Horses have unique and sometimes quirky personalities. Some are stubborn, some are ornery and some even have the propensity to bite. However, a biting horse is not something you should tolerate. This habit is not only dangerous for you, it can hurt other people.
But don’t worry. There are simple ways to fix this problem. After experiencing biting issues with one of my own horses and asking several experts, I eventually learned 5 great ways that instantly stop a horse from biting.
These simple tricks actually work and will help train your horse to resist the urge to bite. Keep reading and I will share everything you need to know.
Understanding why horses bite
Before we get started, it’s important to understand why horses bite. The psychology behind horse behavior is extremely important. Figuring out the cause is the first step to finding an appropriate and effective solution.
Biting is a natural form of communication between horses. A horse bites when laid back ears and assertive body language isn’t enough pressure to dominate another horse. Once the other horse moves, the pressure is released. They apply this same form of communication with people. So at the basic level, all your horse is trying to tell you is to move away.
There are several scenarios where biting behaviors are most common. Let’s take a quick look at them so you can anticipate these situations.
Playful young horses
Young horses often have a difficult time paying attention and get distracted easily during training sessions. They often turn and start nibbling at your arm because they simply want to play. While this may seem cute, it’s important to establish spacial boundaries early on with young horses. A young horse that is allowed to bite will continue to do so as it gets older even when it’s no longer playful.
A horse that is defending itself
Horses will bite as a reaction to being scared or hurt. If your horse suddenly turns to nip at you during a grooming session, you probably hit a sore spot with the brush or pulled hair and they are just trying to tell you to stop.
Some horses get mouthy while saddling or tightening the cinch. They might just be nervous and want attention but other times your tack might actually be rubbing, pinching or poking them.
Aggressive horse that is trying dominate the situation
Some horses feel that they are the dominate one in your relationship. They nip and bite because they don’t want to do what you ask.
In these situations, if your horse makes you move your feet (ie. he bites at you and you step back), he learns that he is in control. You should always be the dominate leader with your horse, not the other way around.
Bad habit associated with hand feeding
Many horse owners feel that feeding their horses directly from their hand is a wonderful bonding experience. With a gentle horse, it is. Feeling their warm breath and whiskers tickling your hand is a heartwarming experience. However, once a horse associates your hand with food, they will assume your hand always has food and will start to nuzzle at it in anticipation. It’s an innocent action that quickly leads to nipping.
5 Tricks that stop biting instantly
Now that we’ve gone over the most obvious reasons why your horse is biting, let’s talk about how to correct it.
Letting your horse know that biting is unacceptable is very important for your safety as a horse owner and for others who may be around your horse.
The following are 5 ways to instantly stop a horse from biting you.
As a disclaimer, these training tricks are for the normally behaved horse that just has bad habits with biting. By no means should you put yourself in an unsafe situation with a truly scared and dangerous horse. Please seek expert help if you have an animal that is out of control and threatening you.
1. Immediately demand that your horse walk backward
Playful and aggressive horses have a lack of respect for you and your commands. They think they can get away with doing what they want which often includes telling you what to do. Once you move away, they win. You need to earn their respect by getting them to move their feet.
When your horse starts to bite at you, immediately ask him to back up. Once he starts stepping backward, his brain can only think about that movement so the idea of biting, which is a forward action, leaves his mind. It also puts space between you and his mouth so he can’t reach you.
To get your horse to back up, you need to create pressure at his front. First, sharply wiggle the lead rope attached to his halter. If that doesn’t elicit a response, raise a riding crop or stick so he can see it. Next, start walking toward him while still moving the rope and showing the stick. If he acts like he is going to come toward you, wack the lead rope with the stick several times. This does not hurt the horse. It’s simply a firm way to tell him to back up. Keep him moving backward for a good pace. You always determine when he stops moving. Never let him stop on his own.
Once you stop, test if he wants to bite at you again. Repeat the process every time he tries to bite you. This may take several days of repetition but most horses learn very quickly to respect you and stop biting.
2. Circle driving
If your horse is not responding very well to backing up after biting, try circle driving. This requires a slightly longer lead rope to safely have him work around you in a circle. You control which direction he goes and when he stops. Circle several times then make him back up, changing up the sequence.
The entire point is to be in control of how your horse is moving. This is how your horse learns that you are the dominant partner. You control how he moves, not the other way around. Once he learns to respect you, he will stop biting.
