How To Stop Your Horse From Biting Others
If your horse bites you, other people, or other horses, here how to stop this annoying behavior.
Q: I am leasing a gelding who keeps nipping and biting me while I try to tack him up. Any advice on how to stop this?
A: Biting usually is a stallion or colt vice. It is how they "teach" others to respect their space, and to control other horses. Mares with foals sometimes will do this to keep others from getting too close to their foals. Her horse is an adult gelding. When adult horses behave this way, it usually means that they are stressed (either physically or emotionally) for some reason, or have just developed bad habits. Here are some tips that I've learned to address this kind of problem in horses that boarded with us:
1. Evaluate their body condition score and their current feed. An equine nutritionist or other knowledgeable equine expert can help you with this. (Veterinarians can give you an accurate body condition score, but they typically don't know much about equine nutrition because that isn't emphasized in vet school.) Your local feed store can sometimes help you with this as well.
Some horses can't handle grains that are very "starchy" (high carb), and switching them to a feed that is lower in starch/carb and higher in fat often improves not only their body condition score but also their temperament. Here is an article that discusses how to best feed a horse.
2. Does the horse get turned out daily? Some boarding facilities believe turn out is optional, or that an hour a day is sufficient. it isn't. Horses are social animals whose bodies are designed to live in herds that move across large spaces. That's pretty much what they do in the wild. Boarded horses should be turned out daily in buddy groups on sufficient acreage (about 1 acre per horse). If they spend most of their waking hours in a stall, they will become sour, cranky, and hostile.
3. Does this horse bite everyone or just you? If it is everyone, he is plainly trying to tell everyone how stressed and dissatisfied he is or he is a bully (see #4 below). If it is just you, I'd recommend having a trainer watch how you handle and ride him. He may be trying to communicate that there is a problem with the way you interact with him or ride him. Some horses have a bully temperament and will try to dominate their human handlers. This has to be disciplined--but not by inducing fear because that will make him more hostile. Horses need to trust their handlers and accept their leadership. This article gives some tips on how to get your horse to trust and accept your leadership.
4. Does this horse bite other horses? If so, then he is either insecure or used to bullying others just for the fun of it. This article talks more about that.
5. Sometimes riders scare or annoy their horses without even knowing it. You can learn more about that in these articles.
Horses Can Read Human Facial Expressions--So What is Your Face Saying?
Are You Unintentionally Scaring Your Horse?
Who Is The Leader of the Horse Herd--The Stallion or the Mare?
Copyright Denise Cummins, PhD May 25, 2018
The Thinking Equestrian