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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I have a gelding that will be two years old in May and I have a few questions.

Bruno has always a BIG nibbler/biter. He's been that way ever since he was a foal. When he tries to bite at me I get very angry at him, yell and generally make a big deal about it. I want it to be a big deal and let him know that he's just made a big mistake. When does this, he isn't being aggressive about it. I think it has turned into a big game for him and I was wondering if what I'm doing is right? Or is there something better I can do?

Also, when I sort of lean on him and put my arm over him he will get VERY agitated. He'll pin his ears back, swish his tail and turn his head like he's going to bite me. When he does that I, normally, will pop him on the nose and get a very stern voice and say "No, Bruno". Often times he will try to walk off, but I will keep right with him until he stops. I know he would bite me if I didn't stop him before he got to that point. Is what I am doing right? and is there anything I can do to make him quit acting like that?


Thanks.
 

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Wow, sounds to me like he is a dominant little man! How was he weaned? If he is kept with other horses, what are their ages? Also, at what age was he gelded?

The reason I ask this is because sometimes when horses are weaned early and put in a pasture with other young horses, this can lead to them learning their social behaviours from other young horses. This can blur the lines of herd dominance as a group of young horses will assert their dominance with each other but are not brought into check by an older horse (usually the mother of course). Also, biting/nibbling can be a common behaviour exhibited by stallions and colts, thus sometimes if a colt is gelded late they may exhibit some of these behaviours as well.
Since your gelding is trying to assert his dominance over you, the trick is to make sure he knows who is boss and iron out his dominant behaviour. My guess is that he gives you signals (before he bites) that he is about to be beligerent i.e. tail swishing, tensing of muscles, shaking his head, putting his ears back, rolling his eyes around etc. This is all unacceptable behaviour but I wouldn't suggest asserting your dominance by hitting, yelling or otherwise trying to scare him into submission.
When he starts giving you these signals, tell him sharply 'no' or 'uh-uh' (some short, sharp voice command), get into his space and push him away from you. Make him yield to pressure (shoulder area, ribs, chest) by taking 2-3 steps away from you or until he yields easily. Make sure it is a strong push, don't take no for an answer. Also be sure to do this from all angles so that he can't anticipate what you are going to do and take evasive action. He should move where you tell him and when you tell him!
Hope this helps!
 

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Okay, this is a REALLY unorthodox way of breaking biting but it has worked for me about 95% of the time. I bite back....right on the upper lip. I know it sounds a little gross but it shocks the heck out of the horse. The first time I tried it was when I was really fed up with a stall neighbor....she had an OTTB that was just out of control and she would NEVER discipline him or let anybody else, even went through about 20 trainers and fired them all at any sign of a smack to her horse. He got so bad that he would lunge out as people walked by his stall, ears pinned back, and just bite attack. I had bruises all over because he could reach me and my horse as I we went in and out of our stall. One day after a particularly bad day, he lunged out and got a good chunk of skin off me, so I turned around and clamped my teeth onto his upper lip as hard as I could. His eyes rolled back and he started shaking (I know it sounds mean) and he even let out a little squeal. But you know what, that horse NEVER even attempted to bite me again. I've been biting back ever since much to the dismay of my stablemates.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Sarahver:

Bruno was weaned when he was four months old. After he was weaned he was kept with an old mare (around 8 years old) and a younger gelding. He was gelded when he was a year old.

I will try doing this and I hope it will work, because what I have been doing hasn't really solved the problem.


Cinny's Whinny:

I just might try that.


Thank you.
 

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Here's what I do: My mare is usually very touchy around the girth area, breast collar area, and inbetween her front legs. She would stretch out her neck and bite the air and sometimes she would even do it when I went to pick up her feet to clean them. When she did this, I would punch her in the side all the while remaining what I was doing as if I didn't do it. It got her attention, and she hardly does it now. I either punch her there or give her a knee there. I don't do this as hard as I can, just very firm, to where she gets the point. Let's just say I don't hit her as hard as some horses do ;)

Cinnnys whinny: I'm not sure thats a good idea darlin' lol. It's going to suck when he/she decides to throw their head up as you're biting them. Could lose some of your precious pearlie whites :0 But hey, if it works for you...than thats awesome! Just watch out.
 

