Last Updated on February 26, 2022 by Allison Price
Does your horse bite? This expert will explain how to prevent your horse from biting and how to train it to stop.
Horses aren’t considered to be fanged carnivores but they can cause severe damage with their powerful jaws. Horses use their teeth to survive in the wild for many reasons, including fighting. Domestic horses, however, must be taught that the use of teeth to cause harm is not acceptable.
A horse that bites is dangerous to horses, people and horses, for horse owners. We’ll be discussing how horses bite, what causes them to bite, how you can keep yourself safe and how to get rid of horses that bite.
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Wild horses use their teeth to graze, interact within a group, and deal with predators and outsiders.
Stallions are the ones who do most biting. They bite at other stallions in order to stop them from taking mares. Any bachelor stallion can be chased away by a herd stallion, who will bite at his rump. If the stallion is retreated, they will both rearm and bite each other, with their eyes on the forelegs and forelegs.
Male bachelor groups practice their fighting skills through biting and play fighting. Kicking is more defensive and biting is considered offensive.
Although infection can eventually lead to death, bite wounds usually don’t cause any permanent damage. However, a horse can still kill with his teeth. This is especially true if he takes out a coyote, or another predator. The stallion might also kill a foal by violently shaking it and grabbing it with its teeth (though it isn’t always clear why).
Unless a resource is in short supply, mares will be peaceful. They will then bite or threaten to bite in order to get the resources they need. The larger the herd, and the more aggressive they are, the less peaceful they will be. After giving birth to a foal, many mares will bite other horses. This is a common maternal behavior that protects the foal and helps to build a bond with it.
Wild horses may also use their teeth in other situations, such as mares scolding foals with gentle nips or mutual grooming among all members of the herd, and between stallions and mares during heats.
The Barn is a Biting Zone
Horses that are domesticated use their teeth for grooming and grazing, just like wild horses. To establish a hierarchy, horses in a group will use their teeth. Stallions are rare among domestic horses. This leaves geldings, mares, and geldings with the task of determining who is dominant.
Horses aren’t considered fanged carnivores. However, they can cause severe bites due to their strong jaws and teeth. Avoid “mistakes” by not allowing your horse to bite you or nibble at you.
Nonlinear relationships can exist between domestic-horse leaders. Horse A might be dominant over Horse B, but Horse C is still dominant over Horse A. A larger group means more relationships are needed, which can lead more bite wounds.
As well as differences in size, age and breed, past history can play a role. As shown in the examples, Shetland stallions were subordinated to Welsh-sized mares because of their size.
Domestic mares can attack horses and humans who approach their foals within the first few days, just like wild mares. This behavior typically disappears after the first week. Although this behavior is mild in mares, about 10% of mares will attack foals who approach them. These mares tend to be more aggressive and less comfortable in their surroundings.
Protect Yourself & Others
Horses can bite humans in many different ways. These are just a few, and there are ways you can keep yourself and others safe.
Guarding food. This situation is the most common in which horses bite people. Even if they are fed regularly, food is an important resource for horses and an intense focal point. A horse that is eager to eat and stirred up can attack the person feeding it with aggression and take a bite.
Safeguard. If you are offering food or treats to horses that bite or threaten to bite, it is best to stay on the other side of the fence or wall and to give the feed through an opening. A lot of indoor stalls have a feed window to make this possible. You can build a fence that allows your horse to reach through or over a fence to bite you if your horse is in pasture.
Protecting territory. Territoriality may occur in mares or geldings who are kept in too small a pen or pasture. A horse may bite someone who enters his stall. This is the most common scenario. An aggressive horse might even bite someone walking down a barn aisle near his stall.
Safeguard. Install bars or a strong screen to all windows and doors to prevent a biter or other animals from getting into your stall. Only hire experienced staff to clean the stall. As soon as possible, keep the biter in a nearby paddock or stall while you clean his stall.
Response to procedure. Horses can nip at people who are giving them care or grooming/saddling. This is almost always due to the horse anticipating discomfort from past painful experiences.
Safeguard. You may need to muzzle a horse who refuses to tolerate basic grooming, hoof-care, tacking up, and any other routine procedures without threat to bite. This is an interim measure to protect everyone around the horse while he works with his behavior.
Protection of a foal. A mare might show aggression or bite at foals who approach her, but this is a natural response that often fades after the first week.
Safeguard. Safeguard. The mare should wear a halter whenever she is not allowed to see her foal. You can also use a pole with blunt hooks on the tip to catch her head and keep her from biting or charging anyone.
Young biting. Colts and foals often bite. Colts will bite each other as they play. This mimics stallion behavior. As they check out their teeth, they are often a bit mouthy with humans.
Protect. Stop a baby from nibbling. In a matter of minutes, niggling can turn into full-fledged biting.
To ensure that you can control his head movements, keep a halter on any young biter. You can attach a short lead to give you more control.
Use the following mitigation techniques with your children. Be aware that geldings can often decrease a colt’s urge to bite.
Mitigate Biting Behavior
Most foals, especially colts will bite one another. If your foal attempts to bite you, be gentle but firm.
These are some better ways to stop a horse from biting.
Head control. Your horse should learn to turn his head away from your command. Give your horse treats or other reward that he likes. If he is in a safe place (e.g., he is tied to his chair or behind a screen), you can give him a simple voice command. You will need to wait for him to turn his head away from your face, even if it is the smallest movement. Then reward him with a small treat. This should come from a small container or bucket and not your hand.
Once he is eager to get more, repeat the command and wait for him not to turn his back on you. Reward him as soon as he does so, even if it’s in the smallest of ways. This “head-away command” can be learned by a horse in about 20 repetitions. You can then use it to discourage/prevent biting.
Horses can be taught to follow a command. You can use the same technique to ask your horse to back off, and then reward him for his positive efforts. Then keep asking.
To get the best results, he must be willing to follow multiple steps at a time. It takes patience and repetition but eventually, you will be able to get him to stop coming at you, even at mealtime. For reinforcement, insist on him always backing up after he receives his meal.
Mindful grooming. If your horse bites while grooming, you should first consult a veterinarian to rule out any health issues. You should not cause discomfort while grooming your horse.
When he threatens to bite or flinches, pay attention to the parts of his body that you are tending to. Give him a treat if he isn’t threatening or relaxed. If he remains relaxed, you can give him another treat.
If there is no medical concern and you are gentle, he will eventually let you touch his sensitive spot. Reward him when he does.
Use mindful saddling. The same technique should be used for horses that bite while being saddled. Give the horse a treat and loosen the cinch. Then, walk him around. Continue this process until you tighten the cinch. Don’t be impatient and don’t cut corners. Give him a treat after each tightening of his cinch. Then, walk him. He should eventually accept this process more positively.
However, if the behavior continues, your veterinarian should check for musculoskeletal issues that could cause tightness around his ribs.
I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!