is custom fit to her and she did this before I owned her, so health issues aren't the cause of the problem)
My trainer used to tell me to give her a hard poke on the neck/ yank on a chain lead rope/ a hard whack to get her to stop. I really hate doing that, so I tried to avoid it, but the times I did it my horse wouldn't really care, or she would only stop nipping for a little while. I tried leaving a lead rope on while she was cross tied so that if she tried to bite me I could jiggle the rope to get her to stop, but it only made her stop once she already went to bite and didn't carry over to when she was without the rope.
Now, I try to talk to her/ let her know she is ok even more than I did before and if she tries to snap or bite I push her neck so her face is facing away from me. She still snaps but it is much less/to a lesser degree than before and she seems so much happier and genuinely happy to spend time around me.
So, I am happy that her bad behavior lessened and that she seems to be all around happier/warmer, but I would like to stop the nipping all the way.

What do you think? How do you respond when(if) your horse goes to bite you? Some people are ok with hitting their horses if they bite, others go for alternate methods: what is your stance-- and why? Any suggestions for my situation (I would prefer non-violent!)?
(sorry for the ramble!)
  • Like
Reactions: loosie
Status
Not open for further replies.
1 - 14 of 14 Posts

· Registered
Joined
·
117 Posts
what sometimes works for me if they try to reach around and get you, for example when you're tightening the girth is to have your elbow raised and ready. when she goes in to bite you, she will not be expecting it and she will jab herself on it - ouch. usually they stop trying after a few times of that in my experience.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
504 Posts
My horses don't bite, but I have very high expectations for their behavior and I do not hesitate to correct them as firmly as I must to get the point across. I have very simple rules; no biting, kicking, ear pinning, or any other form a physical violence or even threat of violence while humans are in the pen with them. They are 1000lb animals. They don't always realize how fragile humans are. They all know that any infraction will be dealt with swiftly and firmly. They understand the rules because I am consistent and everything is very black and white. I punish them if I have to, but the punishment always fits the crime and I never dole out punishment if I am really angry because I don't want to do something I would regret. If they don't misbehave, we get along fabulously, they get spoiled (within reason), and we're all happy. They step one toe out of line and they [email protected] well know what to expect and what they did to deserve it. Staying consistent is the key. They are all happy, healthy, and well trained.
In a case of biting, put a rope halter on them and give them a firm tug as a correction. You won't hurt them with that, but you will get the point across.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
8,913 Posts
There are so many different ways that people choose to deal with a horse that bites, what do you do?

What do you think? How do you respond when(if) your horse goes to bite you? Some people are ok with hitting their horses if they bite, others go for alternate methods: what is your stance-- and why? Any suggestions for my situation (I would prefer non-violent!)?
There are very few things that I will hit a horse for. Biting and/or nipping is one of them. I have a ZERO TOLERANCE policy. It is dangerous and I will not allow my horses to do it ... or even think about doing it.

Now of course, pain needs to be 100% ruled out, so that it is not the cause of the behavior. In the case of cinching up, have you checked (or treated) your horse for ulcers? Also, what type of cinch are you using?

If, for example, I have a horse that nips while saddling (and I've ruled out any pain or health problems), I will always be respectful and cinch them up slowly. I'm not going to baby them, but I also won't jerk on them. I will "wait" for the horse to make their move. I am watching them and on guard. Once they start going for it, I'm going to make them think the world is going to end for about 3 seconds. They may get smacked- they will get yelled at -they will stop their behavior dead in it's tracks. I don't wait for them to actually bite or nip -- I'm correctly them as they are starting to go for it. (but I don't prevent them from making the mistake)

After that little 3 second spurt, I go back to cinching up like nothing has happened.

Rinse and repeat.

It usually only takes a couple times and they get the point that it is not tolerated.

If necessary, I will carry a whip and I will use it.

If your correction doesn't elicit a response from the horse, you weren't firm enough.

My hand or even a whip is not going to hurt a 1,200 pound animal. But that 1,200 animal's mouth could very easily hurt me. That is why I take biting/nipping so seriously and why I have no problem kicking a horse's butt for it.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
46 Posts
Nipping and biting IS a sign of disrespect.

What we do with horses who have disrespectful/dangerous (read bucking and kicking) reactions to pressure around the girth area or flank area is go into a session with the goal to desensitize your horse to that pressure.

I would put your horse in a rope halter with a nice long 15-20 foot rope, bring a second rope and all your tack into the round pen.

Place the second rope around the girth area so that you can pull it to tighten. When you tighten that rope, if your horse does nothing, release the tightness and then praise. If you get nipped at, maintain the pressure around the girth area and move the horses feet. Back, forward, turn, trot, canter, and when your horse comes back to paying attention to you and not focusing on the pressure, release the tightness and praise. Repeat this until tightening the rope causes no reaction. The goal is to teach your horse that 1: girth pressure is a normal part of their life 2: acting out towards your person makes your life harder until you can focus and calm down. When I say, "move their feet" I mean make them WORK. Work them as little as possible but as much as necessary.

Once the rope pressures elicits no response, move on to your tack. Be prepared to repeat the same process over until you have a desensitized horse.

