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Nipping and Biting TB Gelding

Hi Franklin:

I might be purchasing a 17.2 TB gelding who is six years of age and I will be doing dressage with him. He is a lovely horse and a lovely mover. The only vice he has is that he is nippy but he is only nippy before he gets worked and while he is hitched to be brushed and I'm sure when he is being led.

The woman that owns the barn that he is at says when he does this she will pinch his mouth or pull at his whiskers. I have always been taught that when a horse does this, you must act fast and pop him in the mouth. She also says that if you give him a lead rope or something to put in his mouth that will keep him occupied. I think that's encouraging the problem. I also thought that this might be an anxiety problem because he does this before he gets worked. If I do purchase him and bring him to my barn, the owner of my barn makes us hook our horses inside of the stall and groom them and saddle them up. I have always been use to bringing the horse out in the middle of the aisle and cross tying them. So when I have him hooked up in his stall and he does this, do I immediately unhook him and start turning him in tight circles in the stall or do I pop him one because this is a behavior, like you said, that has to be addressed right when he does this.

Sometimes when you bend over to do his hooves, he'll mouth you or nip. He doesn't haul off and viciously bite but I guess a bite is a bite. Also, when you are mounting up, you must take his right rein and pull it taught so he won't nip or mouth you when you mount him. To me this is unacceptable and I really need some advice.

Hi there,

Biting and nipping is one of the most common vices horses acquire. It is true a sharp and very well placed pop to the upper lip, in front of the upper teeth done within 2 seconds of the offending nip is acceptable. This will usually break the horse of the habit if done correctly and consistently over time a bit. If you do this while the horse is tied anywhere you leave yourself open for additional problems if the horse gets fearful or something unforeseen happens. I train my horses to stand when being groomed and saddled without being tied. This is a wonderful thing to have your horse trained to do. Most places that only offer riding instruction (which is mostly all riding academies and stables) do not consider it important enough to teach a horse. In fact they generally teach nothing about 'horses'. They teach riding and maintaining the horse and that is it. To me this is an injustice to the horse and the humans. Anyway, I digress ...

If your horse is nervous being groomed, led or whatever, it is because it has not been a pleasant experience for him. Horses are not slaves and should not be continuously subjected to hurtful, inappropriate and unpleasant experiences with humans. This is what it sounds like is happening for this horse. It is common with lesson horses and school horses. He becomes fearful of discomfort or pain and it is possible he is not looking forward to working for you because his needs are not really being met (which it sounds like they are not). You are looking at the symptoms the problem of discomfort, fear and pain produced anxiety. Consider softer brushes and gentler, more appropriate and consistent handling. Try not to have your time agenda and riding agenda overshadow the horse's sense of safety and comfort. This is a constant problem at riding stables and academies where the human agendas outweigh the horse's agenda for feelings of safety and freedom from discomfort and pain. If he were mine I would re-start him and give him another shot at being handled by humans appropriately. They are not our slaves and while I know it is a harsh word, if you look at his life, it is not much different. The horse's owner may be a fine rider, but not a horse trainer. Do not tell her this as all riding instructors call themselves horse trainers and she will be quite angry and offended. Your thought that she is encouraging the behavior is correct.

You may not be able to put the horse to work when it nips in your current situation. I would move the horse out of the barn. Go somewhere on your own that is quiet and out of the way. Set it up so you know he will try to nip and then do the "pop". Then set it up again and do it again. This way you might be able to modify his behavior and have it stick so he does not do this when in other situations. Train him away from everyone, including his owner.

Anyway, that is what I would suggest for now. Good luck and keep me posted.

Sincerely, Franklin

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