I have received many questions recently asking about horses that bite. Here are some examples:
“….I have a three year old, that when on the ground will rarely try and bite me, but he will to everyone else no matter who he is. … will turn his head and try to bite my shins. You can see a common habit of his. He doesn’t do it with his ears pinned though, he will just turn his head very curiously and will try to bite … what do I do to make him stop?! Katie”
“Dear Stacy, Following recent events- What should you do if your horse bites you, not to see if your yummy but comes at you. What do you do if they also show signs, pinned ears back reaching for you with teeth showing? One of our horses will only barely bite when caught the other just randomly will act like he’s going to bite you, and one horse came at me and bit me what should I do?”
“…bringing a saddle near her she would try to bite and pin her ears. That would earn her a smack on the chest as we do not tolerate any kind of biting…and would bite, kick at the other horses take off in a fit bucking and even bite at my legs while riding…That’s when we drew the line no more bad behavior whatsoever even the slightest pinning of ears or attitude…However she still pins her ears at the saddle, tosses her head and pins her ears…”
Although it is possible, I don’t believe that biting is typically a one time occurrence. It is more common that there is a build up to it and the handler has missed the signs along the way.
Three of the most common reasons for biting are:
#1- Trapped: flight or fight
#3- Pain- horse is in pain or there is a history of pain
If the horse is biting because it feels trapped it is a good sign that the training needs to slow down and different training methods should be considered. A horse that feels threatened to this degree can be very dangerous.
If the horse is in pain it is understandable as to why it would want to bite. Often these horses are more difficult to diagnose. I have seen horses that were nasty for a variety of pain related issues including; infected teeth, sore back and problems with their ovaries. One of the keys in diagnosing these horses is that they are unhappy most of the time.
The most common reason I see is horses who want to know who the leader is. That could be a mare, gelding or stallion as all horses want to know who is in charge. In Episode 12 it was very easy to see Jac asking these questions with Popcorn. Popcorn let Jac make the mistake and then corrected him VERY firm…including kicking and biting Jac. Then Popcorn required Jac to keep his distance.
I handle all unknown horses as if they could be a risk until I know them better. This includes making them keep their distance. I like using the stick and string for this as it is about four feet long and I use it as my measuring rod and extension of my arm. I figure that the horses should stay at least four feet away from me until we both earn the right to share each others space.
By keeping Jac out of my space in episodes 1-8 I was preventing problems. I began to let my guard down some as I got to know him and that is why he felt that he had the opportunity to test me.
If I had let Jac into my space in earlier episodes he would have very likely tried biting me earlier. Just like Popcorn, I again required Jac to stay further away from me while still working him.
Building leadership isn’t a one day, one session, event. It takes consistent handling over a period of time to earn the respect of a horse.