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

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I have a horse with a bad habit of biting people. After my farrier told me he wouldn’t shoe her any longer because she bit him, I knew something had to be done. I did some research on why horses bite and learned some interesting and helpful information.

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

      While horse bites can be dangerous, they are often avoidable with a bit of education and understanding. In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the most common reasons horses bite and offer tips on how to prevent them from happening.

      Picture of a horse biting another.

      1. To Protect Themselves

      Horses bite for many reasons, but one of the most common reasons is to protect themselves. Horses are prey animals, so they are naturally fearful of things that could potentially harm them.

      Like many other animals, horses have a flight or fight response, a survival instinct that helps them stay safe when under threat. When a horse is scared or threatened, it might resort to biting to scare off whatever is causing them concern.

      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 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

      Horses may bite out of aggression. This behavior is mainly seen in stallions when they aren’t exercised enough or have too much energy that isn’t used constructively. Horses can show their frustration in these instances by displaying aggressive biting behavior.

      Some other signs that indicate your horse is biting out of aggression are your horse’s ears will be pinned back against its head, and your horse may stomp its feet.

      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 have a more playful nature and may bite or nip you when feeling playful. This nipping and biting behavior can also be a sign that your horse may need more quality time with you.

      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.

      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?

      There are a few reasons why horses bite. Horses tend to bite people and other horses for different reasons. Biting can be typical horse behavior, but there is always a reason behind it. Horses aren’t naturally aggressive creatures; if your horse is biting, it’s crucial to understand why they display these behaviors.

      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.

      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 best way to prevent a horse from biting is to ensure they never turn biting into a habit. Foals bite as they learn about the world around them and may also bite to show affection. If you ignore this behavior, it is likely to continue into adulthood. Therefore, it’s essential to start training your horses from a young age and discourage biting from the time they are foals.

      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