What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Biting or Trying to Bite People


Horses that bite at people are very dangerous. A bite can happen so quickly that you don't see it coming at all. A serious bite can result in life-threatening injury and disfigurement.

Stallions and young or untrained horses more commonly exhibit the behavior, as do some horses that have been abused or mishandled. The behavior is often worst in mishandled stallions and is particularly dangerous.

With the wrong encouragement such as hand-feeding treats, the behavior may worsen. Horses are also "taught" to bite in the same way that they are taught to engage in many other unwanted behaviors. They perceive the unwanted behavior to be easier and more rewarding than alternative (desirable) behaviors.

Biting may result from an attempt to establish dominance (over you), as a defensive response, as an attempt to avoid a certain set of stimuli, and also due to irritation, or pain.

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your role


What To Do

First, if you know that your horse tries to bite, you have an obligation to warn handlers and professionals like your vet and farrier so that they can protect themselves. If a horse bites you or attempts to bite you, it is important not to react out of anger.

Nevertheless, you need to quickly and definitively establish that this behavior is unacceptable. I do this by timing a strike under the jaw right at the time the horse is making the move to bite. There must be a cost to the behavior and it must come as an immediate response to the attempt to bite.

You should consider the reason for the behavior, and try to classify the nature of the behavior as I have above. Look to yourself and others who have handled your horse as both the cause of the problem and the solution. Engage a trainer who knows how to stop this behavior, and can help you quickly develop a "zero-tolerance" policy even to the subtle behaviors that lead to actual biting.

If you learn why it happens, you can avoid the same stimuli (or desensitize your horse to the stimuli) in the future. If the horse is biting because of a condition causing physical pain, then that will need to be identified and treated.

What Not To Do

Do not dismiss this as the horse's "normal" behavior, that cannot be corrected. Just as it was likely caused by improper handling, it can be corrected with proper handling.

your vet's role

Your vet can help you determine whether there are underlying physical conditions that are contributing to the behavior. Once physical causes are ruled out to the extent possible, they may also have ideas for helping you eliminate the behavior.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Have you found any physical reason for the behavior?
  • Does the horse's behavior seem normal otherwise?
  • Does the horse's general health seem good to you otherwise?
  • When did you first notice the behavior?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • When do you see the behavior exhibited?
  • Do you feel confident in managing the training aspects of this behavior?
  • Does the horse have other behavioral problems?

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP