One of the most common training issues that owners encounter with their horse is the issue of biting. Negative behaviors are always the result of a motive, so it is important to begin this training process by investigating the behavior. Why is the horse biting in the first place?
There are three common reasons that will cause a horse to begin biting.
1. The horse is afraid for some reason.
2. The horse believes it is in charge and is showing domination behaviors.
3. The horse is in pain.
It's important to remember one golden rule at this point: a horse that bites is not a bad horse. It's not even a bad habit. It's simply a response to a negative stimulus that needs to be addressed. In most cases, if you can remove the trigger that is causing the horse to bite, then you'll be able to stop the biting behavior.
Look For Signs of Discomfort Before Beginning
An uncomfortable horse is one that will be more likely to try to bite. When a horse is in pain, its natural response is to lash out at whoever and whatever happens to be close by. Before doing anything else, check all of your equipment to make sure that everything has been properly fitted. You'll also want to make sure the equipment has been put on correctly. Pay close attention to the eyes, but beware of a potential bite attempt while doing so.
When checking your equipment, pay special attention to the saddle and the bridle. When these aren't on properly, then the horse will not feel right. It is a common cause of biting behavior.
Some horses can be sensitive to certain types of gear, especially when they are made of synthetic materials. Check the horse at the contact points to make sure your gear is causing irritation and discomfort. Leather gear tends to be the best, but even weathered leather can cause irritation for a horse.
Make sure to check the shoes of the horse as well. You'll want to see that they are clean, fitting properly, and in good condition. If you see an issue, then contact your farrier immediately and this may resolve the biting behavior.
Change the Environment and You'll Change the Horse
Far too often, the automatic response of a horse owner to an attempted bite is to slap or hit the horse on the muzzle. This is not effective discipline because the horse is already responding naturally to a negative situation. The physical encounter simply enforces the need for the horse to be defensive in nature and attempt to bite.
In other words, slapping the muzzle of a horse is actually reinforcing their behavior instead of changing it.
This is why it is so important for horse owners to begin working to change the environment for the horse. The biting is being caused by something that is either causing fear or wanting it to have a dominant role over you. It's important for you to remove the fear and establish your dominance, but you can do so by engaging with the personality of the horse instead of using physical discipline.
Why Physical Punishment Is Inappropriate
You'll see many experts advise an open palm slap or hit on the muzzle as a “quick punishment” for the horse. It's a way of showing dominance for sure. The problem with physical punishment is how you react, not how the horse reacts. Many horses are naturally restless because they are not naturally used to being penned into a specific area. They want to run free.
This causes owners to get frustrated and angry with their horse. When that occurs, it is very easy to over-react to the situation and inflict pain as a form of punishment. After that happens, you become a trigger for the horse. When the horse sees you, it becomes afraid, and a biting horse is going to try to bite you every single time.
Allow the horse to mature. Be gentle. Play games with the horse, but always maintain your role of dominance. This may not be a quick fix to stop a biting horse, but it also removes the risk of the horse becoming afraid of you. Once that happens, it's very difficult to get a horse to trust you once again.
How You Engage the Personality of a Horse
If you want to know how to stop a horse from biting, then the first thing to remember is that you must keep your distance. It's going to take some time to begin building a relationship with the horse so that you can understand its personality and why it is behaving this way right now. So stay out of biting range to avoid a possible injury.
For horses that are trying to be dominant, the best thing you can do is work on backing up your horse a few steps. Keep backing him up until you can see that there is “relief” on his or her face. You'll notice a different expression when the trigger which caused the urge to bite has been removed. Sometimes this might take a step or two. Other times, it may be an afternoon of dealing with a rather stubborn horse.
It is important to act quickly when you are working with a horse, especially one that likes to bite. Reward good behaviors when they see them, but pay attention to the body language of the horse. If the horse has its ears pinned back, but it looks like he or she is doing what you've asked, then beware. That's one smart horse who is trying to lure you into something that you're not going to like.
Make Sure That You Are Staying Safe At All Times
When dealing with a horse that likes to bite, it is important for you to take all appropriate safety measures. This means wearing a helmet, even if you don't intend to ride the horse, so that you can prevent a possible injury to your head. Also wear thick clothing and appropriate footwear.
What Is a Good Reward For a Horse?
Many horse owners like to give out treats, like an apple or a carrot, when they see good behavior. Although this can be an effective award, it is important to give that reward in a way that puts you into a position where the horse believes it is the dominant party in your relationship. You should never hand-feed a horse as a reward. Set the treats in their usual food location and allow them to discover it on their own.
Some owners like it when their horse gives them “kisses.” This is actually showing the horse that you're ceding the dominant role to them. You are the one grooming the horse. The horse should not be grooming you. Do not allow this behavior to occur because it can lead to faster triggers and more biting later on.
A gentle pat on the shoulder or a rub of the nose is often a suitable reward. You're going to know what your horse likes.
Knowing how to stop a horse from biting means finding the trigger and removing it. Some horses like to nip as a form of play – a nip isn't a bite and that must be recognized as well. When you can stay in control, the horse will be in more control, and eventually that will help you stop this behavior from occurring.