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Bad biting in stall

Hi Franklin -

I am looking for help with a horse that has suddenly become a nasty biter in the stall. I have been riding this 5 year old gelding for 7 weeks to help out his owner who has a broken leg. When I first met the horse he was very sweet to handle both in and out of the stall -- an absolute gentleman, no bad habits -- and great to ride. His owner feeds, waters and hays him, and does his stall, so my only contact is to take him out of the stall, cross-tie him and groom, then put on his saddle and bridle, ride and work him, bring him back, cross-tie again, unsaddle, rub down and groom, and put him back in his stall. About a week ago, I arrived in the barn to ride him after several days of really bad weather (snow, ice, rain) when he had had no riding and very little turnout. When I reached out to pat him, he pinned his ears back, and snapped at me. I reached out again, and this time he snaked out his neck with a really evil expression and with mouth open really tried to grab me. Because he is not my horse, I didn't immediately correct him, but went to find the owner. When she approached him, he was fine, but he did the same nasty stuff to me. It felt as if he had suddenly figured out that whenever I appeared he had to work, and if he was aggressive I would go away. His owner's explanation was that he was in a bad mood because he had been in his stall for several days. She turned him out that day, and when I went to ride him the next day, he was much less aggressive but still mouthy. Today was the fourth day straight that I have ridden him, and he has had quite a bit of work, has been great to ride, and has seemed to enjoy the trail rides with mixtures of walking, trotting and cantering, jumping some small logs, etc. For the past three days, he has not tried to bite me. When I arrived today, he pinned his ears right back and lunged at me with mouth open. I smacked him immediately under the chin and he came right back at me biting. I smacked him again and grabbed the halter and got him out of the stall and into the cross ties, and then he was fine. No ears back, no biting -- fine to groom and saddle.

After the ride, I groomed him in the cross ties, no problem, but as soon as I put him back in the stall, he attacked me again over the webbing, almost busting through, and if I hadn't jumped back he would got me. I know his owner feeds him carrots, and as soon as she appears he starts banging the wall of his stall until he gets a carrot. Is the aggressive biting because I don't give him carrots? Any suggestions gratefully received. I love riding him, and have become fond of him, but this biting is scary and I'm trying to figure why he has suddenly changed toward me.

Thanks so much for your help.
Sincerely, Della

Hi Della,

Sounds like inconsistent handling and a few other things are working against the horse staying sweet. First off, get the owner to stop bringing treats. Having a horse paw to get treats is a lousy habit and sets the horse up to be frustrated if he doesn't get a treat. She is training him to be aggressive when he does not get the treat. She is doing you and the horse a dis-service. She is the bringer of treats and you are the bringer of work. This is easy for the horse to figure out. It is true that if the horse does not get enough turn out or exercise that will leave the horse with too much energy. This is especially true for a horse used to being exercised or turned out. This will definitely contribute to his being aggressive.

I would also suggest varying the routine you have with the horse. It sounds like you are very regular in what you are doing. Generally this is a good thing. However, in this case it might be advisable to vary what you do with the horse. Perhaps do more ground games regularly? More ground play may get the horse sweeter to you when on the ground with him and putting him back in the stall. If you do more on the ground with him that should make him become a better and bonded ground partner all the way around. Move very slowly when putting him back in the stall. Really make it a conscious training session. Slowly remove the halter only half way, then put it on again. Do this several times to break the pattern of how he is un-haltered. Do your best to not have a situation that requires you to pop him in the snout. Hitting the horse will set up future problems if you continue to have to do it. You need to figure out an alternative to stop the behavior other than a 'pop' when it happens. So, I suggest really varying how you return him to the stall; vary what happens just before he gets returned and how you remove the halter and set him loose.

Some horses will go to war when they are hit. They will go after the source of the hit when they sense that individual is vulnerable. They remember everything. I would really try to do more to bond with the horse. This means more on the ground. Go for more consistency in what you do and what the owner does. Has the horse had a lot of ground training? There can never be enough of that. It is always a positive thing. Another thing to consider is to take the horse back to more of his basic training on the ground. This will definitely get your bond bigger and faster with the horse than anything else I can think of.

Let me know how it all goes and be careful. It sounds like you have had a lot of horse experience. Be careful! Charging and biting are obviously dangerous behaviors. Good Luck!

Sincerely, Franklin

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