Skip to Content

10 Reasons Why Horses Bite (And How to Stop It)

Last updated: July 8, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

I have a horse that keeps biting people. One day, my farrier told me he couldn’t do shoe her anymore because she bit him. I knew then that I had to do something about it. So, I started researching why horses bite. What I found out was really interesting and helped me a lot.

The Top Ten Reasons Why Horses Bite Are:

  1. To protect themselves
  2. Being territorial
  3. To show discomfort
  4. Exploring new things
  5. Out of aggression
  6. A way to communicate
  7. Out of playfulness
  8. A sign of illness
  9. When grooming each other
  10. Feelings of anxiety

Even though horse bites can be scary, we can usually stop the behavior by learning more about why they do this. In this article, I’ll cover the most common reasons horses bite and also share some great tips on how to keep bites from happening. Get ready to become a horse-bite expert.

Picture of a horse biting another.

1. To Protect Themselves

Horses might bite for a lot of reasons, but one big reason is to protect themselves. Because horses are prey animals, they’re always on the lookout for danger. Like many other animals, horses have something called a flight or fight response.

This is a natural instinct that helps them react fast when they’re scared or threatened. When a horse feels scared, it might decide to bite as a way to protect itself and scare away what’s causing the fear. Now, let me share a personal experience:

I can still remember a time with my friend’s horse, Apollo. Apollo was usually very calm, but one stormy evening, everything changed. We were trying to get him back to the barn during a thunderstorm. The loud thunder and bright lightning scared him, and he thought we were trying to hurt him.

Out of nowhere, Apollo started to show his teeth and tried to bite me. Seeing this, I decided to move slowly and speak to him in a quiet, soothing voice. I wanted to make sure he knew I was not a threat. Little by little, he started to calm down, and I got him safely back to his stall.

How to stop your horse from biting for protection:

Ensure your horse is comfortable in its environment and feels safe. If this behavior continues, you can use other approaches like gentle petting, approaching your horse slowly, and including some horse training to discourage biting.

2. When Acting Territorial

Horses may bite to protect or establish their territory. Horses may bite other horses if they are kept in a small pen with insufficient space to graze. If horses bite you for territorial reasons, they may be uncomfortable letting you into their space.

In this instance, you’ll need to assert your dominance and incorporate horse training to stop the horse from biting. I believe this is the reason our horse bites. I plan to take her to the round pen and work with her for a few weeks to see if I can get her to stop.

How to stop your horse from acting territorial through biting:

Move your horse to a bigger pen or a pasture with more room to graze. Incorporate horse training to discourage biting. Teach your horse that you are the leader of the herd and that horses that bite won’t be rewarded.

Picture of a horse getting its foot cleaned.

3. To Show Discomfort

If your horse isn’t prone to biting, there may be something that is causing them discomfort. This could be an uncomfortable saddle, significant changes in the horse’s immediate environment, or something else that is causing your horse discomfort.

We have a horse that will try to bite you if you dig too deep into her foot. So we take our time with her feet and dig a little bit out at a time.

How to stop your horse from biting for discomfort:

First, assess your horse’s behavior and look for any signs of discomfort. Although this may seem entirely behavioral, there may be something physical that’s causing your horse discomfort as well. Some behavioral signs of discomfort include distancing themselves from other horses, not responding to human interaction, and walking or running away.

4. Exploring New Things

Foals are the most likely to bite out of exploration. Generally, owners may ignore this behavior or shrug it off as another way their foal shows affection. The problem is that the biting will likely continue as your horse grows into an adult horse. If left too long, it can become a serious problem, and you’ll eventually land up with an adult horse that enjoys biting.

How to stop your horse from biting for exploration:

Train your horse to promote good behavior and prevent your horse from biting.

5. Out Of Aggression

Sometimes horses can bite when they feel aggressive. This usually happens with stallions that aren’t getting enough exercise or have a lot of energy they can’t let out in a good way. They can show they’re upset by biting more aggressively.

You can tell if your horse is acting this way if its ears are pinned back against its head and it’s stomping its feet. It’s important to notice these signs because they can tell you that your horse isn’t feeling too happy or comfortable.

Just a few weeks ago, I was on a trail ride with my horse Ashton. Everything was going well until another horse in our group got too close to him. Ashton didn’t like that at all and tried to bite the other horse.

I was surprised because he usually doesn’t do that. But then I remembered we had been missing a few of his regular workouts because I’d been really busy. So, I began exercising Comet more, and he stopped acting so aggressively.

How to stop your horse from biting out of aggression:

Ensure your horse gets enough exercise and that you use its excess energy constructively. You can also work with your horse in a round pen and establish your role as the herd leader.

Picture of me holding a young filly.

6. A Way To Communicate

Horses may bite as a way of trying to communicate with you. Sometimes horses may also do this just to get your attention. Although biting to communicate isn’t the worst habit, if your horse is kept around other people, they may also bite, which is concerning.

It’s best to encourage your horse to stop biting to communicate. The filly pictured above loves to bite when you don’t give her enough attention. It’s difficult to get mad at her because she is so playful.

How to stop your horse from biting to communicate:

Horses that bite for communication will often have little respect for their owners. In these situations, dominance needs to be established. To curb this behavior, avoid hand feeding and ask your horse to step back as you walk towards them so your horse can begin to understand that biting won’t be tolerated.

7. Out Of Playfulness

Some horses possess a more playful spirit, leading them to bite or nip during their more playful moments. This behavior, while seemingly playful, can also indicate a desire for more quality bonding time with you.

