If you’ve ever visited a stable then you may have seen signs that warn unsuspecting people that horses are inclined to bite. This may sound strange to anyone that hasn’t spent much time around horses, but it’s actually fairly common for horses to bite.
Despite feeding on a diet of grass, horses actually have very strong jaws and their incisors are fairly sharp. This can cause serious damage to humans, but it can also be a problem for fencing and other animals.
But why do horses have a tendency to bite? Can anything be done about it? We’ll be exploring this in greater detail with this informative article.
Why Do Horses Bite?
First, let’s discuss the reason why horses like to bite.
- Uncomfortable saddle or tight girth – If the girth or cinch of the saddle is a little too tight, then horses will have a tendency to bite because it’s uncomfortable. If this happens, it’s a good idea to change the saddle or girth, or even consider using something different. This will make your horse more comfortable and will make them more comfortable when you saddle up.
- Aggression – Horses that are angry, frustrated, or even upset can often bite others. This is very common in stallions since they are a lot more aggressive and require a considerable amount of handling knowledge to avoid being bitten.
- Allogrooming – This is when horses groom each other. In some cases, a horse may bite another horse around the neck or along the withers. Allogrooming should only occur between horses, but there may be situations where you want to imitate allogrooming by scratching the areas where a horse would usually bite. However, it’s important that you don’t give your horse the opportunity to allogroom their handler. While it’s not inherently aggressive behavior, it should not be encouraged between horses and humans.
- Illness, discomfort, or infection – If a horse is feeling ill, uncomfortable, or is suffering from some kind of infection, then there’s a chance they may bite. If you notice that your horse is suddenly biting and it’s unusual when compared to their regular behavior, then you may want to request a veterinarian to conduct a physical examination. If your horse isn’t experiencing any discomfort, then there’s another reason for the biting.
- Guarding food – This is one of the more common reasons why a horse may bite a human. If a horse is particularly hungry, they may be inclined to lash out and bite if it looks like you’re about to take their food.
- Hand-feeding – If a horse expects to be hand-fed, then it can develop a habit of biting its handler. This is a prideful and pushy behavior that should be avoided. Stop hand-feeding your horse and instead, give your horse their food in a bucket or pan to avoid being bitten and also avoid developing poor behavioral habits.
- Trust issues – A horse with trust issues will be more likely to lash out and bite when they are startled, or if their handler tries to get too comfortable and close to the horse. Time and patience will typically solve trust issues.
- Defending territory – If horses are kept in a small pasture or pen, then they may start to develop a strong sense of territoriality and begin to bite their handler whenever they enter the pasture or pen. This is most common with geldings and mares.
- Protecting a foal – A mare may become very aggressive and bite at people who approach her foal. This is a very common response that will gradually subside.
- Youthful biting – Young horses will playfully bite each other when they’re together. However, they may even start to bite humans as well. You may need to keep a halter on a young horse that is known to bite when humans are around.
- Communication – Biting can be a means of communication among horses. They may bite when they are trying to get your attention, but this is something that should be discouraged to prevent them from building bad habits.
- Biting in the wild – Since horses need to use their teeth to interact with the world around them, they’re very accustomed to using their teeth both for grazing and as a form of interaction. Wild horses may also bite if they feel threatened. This may be accompanied by charging or kicking if you approach a wild horse that senses danger.
- Boredom – If you notice that your horse has developed a bad habit of biting fences or wood, then it could be a sign that they’ve started biting because they’re bored.
Can you stop a horse from biting?
A horse that bites a lot can be problematic, but there are a handful of ways to discourage them from biting.
- Clicker training is a great way to teach your horse to focus on something and preoccupy their minds so they’re less likely to bite.
- Stimulate your horse so that they’re less likely to get bored and develop bad habits such as biting.
- Start training when they’re young so that they’re more trusting of you and less likely to feel angry or anxious and bite you. Young horses are generally more likely to bite, so getting them out of that habit from an early age will ensure they don’t do it when they’ve grown up.
- Teaching respect ensures that the horse won’t try to get too close and bite you. It also teaches them to be less prideful and pushy, meaning they’ll be less likely to demand that you hand-feed them.
- Establish yourself as the leader by communicating what is acceptable and unacceptable. This will teach your horse what behaviors are accepted and what they should stop doing.
- Provide a secure environment so that they feel safe and are less likely to develop a strong sense of territoriality.
- Providing enrichment is important because horses are grazers that are naturally inclined to chew and use their mouths for the majority of the day. If your horse has enough roughage, you can keep it occupied which reduces the chances of them biting.
- Being consistent with your training will help your horse develop better habits such as not biting randomly. This also ensures they don’t get too comfortable around you to start allogrooming you or poking around your pockets and clothes.
- Get professional help if you feel that you’re unable to control your horse’s biting behavior. There’s nothing to be ashamed of when seeking assistance and it will help you and your horse develop a more stable and comfortable relationship. This is especially important if your horse is aggressive.
- Head control involves training your horse to move its head away from you on command. This will keep their mouth away from you which means less chance of them biting you.
- Redirecting the behavior by giving your horse something else to bite can help. You can encourage them to bite other horses in a playful way, or you could try a rubber horse toy instead.
What to do if your horse bites you
Despite all the things we can do to prevent a horse from biting us, there may be times where our horse still manages to nip us. But what exactly can you do in this situation?
Do not pick at or strike your horse
Striking your horse is an invitation to start a war. Horses are bigger and stronger than humans, and they can be incredibly aggressive if they’re annoyed or threatened. Never hit your horse in response to them biting as it will only make things worse in the long run.
Distract the horse with a physical or verbal response
The goal here is to distract the horse from biting. If they go to bite you, there are some physical responses you can use to take their mind off biting. This usually involves distracting them by bumping another part of their anatomy.
For example, lightly tapping their shin with your shoe or boot can distract them enough to discourage them from biting again. A verbal response can also be helpful.
Do what you feel most comfortable with. However, keep in mind that a violent or painful response is never going to work. It just makes things worse for your relationship and can lead your horse to develop even worse biting habits.
Move on and don’t dwell on it
It’s also important to pretend it never happened once you’ve reacted. Move on and don’t dwell on the fact that your horse just tried to bite you. This will allow you to continue focusing on your training and will keep your horse distracted.
If the biting behavior persists and is starting to become dangerous, then we highly recommend that you seek a professional to help you diagnose the problem. Horses can bite for a variety of different reasons, so doing your research and finding out why they’re biting can help you find the correct solution for their bad habits.
How To Treat A Horse Bite
If you suffer a horse bite, you will need to know how to effectively treat it to avoid bad bruising or infection.
When attending to a horse bite, always ensure to wear gloves and goggles to avoid any harmful bacterias getting anywhere. Then, clean the affected area with soap and water. Minor bites will be able to heal from a clean and covering.
More severe bites may require antibiotics. If harmful bacteria enter a deep wound it can cause rabies. The bacteria can harm the immune system, thus cause a prolonged issue. The antibiotics may need to be taken for around 10 to 14 days. These should clear any bad bacterias and prevent further infection.
Keep a close eye on the wound to ensure no puss or extra bacteria builds up. When the bite starts to heal, avoid touching it and ensure to clean it regularly. Stretching the wound can cause it to reopen and be vulnerable to further harmful bacterias, especially if you spend a lot of time around horses.
If you are around horses when you have an open wound, ensure to keep it covered and wear gloves to avoid further issues.
Of course you should also always consult a professional physician in case you are not sure