The key to this method, which we use on all horses that we start is that you, the person, cant get angry or frustrated. Set aside 4 hours and be committed to resolving an issue that if left unaddressed, has the potential to end with injury to you or someone else.

good luck!
 

· Registered
Joined
·
1,285 Posts
I stick a roofing nail between my fingers with just the tip sticking out. The horse gets popped with every single attempt just by blocking with your fist. No smacking of the head necessary. No, it doesn't break the skin, but they sure don't like it!


Can I just mention one thing that I teach my students that stops a lot of that bad cinching up behavior? The saddle does not need to be tightened super tight (or fast) the first time around! It just needs to stay on the horse. Tighten slowly, gently and not tight the first time. Walk away, come back and tighten up with increments. This solves a lot of this kind of behavior. I always tell my students; "imagine wrapping a belt around your ribcage and then cranking it up real tight-how would you feel?
 

· Premium Member
Joined
·
51,781 Posts
If your horse is only biting at girhting time, I may suggest this alternative approach. I would not tolerate REAL intent to bite, but have used this alternative approach for a hrose that has a long ingrained habit of bite gestures, wihtout ever actually tried to bite me.


my lease horse was pretty cranky about being girthed up. he didn't really threaten to bite me when I did up the girth, but he would do a lot of movements with his jaw, sort of crossing his jaw, grinding his teeth, turning his head sideways. these are his habitiual ways of expressing irritation. he will do it undersaddle if I disallow him to go home when he wants, or if I ask him to trot on when he doesn't want to. it's a long ingrained habit from long before I ever started riding him. it's him expressing his opinion, and he's a very opinionated horse.

so, girthing up was no fun for either of us. a boarder at the barn made a suggestion to deal with this using clicker training. I often disregard clicker training as foo-foo, but I politely listened.

she said that I would use treats (yes, GOD FORBID, use treats) to get X to buy into doing up the girth as something he chooses to let happen. so, I'm starting to hear in my mind's eye "yeah, right. the horse 'chooses ' anything !" but I was willing to give it a try.

first, we worked on me just standing next to the girth area, doing nothing with my hands, and waiting for X to put his head forward (not looking around at me), then I clicked and treated him. we did this a lot so that he knew he would not be treated if he were looking around at me. he had to put his head forward and stop all mouth anxiety movement. he would 'pause' expectantly, and I'd click/treat.

when we got this good, we did the same with me having my hands on the girth buckles. same requirements for a treat, same click/reward. then I'd have hands on buckles, threaded through and ready to lift. I'd wait for him to tell me he was ready for a treat, then click/treat and lift buckles a nothch tighter. not rushing, but not allowing more than a second or two to transpire between treating and lifting girth.

then, go to other side. rinse repeat. then groom abit, pick out feet, back to standing by buckles, hands on buckles all ready for another notch tighten, wait for horse to tell me HE was ready, (in correct position), click/treat/raise girth.

this has worked so well for us. X now almost looks forward to girthing. I see the flashes of his old hatred when I bring saddle out, or put it on his back, but when we do the girht, he is like 'bring it on!"
 

· Registered
Joined
·
17,830 Posts
Biting is NOT tolerated. It is a sign of disrespect.
Redz can be girthy at times. I just firmly say "NO!" or "ACK!" to get him to stop trying to turn his head/nip, then I continue tightening it. He doesn't have any teeth (long story, had some dental issues back in the day) so he can't bite necessarily, but if he even attempts to do that I am very firm with him. He knows better.
 

· Premium Member
Joined
·
10,679 Posts
When we got our first horse, he would try to bite me after I tightened his girth. Oddly, he wouldn't do it to my daughter. But he did it with other adults. I started leaving it on much looser and tightening it gradually. AND I did the nail in the fist thing. I could always see it coming and I would just expose the end of the nail and he would poke himself. Never broke the skin and I didn't make a big deal out of it. He just kind of pulled back in surprise like he was thinking "when did you get all prickly?" I just went on like nothing happened. It wasn't a "punishment", just a direct consequence of the behavior. After a while, all I had to do was give him a "look" when he looked like he was going to nip, or talk to him in a stern voice. It stopped fairly quickly and now, I don't worry about doing up his girth at all. However, if a stranger comes and tries to do it up, he starts threatening them again. Horses will always test new people.

I think my daughter, who was only 10 at the time, didn't have the strength of an adult, and so it didn't feel so tight. She would always get it tight enough eventually (I, and her coach, would always check), but it would take her longer because she didn't yank on it.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
12,038 Posts
Your situation is a two point kinda thing.
Yes, biting should never be tolerated, however, if a horse is offering to bite, when you do up a cinch ect, you gotta find out if the horse is trying to tell you something, and then change that first.
Could be the way you do that saddle up, could be the horse has some pain issue, when you groom her, like ulcers.
Okay, once that is ruled out, you then address that biting. Having handled young stallions, I have clear examples where a horse offers to bite, just because it is part of his natural instincts, and no discomfort involved.
In that case, I do carry that nail and let the hrose run into it. I chose to dot hat first, as then it does not become a game, with the horse trying to bite, then jerking his head out of the way, anticipating that reprisal
HOwever, should that horse be successful, and get abite in, I will make him think that I am going to kill him, for that second or so, hard enough so he gets that message, versus just picking at him, making the horse resentful, and not convinced of those rules!
 

