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horse Behaviour >>NIPPING, BITING AND NOSEY HORSES

I find that geldings tend to use their nose and mouth to explore their world a lot.  I was always taught that you should punish a horse for this type of behaviour but further experience has taught me the error in this thinking.  Most horses that use their mouth a lot are extremely curious horses that get bored very quickly.  So, I try to teach them to use their head parts for good instead of evil.

I’ll give you two examples. The last two geldings that I had at my place were both very mouthy.  Both mostly explored but occasionally would put their teeth on my clothing.  I used the following techniques with both of them with good results.

Cheeko was a gelding belonging to my sister.  He had always been curious with his nose and mouth and had a tendency to be in your face.  He had some professional training but needed more work before she sold him.  He would do what you asked but he had an attitude about it and he’d lost his sense of curiousity.  Using positive methods below his riding, his ground manners and his attitude improved greatly! 

The other example is a little pony I trained named Braveheart. He was pretty shy at first but very sensible.  Once he started to bond with me he started becoming very curious and doing lots of exploring with his nose and mouth.  So again, I used the methods below and had great success.  I actually taught him to pick things up and give them to me and he’d wave a flag in his mouth (Around the 5:30 to 6:00 minute mark you can see this): 

In the video you can also see how willing and gentle he was.  One day when I was riding Chinook I turned around and Braveheart was trotting up to me with a three foot long stick in his mouth.  Wish I had that on video as it was priceless!  Because I’d been rewarding him for picking up things he was now willingly offering this hilarious behaviour.  I took the stick from him and threw it and half expected he would retrieve it… he didn’t that time but I bet if I had the time to work with him more it would be easily taught.

Anyway, these two horses confirmed that this new way works well.   I will never go back to smacking a horse for biting and I hope you won’t either..   Try out the following methods for yourself.

SAFETY FIRST:

A horse that is biting and leaving tooth marks is quite different from a horse that is exploring with his mouth or taking the odd nip. The same goes for a horse that is chasing and nipping you, this is a dangerous situation.   If your horse is showing true biting and aggressive behaviours, you may need professional help.  Feel free to contact me.

DEALING WITH THE ISSUE:

  • Remember that if a horse is annoying you with his/her mouth or head one great strategy is to teach him/her to get out of your space.  You can use a whip or stick or the end of the rope to gently tap the horse on the chest until he/she moves back.  Then, invite the horse back in and rub him/her on the face.  This allows you to be in control of the face and the situation.  This comes from Parelli and one thing he says is that if a horse can’t reach you, it can’t bite you!      
  • Rubbing the face until the horse chooses to back off can send a message too.  If the horse is exploring you softly with nose and lips then just pet the horse quietly on the nose or jaw.  If the horse gets more aggressive with you then you start rubbing a little more aggressively too.
  • If the horse likes to put things in his/her mouth then you can train that behaviour.  Leave out something that he/she likes in his mouth.  When the horse picks it up, grabs and holds it for a few seconds then say ‘release’ or ‘give’ and hold a treat up in your other hand so you can reward the horse immediately for dropping it.  (see the Treats and Horses articles for how to use treats effectively)
  • If the horse likes putting the rope in his/her mouth, help them with it.  Keep pushing the rope into their mouth until they decide to drop it.
  • When you tie this kind of horse leave a bucket up or tie old pop cans up for the horse to play with.  This type of horse loves balls too and they are very entertaining. 
  • Never leave anything out that the horse could chew and hurt themselves on and don’t leave anything in their reach that you don’t want destroyed.
  • You can teach this horse to put their nose on things.  This is a Parelli exercise as well but I’ve modified with the use of treat rewards as I feel this is the fastest and most effective method.  Simply look for something that you think they might want to put their nose on and walk them over to it.  If they explore it, give them a treat.  If your horse is timid about new objects then try a little molasses on things at first.  Then the horse will be looking for and wanting things to put his/her nose on!

Hope this works for you.  Any questions please let me know through the Q & A section at the bottom or left on the home page:  http://www.drlianamawer.ca/

Thanks for your interest!

Dr. Liana Mawer


If you teach your horse to use their mouth with gentleness you will get horses that are happy to come to you and explore you without having any concerns about being bit.

 



You can see Chinook, the bay mare, is relaxed enough that she is sleeping with her nose touching me! Don't discourage this kind of trust and curiousity.