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Bruno has always a BIG nibbler/biter. ....
I think it has turned into a big game for him
Yes, that's one potential problem in using only positive punishment against horseplay - the horse may see it as you just joining in the horseplay, or challenging him, encouraging him to rise to bigger & better challenges! I would avoid entering into these games with him, especially if he's an assertive type. Instead negative punishment - he wants to play, you leave - & reinforcement tends to be more effective.

I have great results with 'clicker training' principles, especially with mouthy horses. Teaches them to mind their manners & keep their mouths to themselves, if they want the Good Stuff! As with whatever other methods, you just have to be spot on with timing & aware of what exactly you're reinforcing, if you want to be most effective & avoid inadvertently reinforcing behaviours you don't actually want.

Also, when I sort of lean on him and put my arm over him he will get VERY agitated. He'll pin his ears back, swish his tail and turn his head like he's going to bite me. When he does that I, normally, will pop him on the nose and get a very stern voice
Hmm, that sounds like a big reaction. I would want to rule out pain/discomfort, as it sounds potentially like him trying to tell you you're hurting him. Otherwise, what have you done in preparation for this point? Could it be that he's reacting in nervousness, because it's too much for him as yet? Or perhaps responding with assertiveness, telling you you have no right to be doing that to him?

Whatever the reason, I think it's best to avoid punishment where possible(I'd be prepared to bop him if he was about to connect with me, but not rely on it as a general training tool), or at least use it in conjunction with more effective training methods.

I would be using 'approach & retreat' tactics to gradually ensure/get him used to you doing various things, putting things on him, leaning, etc. Accepting the smallest 'tries' and being quick to negatively reinforce them(remove pressure/stress/discomfort). I would also be using lots of positive reinforcement(rewards, Good Stuff), because I personally strive to be as much of a Good Thing for my horses as they are for me & especially in the early years, I believe creating a good, positive association & avoiding being associated with unpleasantness as much as possible is extremely important.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Loosie:

Bruno has had a ton of things done with him. I've been working with him since he was a day old. One of the first things I did with him was start by touching him all over. I would touch his face, neck, back, legs, girth line, sheath..everything. Even as a baby he had that attitude about him and if I wasn't watching he'd bite me! This behavior (him acting agitated) when I put my arm over his back and lean didn't start recently so I know it's not out of pain/discomfort. I sincerely believe that he's doing it to tell me "You stop doing that.. NOW!"

But, I have some good news to report about this. I got Bruno from the pasture today and took him to my round pen. I put my arm over him and he started with this behavior (tail swishing, ears back..) so I did what Sarahver suggested and pushed him out of my space. I kept repeating this and then on about the third or fourth try he just stood there! He didn't swish his tail, nor pin his ears, nothing! I then moved to the other side and worked him there. After a few tries he eventually stood and accepted what I was doing to him! I didn't even have to knee him or anything, when I pushed him he went out of my space immediately. I am going to continue trying this when I'm working him.

Regarding the biting, nippiness and mouthiness I will try what you suggested.
 

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Hey, I'm glad you had some success, he sounds very intelligent judging from how fast he picked that up! It may still take some time before he behaves himself straight up without you having to remind him who the dominant one is. Eventually he should look at you patiently while you put a headstall on, tie him up and groom him etc (much more fun!)
Just remember to look out for the little signals that he gives you that he is about to be naughty and remind him who the boss is before he ever has a chance to bite you. If he does happen to nip you, try a good open handed slap to the shoulder area, it makes a big noise and guarenteed will never make him head shy. The sound is similar to the 'ping' you hear when horses kick each other in the paddock so he'll get the picture that you don't like his behaviour pretty quickly!
Keep us updated on how he is going!
 

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I'm not sure what you mean when you say "make a big deal" about it. Can you clarify? My baby is a nibbler also. Make sure you don't give treats with your hand right now. Any treats need to be placed in a feed dish. Later when you get him over the biting you can give treats by hand OCCASSIONALY. Don't carry them in your pockets though.

When he bites you, pop him. You only have 3 seconds to respond. Pop him quickly and then quit. He'll learn that there is a consequence to his action. Don't chase him around, don't follow him, don't get angry. Anger is your enemy when dealing with horses. I've actually used CinnyWhinnies technique and she's right. It works very well. I had an arab that bit and one day she got me really good on the hip, it actually brought tears to my eyes so I grabbed her nose and bit as hard as I could. She never bit me again.

Another thing to think about is who is he turned out with? You can put him in with more aggressive horses (as long as he's not going to get hurt). They will humble him. OR you could even put him by himself. That's pretty humbling as well... Just a thought.