3. Distract with an immediate physical response
In situations where you can’t ask your horse to back up, like in a stall or if he’s tied up, respond immediately with a firm ‘no’ and a tap to his shin with your boot. Do not kick him hard. You don’t want to damage his leg. Simply tap enough to get his attention. You are creating an uncomfortable response that he will come to associate with biting. He will learn that if he doesn’t want a kick on the shin, which is a sensitive place, then he shouldn’t bite.
Never hit your horse on the muzzle or face if they bite.
This will only cause them to become head shy. It doesn’t fix a biting problem because now they are angry at you for hitting them in addition to the other reason they were biting in the first place.
Even when they aren’t biting at you, they will associate your hands around their face with hitting. This will make it harder for you to halter, bridle, and brush your horse. It’s much easier to loose their trust than to gain it back.
4. Disciplining in the saddle
Sometimes your horse may reach around and nip at the toes of your boots while you are in the saddle. Many horses are simply curious and saying hi. However, even if they are not biting, this is a dangerous habit and should not be allowed.
Horses can get their bridles or bits caught in a breast collar or stirrups when they turn their heads around. It is unsafe and has the potential to make them panic if they can’t bring their head back around. They start spinning in a circle until they break free or fall down. You will probably fall off during the first couple go rounds and risk being stepped on.
To discourage a gentle horse that is just curious about your foot, you can nicely tap their nose with your foot, tap your thigh with your hand and say “ah ah” or engage the opposite rein to get them to bring their head back forward.
With a biting horse, you need to make them move their entire body around in a tight circle in the same direction that they bent to bite. You control when they stop circling. This is the same concept as controlling their feet during ground work. Once they learn that you are the dominate partner even from the saddle, they will stop reaching around to bite.
5. Engage with them
Some horses are just extremely anxious, especially with ground work. They might try biting you during haltering, saddling or grooming. When this happens, 9 out of 10 times, they are simply trying to engage with you but are very nervous.
When your horse extends his neck or brings his face around to bite at you, in a calm manner, block his mouth from biting you with your hands. If he aims toward your knees, lower your hands. If he goes for your head, bring your hands up to catch his muzzle at that level.
Bring your hands up around his muzzle and rub nicely but quickly all around his nose and mouth until he pulls away. You are not trying to overpower and make him stand there until you are done rubbing. You are simply giving him attention and showing that it’s okay to be touched.
You need to rub fast enough to avoid getting bit the first few times. However, once he starts to calm down and is less anxious around you, he most likely will stop biting on his own.
This is a calm exercise that does take time but is proven to be a long term solution to curb biting habits.
Keep in mind that biting horses that lead with their body and encroach into your space need to be taught appropriate spacial distance first before the muzzle rubbing can be safe and effective.
Other common questions
What happens if a horse bites you
You can expect a few things to happen if a horse actually bites you. First, it is probably going to hurt. Horses may not have pointy canines that puncture skin but their strong jaws and big teeth can inflict painful bruising. Horses usually bite quick and let go.
Always disinfect the area whether your skin was cut or not. Ice will be your best friend with a painful bruise.
Many times a horse bites once and then moves on to something else. Generally, they don’t keep biting. In extreme cases, a panicked or injured horse might keep attacking you and your best course of action is to get out of that situation as fast as possible.
Do horses jaws lock when they bite
Horses cannot lock their jaws when they bite. They can hold their teeth shut but not in the same way that a pit bull can lock its jaw. Horses nip quick when biting. They don’t hold on once they’ve bitten.
As graze animals, horses do not have the bone and muscle structures required to lock their jaws. Horses never have to worry about grass running away from them. Therefore, they have developed teeth and mouths designed for eating stationary vegetation. They have no need to keep a death grip on another animals.
Can a horse bite your finger off
Technically speaking, yes, a horse can bite your finger off. They have powerful jaws and wide, flat teeth designed for snapping and ripping vegetation. Just watch a horse snap a large carrot in half. If a horse bites your finger in just the right place, there is a chance that they have enough force to inflict serous damage.
Losing a finger is a rare occurrence but it is still a possibility. This is why it is important to always keep your hand flat when hand feeding treats to a horse. Keep your fingers together and your thumb against your palm.
Horses can’t actually see your hand when it is under their nose. They use their whiskers to feel what’s in your hand and fingers feel a whole lot like carrots. They are going to bite first and decide if whatever they bite tastes good a few seconds later.
Be safe and always pay attention when you are hand feeding treats to horses!
Horses are just like any other animal. They have their own ways to express emotions like fear, anger or playfulness. Biting is part of a horse’s natural vocabulary but that doesn’t mean you should tolerate it. Learn to be in charge and stop unwanted behavior before it turns dangerous. You and your horse will be happier and share a stronger bond if biting is discouraged.