Like several other animals, horses can have the nasty habit of biting. Well, for some people, it’s not a problem if their cat or dog ‘play bites’, but having such a large beast attempting to play with you this way may not be so comforting. And, as with all animals, it’s always best to teach them to stop this behaviour since they may end up being around children some day, and it is not when the kids show up that discipline starts. Here are some of the reasons why horses bite, and how you can stop this behaviour.
First, there is the reason everyone hates: the horse is starting to become aggressive towards other horses or – let’s hope this never happens – you. The usual signals are to be watched for: flattened ears, flaring nostrils, focused attention and an outstretched neck and head. The solution is to move away immediately when the signals start and try to understand why your horse is not happy. If there is seemingly no reason or you can’t figure out why the biting occurs, seek professional help.
If your horse becomes a bit aggressive when you feed it, though, try to make it understand that it will lose the food by taking it away. Just walk away with it and eventually, if you are consistent, the behaviour will go away. However, at times, it could be out of fear or pain. This is a time to become as sensitive as possible to your horse’s needs and listen carefully. If it is out of fear, the best thing to do is to try to desensitize it. Look for the information on how to do so over the Internet or, if you aren’t sure which sites to trust, ask your vet. You can also, of course, call on the vet to ask about any possible injuries you are suspecting. But, it could just be how you girth it or tack it. The best way to know is to look carefully at the horse’s reaction when you perform these actions.
The ‘play biting’ can be amongst themselves – from one horse to another – or for you. When they have been in their stall for a while and are excited to get out, they may start biting out of excitement. It is mostly the young ones that will do this, but at times the older ones are prone to it. This is, in their language, an indication that they want to play. There is nothing to be afraid of here, but you still should be careful and try to discourage it by not replying. If the horse wants attention, it will have to ask for it some other way.
To avoid getting bit when your horse is excited, the best way to stop this behaviour is simply to let the energy out. Yes, the horse often has quite a bit of an overload and needs to burn off some of that hyperactivity. Go for a short walk or lunge it under control for about 10 minutes.
Biting is also the way that they groom each other, especially around the neck. This type is more like a nibble and although we don’t have fur, they will still want to ‘groom’ us out of sheer love and joy of being around us. It is always better to try to get them to stop since they direct this to the neck area and an accident happens quickly, as they say.
At times they will try to nip someone who is not paying attention. The horse will ask to be pet by nudging, and if you start stroking but let your mind wander or start talking to someone and stop, a nip on the hand is meant to ask you to keep going.
Nipping can also happen to ask for treats, especially if you hand-feed them. It is not recommended to give treats by hand but at times it is more convenient. The way to teach the horse to stop nipping, though, is to give the treat only after another behaviour is delivered, such as touching a target with their nuzzle (such as the stall door, if you keep your horse there). That could become the signal to ask for their favourite pieces of food. Especially avoid giving the treats if the horse is searching in your pockets or getting pushy, of course. Taking away your hand when they try to nip at it is often a good enough signal to let the horse know you won’t accept this behaviour.
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