· Super Moderator
Joined
·
27,778 Posts
first thing, do not feed treats with your hand. Don't keep treats in your pocket. That could be some of the nipping.

second thing... Pop the horse. the instant the horse nips - smack. I don't mean full on punch or be abusive. Just smack. It's the same thing the herd would do. just a quick retaliation within 3 seconds of the bit and he'll learn quick.

I did the same thing you are doing with my first horse (well - I didn't own her, she was a lease). I talked to her and petted her etc. And then one day she got me on the hip and it hurt so bad she brought tears to my eyes. I lost it, I spun on her and bit her on the muzzle. HARD. She never bit again.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
172 Posts
My gelding went to nip a few times as I was just starting to saddle him again after ~4 years on acreage unhanded. That being said he was probably more surprised than anything, and a bit upset I was actually going to work his lazy butt? How dare I! lolol Anyways, his sassy self was being disrespectful, surprised or not, and got an elbow to the gums as I saw it coming. He tried the same thing the next time I had him out, and I had asked him to pick up a hoof. Another elbow to the snout and he was never disrespectful like that again. Nipping things in the bud is super important to me, and biting is one of the things I 100% do not tolerate. He's only ever put his ears back and opened his mouth at me once since, and that was while he was in severe pain from a colic issue and I went to undo his blanket straps. I shoved his head away and gave him a pass, as he was most likely acting out from pain/being upset as opposed to actually intending to do harm. :/ I probably should have popped him one, but I wasn't really prioritizing manners at the moment.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
1,166 Posts
Why is she biting or nipping? I don't think a horse that has a good relationship with its handler would behave that way. That's just a symptom. You mention that she seems to be happier in your company than she used to be. This goes deeper than just tightening the cinch, IMO. Do you have an adversarial/confrontational relationship with your mare? Start by not even tightening the cinch enough to where it touches her. Stop. Talk to her; calm her down; give her a treat; tell her what a wonderful girl she is. You may have to end the lesson right there a few times. Who cares? Take your time. Be patient. Do what is necessary for her to feel good when you are around. Then, progress to where you just take all the slack out of the cinch, just to where it touches her. Again, pet and praise her; give her a treat. You may have to stop the lesson there. You get the idea. I'm not much of a fan of getting into confrontational situations with my horses. Developing a relation where they like me is what has worked for me. Good luck.
 

· Premium Member
Joined
·
24,143 Posts
Have only read 1st page. Agree with everyone mostly, esp Tiny & Smilie.

I don't agree with the 'disrespectful' comments though. Horses talk to us in the only way they can, with bodylanguage. If not taught not to, this includes biting & kicking. If a horse feels the need to shout at us. If we're not paying attention to the 'minor' signals, they may escalate. Unless the horse is suddenly frightened or hurt, they don't generally 'shout' without trying to talk to us first. And I believe it is vitally important to listen to & be considerate of your horse, try to understand & 'treat' the *reason* behind the behaviour, not just the 'symptom'.

That is not in the least to say that I would tolerate biting. It will still incur a strong, swift punishment *if I'm in time to fairly do it*, which means at the instant of the behaviour(eg the holding something pointy trick), or at worst, a second later. As others have said, being a dangerous behaviour(even worse than a dog being encouraged/allowed to mouth or play bite a human), it is one of the few things I will punish strongly. If need be. When a horse first tries this sort of behaviour, it may actually take very little in the form of a Bad consequence, especially if you show him you're being considerate of him. Especially if you're also rewarding 'Good' behaviour & make everything Right as easy as possible for the horse.

Unfortunately, if the horse has a history of doing this, especially if there's been inconsistent & ineffective punishment, in order for it to be effective(which it should be in 1 - few times, or you're missing something), it tends to need to be quite extreme. The horse may think of it as a game, or challenge, of 'you hurt me but I can hurt you more' or 'I'm quicker than you'. So they need to get the message, in no uncertain terms, that this is no game & it is Very Bad News for them if they bite a human. *In all my years dealing with horses, I've only come across 2 that I felt needed to go that far tho.

I believe the biggest key though, for a horse with a great 'work ethic', great manners & training is to focus on & reward the Good Things you get, and to a large degree, you can then ignore the 'Wrong', the mistakes they make. (not biting tho, don't ignore that!) While I don't use a clicker & tend to do things my own way, don't always use food for eg, I basically use Tiny's kind of method - 'clicker training'. If you don't know about it, I advise you look into it. Pay particular attention to the *principles* behind it. If as well as reinforcing other 'manners' & training, you also make a point of teaching/rewarding some behaviour that is contrary to biting - say your horse tucking his nose in & away from you, there's one more good reason for them not to bite, because they can't do that while getting rewarded for keeping their nose to themselves. **Also very important, regardless of what your horse may have just done well too, ensure they NEVER get rewarded
 
1 - 14 of 14 Posts
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top