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Dear Cherry,

I have an 8 year old mare standard bred. She is very nippy and can be aggressive. She bit my forehead a couple weeks ago. I had a bruise.
She spooks easily and I need help. She is western. The worst part is when I saddle her. She is sensitive and is cranky. Please help.

Thanks. Denver

Hi Denver,

It sounds like your mare needs to develop respect and confidence. Respect for you and confidence in herself and her surroundings. Biting and spooking are just symptoms of a horse with a lack of respect and confidence.

Have you visited my Horse Information Roundup? There you will find MANY articles related to your questions. Here are just a few

Biting and there are six more article related to Biting under Behavior

Spooking

Sacking Out

In addition, it sounds like you and your horse would benefit from you reading

What Every Horse Should Know.

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Cherry,

My question is about a riding-school horse: in the scenario below, what if anything should I have done differently?

At this school, students ride a different horse every time. Over weeks or months, a student might ride the same horse again. This was the first and only time so far I was assigned to this horse.

When I first entered her pipe-stall, she acted friendly and let me remove her blanket. But when I re-entered the stall with halter and lead rope, she nipped at the air in my direction. She did this every time I slowly moved the halter toward her nose and she became more aggressive.

My job was to catch her, lead her to cross-ties, and tack her up in time for a riding lesson 30 minutes later.

I reasoned that I should not reward her nipping by backing off or going away (to get help!). Instead I growled (yelling or shouting are expressly forbidden in this barn) and let her know she couldn’t get rid of me, by keeping my fingertips on her shoulder, at arm’s length, and following her as she rotated around her stall, away from me. After some 20 nips, she gave up and let me put the halter on her.  After that everything was fine.

What should I have done differently?  Caroline

Hi Caroline,

If the purpose of the lessons at this schools is to test a students ability to deal with various horses, then I would say in general, you did an acceptable job. But if testing was the aim, then you would have received an evaluation and critique from an instructor who was watching. It sounds as though you did not.

If the purpose of the school is to teach students how to interact with various types of horses, then I would say the school failed. With a horse like this, it should have taken one of the instructors just a few minutes to demonstrate the best way to approach, catch and halter this particular horse in her pipe stall. Then you could have done the same. An instructor would have been able to advise you whether the horse was playing a game with you or was truly aggressive, something I can not ascertain from an email.

I am positively impressed with your savvy to not reward her with backing off from her attempts at nipping.

What should you have done differently? Perhaps after catching the horse and haltering her, you could have turned her loose, left her pen and then asked an instructor to watch as you approached, caught and haltered the horse once again.

A lesson begins the moment you begin approaching a horse. A riding school should instruct from that point on, not just when you are in the saddle.

Thanks for the good question.

 

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Hello Cherry

My miniature horse foal keeps biting, bucking, rearing and jumping up.  He is a 4 month old foal.  I plan to geld him, but our vet said to wait until he is 1 year, so it won’t harm his growth.

Hershey wants to bite and chew on EVERYTHING.  He has toys in the yard that he can play with, but I seldom see him using them.  We have a pet goat who lives with him and his mother, and he is often seen chewing on her legs and tail (she has bite marks to prove it)  I try to enforce the no-bite rule when I am around him by pushing his head away and tapping him on the muzzle, but when I leave for the day, there isn’t anyone to stop him.

Also, when I turn my back to him, he will often run up behind me and rear/kick me.  He also does this to his mother by jumping up and placing his hooves right below her withers.

He is a very smart foal, catches on very easily and  loves to please me.  He let me take his halter on and off him at 5 days old and would move back and to the side with pressure too, but now he is so focused on biting or chewing on me that when I ask him to do something, he ignores my signals.

On a different hoof, when his mother goes to roll in the dirt, she finds it very difficult because he jumps over her.  I have often had to hold him still so she can roll, because I am worried that he will tangle his legs with hers.

Is this a stage, or is it a habit???  And how would I be able to fix it and make him behave?  Would gelding him early help?  I am supposed to show him in showmanship this year.

Thanks, Julia

Hi Julia,

First I want to be sure that you know how to search here on this blog and on my website for information related to Biting and other horse behavior and training topics.