Good luck.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Sarahver:

Bruno has had a lot of things done with him. He's learned to give to pressure when I push him, turn him. He's already through with foal training -- halter, lead, stand tied, load, ground drive, etc. In fact, that's him in my avatar. He's already a pro at standing to be tacked up - halter & eggbutt snaffle, saddle, cinching, breast collar, all that. Bruno wasn't one of those horses that was turned out to pasture for several months, never worked and then brought in when he was a year old to be halter broke. He'll let me pick up all four feet too. I worked with him as much as I could when he was a baby and was smaller. I didn't want him to be big and huge and starting to do all this foal stuff with him.

I realize that he will still try to act up and assert him dominance over me. But, I am going to continue doing what you suggested as I got a really good result from just the first session. I am a pro at watching for those signals (ear pinning, tail swishing, etc).

Farmpony:

When I say "Make a big deal", I mean that I let him know that he just did something that was VERY very wrong. I am not angry with him as I know anger has no place around a horse. But, I do raise my voice and let him know about it. I don't run after him (after 3-4 seconds has past) and beat him, if that's what you mean, LOL. Would it be a good idea, when he gets like that -- to push him out of my space, retreat, then come back and invite him back into my space? I will pop him if I have to, but I was wondering if there were a better way to go about doing it?

We have a mare that is in a separate pasture and I thought about bringing her to Bruno's pasture and let her stay with them a while. Because, I really believe he needs to be humbled and this mare will make him more respectful.


Thank you all for your replies.
 

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Even as a baby he had that attitude about him and if I wasn't watching he'd bite me! .... I sincerely believe that he's doing it to tell me "You stop doing that.. NOW!"
Yup, I too suspected that was likely the case, but of course, I only have what you give us here, so I didn't want to discount other possible reasons.

so I did what Sarahver suggested and pushed him out of my space. I kept repeating this and then on about the third or fourth try he just stood there!
Yes, this is also one(of many) techniques I might use too. I was hesitant to suggest you did something like that with him, because depending on what you've taught him & the level of his attitude, given that he thinks your punishment is a game, it could just put you into danger & make him more reactive against your 'impertinence'(his possible perception of your behaviour). If it's working & you feel safe doing it, go for it! Just don't forget to positively reinforce his Good behaviour as much as you can too.

Make sure you don't give treats with your hand right now. Any treats need to be placed in a feed dish. Later when you get him over the biting you can give treats by hand OCCASSIONALY. Don't carry them in your pockets though.
Of course, everyone has different opinions & safety precautions, of which this is one. I generally do give treats by hand, *especially* to mouthy or bitey horses - that way, I find it easier to whisk the treat away pronto if he displays a behaviour that shouldn't be reinforced, &/or pinch the horse on the lip *as they think about* biting. I also almost always have treats on me, in my pocket or bumbag or such. That's not to say they always get treats from me, by any means. Just means they're handy if I want them. It also doesn't mean they never get them when I don't carry them either. I don't understand the point of advising not to carry them? ...Well, except for the mess when you take your jacket off, turn it upside down & forget you had a pocketful of pellets!!:lol:

Regarding 'occasionally', considering behavioural principles, whatever reinforcement you use, when beginning teaching anyone something new, the more reinforcement you can give, the better, the stronger & quicker they pick up what's 'right' or 'wrong'. So if you can give 20 reinforcements in a minute say, you'll teach them a lot clearer & quicker than if you gave only 2 for every 20 'good' responses. Once the animal has cottoned on to the lesson tho, then you can start reinforcing less frequently tho, until it's only occasional. This is also a way of developing/enhancing the behaviour - eg. by only reinforcing the particularly good instances & the horse will become more particular. They learn to do what works.

When he bites you, pop him. You only have 3 seconds to respond.
Yes, timing is so imperative. Punishment or reinforcement is best meted out *at the time of* the behaviour you want to effect, not after it. Studies have shown that animals such as dogs can still generally associate an 'effect' with it's 'cause' if it's *within* 3 seconds of the behaviour. But animals such as horses can only associate cause & effect within about 1-2 seconds. That's another reason why punishment is *often* not effective or the best option.

