Horses bite people sometimes, and they even bite other animals, but fortunately, this behavior can be corrected in a few easy steps. However, before taking any action to prevent your horse from biting, it’s important to understand why horses bite in the first place.
Today, we’ll take a deeper dive into a horse’s behavioral patterns in order to figure out why they might bite their handlers and what can be done to prevent it. Do horses bite people out of fear, or maybe as a coping mechanism? Or is it all just playful fun for them?
In truth, the no.1 cause of horse biting is hand feeding. While it might seem like a good opportunity for bonding, it’s never a good idea to allow a horse to see you and your body as a food source.
Horses are much larger than us. Our hands are not very big when compared to a small tasty treat. Horses have powerful bites, but we’ll get to that in a second. First, let’s touch on another important subject: how do horses get their food in the wild.
How do horses get their food?
It seems like a straightforward question, right? A horse eats grass and shrubbery. It’s easy for it to do so, as no blade of grass has ever run away from a horse. A horse doesn’t have to work for its food in the same way a predatory animal has to. It doesn’t need to stalk its food, follow it, and run after it.
When you feed a horse from your hand and allow the horse to see all food as a reward, you form a habit. The equine will not start demanding food, and it might even bite its owners’ pockets or hands in order to get some. Do you see the pattern that emerges? While they might seem cute and kind at a glance, horses can be very pushy and demanding if they’re not trained properly.
Spoiling your horse will do more damage in the long run. You might think that you’re providing it with a comfortable life, but there is such a thing as being too comfortable. When it comes to food, just put the carrots, apples, and whatever else you might want to feed it in a bucket or a separate tray. Just don’t feed it from your hand, simple as that.
There are two ways you can go about stopping your horse from biting
Maybe you didn’t create the biting habit. Maybe the horse was already biting when you got it. So what can be done now? Definitely don’t hit it, and don’t try to fight it off. You’ll only scare the equine and trigger its fight or flight response. You might even traumatize it somewhat, a subject that I explored in detail right here.
Instead, you should attempt to distract the horse, but you have to be quick about it. If you know your livestock well, you should be able to detect when a bite is coming. As you see the horse preparing to bite you, just look ahead and lightly tap the shin of his leg with your boot. Just as a distraction, not to cause pain. The horse will be somewhat confused by this, and it will begin to associate the act of biting with a distracting tap.
It all has to do with the way a horse’s brain works. They think by association – that’s what makes them relatively easy to train. With some time and effort, you can teach them to associate a certain stimulus with a certain action or vice versa. In this case, the action of biting will associate with a distracting tap on the leg.
You can also just rub the coronet band quickly with your boot. It has largely the same effect. The trick is to act as if nothing is happening. After doing this exercise a few times, the horse will still attempt to bite, but it will stop for a brief moment, hesitate, and look down at its leg. It’s quite an amazing trick, really.
Another way to make your horse understand that biting is bad is to make them work harder as a result of their aggression. Whenever your horse goes out to bite you, send them out on the lead at a canter or trot. Have them work in a circle until you tell them to stop, just to get your point across. Don’t overdo it, obviously.
The point is to get the horse to understand that its biting behavior will only lead to extra work in the future. Like I mentioned above, they think by association, and this method can work really well, even though it takes a bit longer to implement.
Biting from aggression or discomfort.
Apart from biting as a way to get food, a horse might also bite a person from pure aggression. Let me explain: horses are not aggressive animals by default, but if they don’t have a healthy way of channeling their energy, that energy becomes bottled up and it leads to frustration. The same thing can be said about dogs, by the way.
That’s why it is incredibly important to exercise your horse regularly, especially if it’s a highly energetic one that enjoys running and working. We can detect these signs of aggression early by keeping a close eye on the equine’s body language. Generally-speaking, pinned back ears or stomping are clear signs that an act of aggression is about to occur.
Again, this kind of behavior can be prevented by exercising the horse and providing a balanced, healthy environment. Biting can also occur if the horse is uncomfortable. I’m talking about a tight girth or a saddle that doesn’t fit properly. In this case, he is just trying to let you know that something doesn’t feel right. Don’t punish him for it, instead take action and use proper high-quality equipment for your riding and training sessions.
Playful horse biting or as a way to communicate.
Horses don’t always bite to get food or as a sign of aggression. Sometimes, they might do it just to get a reaction out of you, or in order to get you to spend time with them. In this case, just give your horse a bit more attention, but never encourage biting in any way. Block the bites with your elbow and always establish yourself as the dominant party.
When horses bite each other, they do it as a sign of affection, and it’s usually harmless. When they do it to people, though, they need to be discouraged immediately.
How hard can a horse bite, and does it hurt?
Horses have powerful jaws, but fortunately, they have blunt teeth. Having said that, a horse bite can be incredibly painful for a human. In some cases, the resulting wound might require stitches, especially if the horse bites as a sign of aggression and not in a playful way.
Most horse bites are “warning” bites, so the horse doesn’t dig its teeth in too much. If they do get serious, they can leave a mark, and if they catch fingers, well they can basically bite them off. An equine has enough strength in its head and neck to lift a human and toss it aside.
To make matters worse, stallions are known to have between 2 and 4 canine teeth in their interdental space. Nobody really knows why those teeth are present since horses are prey animals that feed on grass.
As for biting strength, the jaw strength (masseter muscle) of a horse is around 500 psi (pounds per square inch). By comparison, a dog such as a pit bull boasts around 235 psi, while a human’s bite is less than 200 psi. All things considered, if a horse is serious about hurting you with a bite, you might end up with a broken limb or torn tissue. Some handlers were even bitten on the side of the head, and they needed up to 20 stitches.
Horse biting can be a problem, but it’s easy enough to solve using the methods that I described above. Remember: aggression is never the answer when dealing with horses. They are usually gentle and sensitive creatures that respond to training and reinforcement.
Leverage a horse’s natural inclination to learn by association and you’ll enjoy a healthier and more stable relationship with your livestock. If you have any further questions or would like to share your own experiences, don’t hesitate to get in touch.