For example, here on this blog, you can type Biting in the Search box at the top of the page or in the right hand column. It will bring up a list of articles here that talk about horses that bite. For example

Horse Behavior – Biting Children

You can also go to the article page on my main website www.horsekeeping.com where there are many more articles. On that page, you can see all of the articles by title, so the fastest way to find what you want is to go to the Behavior category and scroll down to the articles on Biting.

For example, besides the one on the miniatures that bite children, there are the following articles:

Q&As on Horse Biting

Biting Prevention

Horse in Stall Bites at People

Now, to your questions specifically. It is generally a stage that colts (male foals) go through. If a biting horse is dabbed at or played with, or if you lightly tap his nose to tell him no, in many cases it tends to encourage play biting which is a socially acceptable behavior between horses.

You need to make sure your foal knows in no uncertain terms that you are top on the pecking order and biting is not an acceptable behavior.

You also need to set up regular handling sessions so that he learns to respect your personal space. This means 2-3 sessions per day every day – the sessions don’t have to be long – they could be 5-20 minutes each but should be structured. The articles I suggest above and other articles on my website will help with that.

As far as limiting his biting when you are not handling him or near him, that would be difficult. You can deter his biting of certain things like wood rails by coating them with a No Chew product, but that’s a big world out there, so while he is at this stage, perhaps teething, you should focus on his good manners when he is being handled and when you are near him when he is loose.

In terms of gelding him, here is a thorough discussion of why a horse is gelded, when, and aftercare. You should follow your own veterinarian’s advice as to when to geld but do know that many horses are gelding “early” which means before they are a year old – even at weaning – with good results and no negative effects. I don’t want to advise you on that as I can’t see your horse. Your veterinarian has the best picture of your horses, management and so on.

Gelding and Aftercare

Best of luck and remember, there is no substitute for thorough regular effective handling.

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Bad Habits in Horses

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

Horses are some of the kindest, most generous and trainable animal partners you can find.  That’s why when a horse does something “bad”, it’s usually due to poor management or training.  In order to deal with vices and bad habits, we need to understand what causes them.  THEN we can design our horse care and training to PREVENT them.

How to Think Like a Horse by Cherry Hill

How to Think Like a Horse by Cherry Hill

A vice is an abnormal behavior that usually shows up in the barn or stable environment that results from confinement, improper management, or lack of exercise.  A vice can affect a horse’s usefulness, dependability, and health.  Examples are cribbing, weaving, and self-mutilation. (see an upcoming post on Vices)

A bad habit is an undesirable behavior that occurs during training or handling and is usually a result of poor techniques and a lack of understanding of horse behavior.  Examples are rearing, halter pulling, striking and kicking.