You can put him in with more aggressive horses (as long as he's not going to get hurt). They will humble him. OR you could even put him by himself. That's pretty humbling as well... Just a thought.
Yes, also agree the social 'education' he gets from others of his species is also important. I disagree with the idea of putting him with aggressive horses, as especially given his attitude, it may just make him more 'boyish':wink:. After all, many horses LIKE playing these games. But putting him with easygoing, diplomatic, but firm, no-nonsense personalities will help him learn to be more sociable. I have doubts as to how much, if any, this would change his behaviour with you tho. I also disagree with the 'humbling' idea of keeping him in solitary confinement as a tactic & for many other reasons - could cause him to be more 'playful' with you, as he's been deprived of getting it out of his system otherwise.
 

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Yup, I too suspected that was likely the case, but of course, I only have what you give us here, so I didn't want to discount other possible reasons.



Yes, this is also one(of many) techniques I might use too. I was hesitant to suggest you did something like that with him, because depending on what you've taught him & the level of his attitude, given that he thinks your punishment is a game, it could just put you into danger & make him more reactive against your 'impertinence'(his possible perception of your behaviour). If it's working & you feel safe doing it, go for it! Just don't forget to positively reinforce his Good behaviour as much as you can too.



Of course, everyone has different opinions & safety precautions, of which this is one. I generally do give treats by hand, *especially* to mouthy or bitey horses - that way, I find it easier to whisk the treat away pronto if he displays a behaviour that shouldn't be reinforced, &/or pinch the horse on the lip *as they think about* biting. I also almost always have treats on me, in my pocket or bumbag or such. That's not to say they always get treats from me, by any means. Just means they're handy if I want them. It also doesn't mean they never get them when I don't carry them either. I don't understand the point of advising not to carry them? ...Well, except for the mess when you take your jacket off, turn it upside down & forget you had a pocketful of pellets!!:lol:

Regarding 'occasionally', considering behavioural principles, whatever reinforcement you use, when beginning teaching anyone something new, the more reinforcement you can give, the better, the stronger & quicker they pick up what's 'right' or 'wrong'. So if you can give 20 reinforcements in a minute say, you'll teach them a lot clearer & quicker than if you gave only 2 for every 20 'good' responses. Once the animal has cottoned on to the lesson tho, then you can start reinforcing less frequently tho, until it's only occasional. This is also a way of developing/enhancing the behaviour - eg. by only reinforcing the particularly good instances & the horse will become more particular. They learn to do what works.



Yes, timing is so imperative. Punishment or reinforcement is best meted out *at the time of* the behaviour you want to effect, not after it. Studies have shown that animals such as dogs can still generally associate an 'effect' with it's 'cause' if it's *within* 3 seconds of the behaviour. But animals such as horses can only associate cause & effect within about 1-2 seconds. That's another reason why punishment is *often* not effective or the best option.



Yes, also agree the social 'education' he gets from others of his species is also important. I disagree with the idea of putting him with aggressive horses, as especially given his attitude, it may just make him more 'boyish':wink:. After all, many horses LIKE playing these games. But putting him with easygoing, diplomatic, but firm, no-nonsense personalities will help him learn to be more sociable. I have doubts as to how much, if any, this would change his behaviour with you tho. I also disagree with the 'humbling' idea of keeping him in solitary confinement as a tactic & for many other reasons - could cause him to be more 'playful' with you, as he's been deprived of getting it out of his system otherwise.
Your thoughts on this were interesting. I have to admit, although I tell people to never carry treats in your pockets. I do it. I have been bit in the hip for it also, but I still do it.

As for the aggressive horse thought, I've done it and seen it work but you are right, for it to work that other horse has to be the Alpha. Which means the gelding would have to be the kind of horse that will back down. Otherwise you get nothing but bumps and bruises.

As for the gentle/docile horse technique. I put my baby with my oldest gelding (he was 30 plus years old) because I was certain not only would he teach him manners but he would teach him to be quiet and respectful. I'm not sure if it really worked but my gelding IS quiet and docile, he is respectful, other then the normal baby attitude.

When The Old Black Horse died, I put my next most docile well behaved gentleman in the pen with him.....
 

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I tell people to never carry treats in your pockets. I do it. I have been bit in the hip for it also, but I still do it.
My tactic for avoiding accidents such as that is to teach the horse consistently to stay out of my personal space at all times unless invited(about arm's length - eg. out of range), to yield to slightest pressure or suggestions and that getting 'nosey' NEVER works. I establish this first & foremost & if I'm concerned that biting, bullying or otherwise dangerous behaviour might be a problem, I start teaching them manners from the other side of a fence or stall door, so I can stay in control & safe until the 'good' behaviours are well established & the horse understands what works for him & what doesn't.
 
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