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Horse a viscious biter

I've found your site and am desperate for suggestions for a solution. I have had a quarter horse/paint mare for 20 years, buying her when she was 6 months old. Initially, I trained her myself and was able to ride her. She has always been what I would call "headstrong." She had bitten me once while I was grooming her but I thought I must have hit a sensitive spot. She has not been a continual biter. When I worked with her, it was always a struggle to get her to do what I wanted her to do rather than what she wanted to do. With my work, I was unable to continually ride and abandoned the riding some years ago. Now that I am retired, I want to ride again.

For nearly 6 months, I have groomed extensively. This grooming has included not only brushing, but clipping, trimming hoofs (she is barefoot), and bathing. She has appeared to enjoy all of this. I have begun to work with her again by putting the saddle on and mounting and dismounting several times. There has been no bridle on her at this time. Yesterday, during one of these sessions, I had put the saddle on, and gone to the opposite side to make certain the stirrups and cinch were straight before tightening anything. As I approached to go around, she lunged at me and with a wild look and wide open mouth, bit me in the upper arm and chest. I am just thankful that a hunk of flesh was not removed. It hurt terribly. Since I was not only shocked but hurting, I quickly got out of the way. By the time I had recovered enough to get my senses (about 2 minutes), it was too late to think of any kind of punishing. She looked at me and knickered quietly. In my pain, I got a halter and lead although I didn't tie her. Then, I put the saddle on and got onto her without incident. I did this despite my agony because I didn't want her to think she had won. I was really glad to get out of there!

Now, I must admit, I am somewhat afraid. I have no desire to abandon this animal but want to find a way to teach her to respect me. I've read numbers of things on your site and other sites, too. So, you may ask, what is your question? My main questions are two: what would cause a horse to do this, if it's possible to know; and, what is the best way for her to be "restored"?


Hi Denise,

Horses do things mostly and simply because they can. Generally, because the human is unaware of something going on for or with the animal, is disconnected and unconscious about the animal while with it or projecting something completely erroneous on to the animal due to held misconceptions about horses. There is so much more to a good horse/human relationship than the human riding the horse that is over looked, that it can make just being with a horse somewhat dangerous (as you have encountered). What is over looked is good and realistic information and education about the horse itself. One does not teach a horse to respect you. Respect and trust are earned. Teaching it to respect you is instilling fear. Earning respect is what is appropriate and really does create a more functional and successful relationship.

I have written a lot on earning the trust and respect of horses. There are a ton of articles, essays and Q & A's on this topic easily found, for free, within my website. Please have a look around it. I request you do this so I do not have to keep repeating myself over and over. Your situation is common and, if you are willing to put in the time and learn the skills, easily remedied. There is no magic bullet or quick fix. You cannot start beating up on the horse to teach it respect for you. As with a child or anybody, respect and trust are earned over some time through mutually successful action and interaction. The initial bite may have been caused because the horse has been soured by lack of appropriate handling and too much just hanging out eating. Sort of like a big kid who has been spending a lot of time on the sofa eating and watching TV. So, that has become his life and habitual behavior. All of a sudden someone comes along and tries to get the kid up, dressed and to exercise by going around the block carrying some weight. That kid might bite or kick or hit the person trying to get him to move about and this behavior might actually be expected (called resistance). It is the same situation.

The remedy is to gradually begin to interact with the kid and gradually support it in moving about easily at first. With a horse that might look like some easy ground handling (lungeing, playing and dancing on the ground with the horse done daily). These 'ground' skills are very importnat and easily learned from training dvd's which are found in the backs of all horse magazines (I have some in my website that would be helpful to you). It really does not matter whose dvd's you get as they mostly cover the same skills. Some good education about horses would serve you a lot.

Some horses will go after any one individual who appears vulnerable, just because it seems vulnerable and likely that the horse can do it without consequences. This could be a child, a smaller animal, a younger horse, a person near it who is unconscious and not connected to the horse, any individual that would be or seem to be vulnerable. I deal with horses that bite a lot and they do not bite me because I am connected, aware and totally conscious of them when near them. Rarely am I taken by surprise by a horse. If there tell me there is something up by their facial expression, ears, tails and other body language, I stop what I am doing and begin to go very slowly and attempt to deteermine what the basis for the attitude is. Most often it is fear of something unpleasant (pain, scary things, etc.). To me, horses are never bad. They truely are as innocent as babies. But they do carry weapons that they will use defensively or aggressively if need be.

All behavior I do not want is fear based. Biting, kicking, bucking, charging, striking, etc. are all done because the animal is afraid and trying to survive. Your horse bit you as a survival mechanisim behavior. Just as that kid I spoke of earlier may not think he can actually get off the sofa and move about about a problem simply because he has been on the sofa for so long. That is all he can relate to at this time. He will need gradual conditioning to relate to moving about and feeling he can do it safely.

My belief system about horses is a very compassionate belief system. I never judge horses as bad or wrong. I assume the horse is afraid of something and that is causing it's unwanted behavior. Thus I attempt to help it to resolve it's fear and then to earn its trust and respect. I never punish. Rather I try to provide a consequence (which, in the case of a biting horse, may included an appropriate and immediate pop to the snout). If one horse bites another it can expect a consequence of a bite back or a quick kick back. Obviously, it is not about taking a whip to a horse or a 2x4 to its head. It is never about punishment.

Anyway, I hope this is some good food for thought for you. Let me know how it goes. The best of luck to you and your horse.

Sincerely, Franklin

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