Bad Habits in Horses
©  2002 Cherry Hill www.horsekeeping.com

HABIT

DESCRIPTION

CAUSES

TREATMENT

Balking Refusal to go forward often followed by violent temper if rider insists. Fear, heavy hands, stubbornness, extreme fatigue. Curable.
Review forward work with in-hand & longeing.
Turn horse’s head to untrack left or right.
Strong driving aids with no conflicting restraining aids (no pull on bit).
Do not try to force horse forward by pulling – you’ll lose.
Barn Sour
Herd Bound
Balking, rearing, swinging around, screaming and then rushing back to the barn or herd. Separation from buddies or barn (food, comfort). Curable but stubborn cases require professional.
A confident, capable trainer that insists the horse leave the barn (herd) and then positively reinforces the horse’s good behavior so horse develops confidence.
The lessons GO and WHOA must both be reviewed.
Biting Nibbling with lips or grabbing with teeth especially young horses. Greed (treats), playfulness (curiosity) or resentment (irritated or sore). Investigate things with mouth. Often from hand-feeding treats. Curable. Handle lips, muzzle, & nostrils regularly in a business-like way; when horse nips, tug on nose chain, then resume as if nothing happened.
Can also use thumb tack on sleeve; hold wire brush toward lips; use muzzle.
Bolting When Turned Loose Wheels away suddenly before halter is fully removed. Poor handling, anxious to exercise or join other horses. Curable but dangerous as horse often kicks as he wheels away.
Use treats on ground before you remove halter; use rope around the neck.
Bucking Arching the back, lowering the head, kicking with hind or leaping. High spirits, get rid of rider or tack, sensitive or sore back, reaction to legs or spurs. Monitor feed and exercise; proper progressive training; check tack fit.
Can’t Catch Avoids humans with halter and lead. Fear, resentment, disrespect, bad habit. Curable. Take time to properly train, use walk-down method in small area first, progress to larger. Remove other horses from pasture; treats on ground, never punish horse once caught.
Can’t Handle Feet Swaying, leaning, rearing, jerking foot away, kicking, striking. Insufficient or improper training. Horse hasn’t learned to cooperate, balance on 3 legs, take pressure and movement of farrier work. Curable but persistent cases require professional.
Thorough, systematic conditioning and restraint lessons: pick up foot, hold in both flexed & extended positions for several minutes while cleaning, grooming, rubbing leg, coronary band, bulbs etc.
Halter Pulling Rearing or setting back when tied, often until something breaks or horse falls and/or hangs by halter. Rushed, poor halter training, using weak equipment or unsafe facilities so horse gets free by breaking something.
Often horse was tied by bridle reins and broke free.
Can be curable but very dangerous and incurable in some chronic cases which require professional.
Might use stiff bristled broom on the rump or wither rope on advice of professional.
Head Shy Moves head away during grooming, bridling, clipping, vet work. Initially rough handling or insufficient conditioning, painful ears or mouth problems. Curable. First eliminate medical reasons such as ear, tongue, lip or dental problems.
Start from square one with handling; after horse allows touching, then teach him to put head down.
Jigging Short, stilted walk/jog with hollow back and high head. Poor training attempt at collection, horse not trained to aids, too strong bridle aids, sore back. Curable. Check tack fit, use aids properly including use of pressure/release (half halt) to bring horse to walk or use strong driving aids to push horse into active trot.
Kicking Lashing back at a person with one or both hind legs, also “cow kicking” which is lashing out to the side. Initially reflex to touching legs, then fear (defense) of rough handling or to get rid of a threat or unwanted nuisance. Might be curable but serious cases are very dangerous and require professional to use remedial restraint methods.
Unlikely to ever completely cure.
Rearing Standing on hind legs when led or ridden, sometimes falling over backwards. Fear, rough handling, doesn’t think he must go forward or is afraid to go forward into contact with bit; associated with balking; a response to collected work. Can be curable but is a very dangerous habit that might be impossible to cure even by professional.
Check to be sure no mouth or back problems.
Review going forward in-hand with a whip and review longeing.
Running Away;
Bolting
Galloping out of control. Fear, panic, (flight response), lack of training to the aids, overfeeding, under exercise, pain from poor fitting tack. Might be curable but very dangerous as when horse panics, can run into traffic, over cliff, through fence, etc.; remedy is to pull (with pressure and release) the horse into a large circle, gradually decreasing the size.
Shying Spooking at real or imagined sights, sounds, smells, or occurrences. Fear (of object or of trainer’s reaction to horse’s behavior), poor vision, head being forcibly held so horse can’t see, playful habit. Generally curable.
Put horse on aids and guide and control his movement with driving and restraining aids
Striking Taking a swipe at a person with a front leg. Reaction to clipping, first use of chain or twitch, restraint of head, dental work. Curable but very dangerous especially if coupled with rearing as person’s head could be struck.
Review head handling (mouth, nostrils, ears); head down lesson; and thorough body handling and sacking out.
Stumbling Losing balance or catching the toe on the ground and missing a beat or falling. Weakness, lack of coordination, lack of condition, young, lazy, long toe/low heel, delayed breakover of hooves, horse ridden on forehand, poor footing. Curable.
Have hoof balance assessed, check breakover, ride horse with more weight on the hindquarters (collect), conditioning horse properly.
Tail Wringing Switching and/or rotating tail in an irritated or angry fashion. Sore back from poor fitting tack, poorly balanced rider, injury, rushed training. May not be curable once established.
Proper saddle fit, rider lessons, massage and other medical therapy, proper warm-up & progressive, achievable training demands.

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