I recall a time with my horse, Tee Tee. She was known for her spirited personality and playful antics. On more than one occasion, she’d surprise me with a playful nip while saddling her.

How to stop your horse from biting out of playfulness:

The best way to stop playful biting is to spend more time with your horse and engage them in stimulating activities so they don’t feel bored or act out. I decided to spend a little extra time with Tee Tee, not training or working, just simply being together.

We strolled through the paddock, enjoyed a gentle grooming session, and even had a few peaceful moments just standing side by side. To my surprise, the playful biting diminished noticeably over the next few days.

8. A Sign Of Illness

If your horse is feeling unwell, it may display a range of behaviors, including biting. If biting is atypical for your horse and they seem withdrawn and look unwell, they may be biting due to illness. An unhealthy horse will have behavioral changes, discharge from ears, eyes, or nose, change in appetite, and change in the condition of their coat.

How to stop your horse from biting due to illness:

If you suspect your horse is biting due to illness, it’s essential to take them to the veterinarian to determine why they are unwell and help them get better.

Picture of a herd of female horses.

9. When Grooming Each Other

When horses groom one another, it is known as allogrooming. Your horse may bite you while you are grooming them to show you that they also want to groom you. This behavior may seem innocent at first, but horse bites can be very painful, and your horse may unintentionally bite too hard. So it’s important to let them know that biting during grooming is not okay.

How to stop your horse from biting while grooming:

To prevent your horse from biting while you’re grooming them, opt to groom them for short periods or get someone to assist you by holding the horse while you’re grooming it.

10. Feelings Of Anxiety

Horses can get anxious when traveling, competing in events, new environments, or if they feel like they are in danger. Horses can also feel anxious when separated from their herd. This can cause the horse to start biting. If horses have a too-tight or ill-fitting saddle, they can feel uncomfortable. This can also cause them to start biting.

How to stop your horse from biting when anxious or uncomfortable:

First, make sure your horse’s saddle is fitted correctly and avoid putting your horse in situations that make them feel uneasy. Keep your horse in an environment they feel safe in and work at eliminating the triggers for their anxiety.

Picture of a horse looking out over a stall gate.

What Are Some Common Reasons Why Horses Bite People And Other Horses?

Biting in horses is a behavior with a message behind it. They might bite both people and other horses, each time telling a different story. Remember, horses aren’t naturally aggressive. So if your horse is biting, it’s a sign they’re trying to communicate something important. Understanding these cues is key to ensuring their well-being.

Reasons Why Horses Bite People

Horses can communicate through biting, which is the most common reason people get bitten by horses. A few other reasons why horses bite people include:

  • Biting to claim their food
  • Biting to try and groom their owner
  • Illness
  • Biting to protect foals
  • Biting out of aggression
  • Horses biting out of anxiety

Reasons Why Horses Bite Other Horses

Horses are herd animals, and biting can be part of their natural grooming behavior. But biting between horses can also have various meanings, including inflicting injury. Here are the most common reasons why horses bite other horses:

  • Allogrooming
  • Bonding
  • To show affection
  • To play
  • To protect themselves

How Can You Tell If Your Horse Is About To Bite?

You can usually tell when a horse will bite someone or another horse because they display specific body language cues. For example, our filly will lay her ears back flat against her head, stretch out her neck, and flare her nostrils.

You don’t have to be a horse person to recognize her display of anger. If you’re in a situation where a horse is about to bite you, it’s best to move out of the way, or if you are not able to do so, lift your elbow to block the bite.

Below is a YouTube video that provides some insight into how to stop a horse from biting.

YouTube video

What Are Some Techniques to Stop a Horse from Biting?

You can use a few techniques to discourage your horse from biting. However, getting a horse to stop biting can be challenging, especially if it’s an adult horse and biting has already become a habit.

The following techniques can be used to stop a horse from biting:

  1. Avoid hand-feeding your horse. Horses can’t see in front of their mouths due to where their eyes are positioned. If you hand-feed your horse, they may nip you by accident, and if they get used to being hand fed, they are more comfortable with hands near their mouths, and if they are waiting a while for their food, they may bite you.
  2. Train your horse. Training your horse will help promote good behavior and discourage bad habits like biting.
  3. Discourage biting in foals. Biting in horses usually begins when they are foals. Therefore, the best way to prevent biting in horses is to stop the habit from forming when they are foals.
  4. Offer regular stimulation and exercise for your horses. Horses that are kept busy and regularly exercised are less likely to bite.
  5. Clicker training. Clicker training focuses on rewarding your horse for movements you want them to make. It’s a positive reinforcement method of training to encourage good behavior.

How Can You Prevent Your Horse From Biting In The First Place?

The most effective way to deter a horse from biting is to prevent it from becoming a habit in the first place. Foals, much like young children, use their mouths to explore their surroundings and, sometimes, to show affection.

Overlooking this behavior might lead it to persist into their adulthood. Therefore, it’s crucial to start guiding your horses at a tender age, firmly but kindly discouraging biting from their early foal years.

FAQs

Is it common for a horse to bite?

Yes. Horses are prey animals, and as such, they are naturally cautious and may bite if they feel threatened. Additionally, horses sometimes bite out of playfulness or frustration.

What you should do if a horse bites you.

If a horse bites you, first calm down. Horses are prey animals, and they can spook easily. Next, assess the injury. You can clean it with soap and water if it’s a minor cut or scratch. If it’s more serious, seek medical attention immediately.

References