Once Bitten

Not to be confused with the behavioural problems surrounding playful nipping, a horse that really bites requires careful treatment, writes Linda Parelli Because Parelli Natural Horsemanship always begins the process of solving a horse problem by first seeking to understand the horse’s behaviour I like to ask, ‘Why is the horse biting?’ Usually a horse bites for one of three reasons – fear, an attempt to dominate or as an indication that he wants to play.

The latter shouldn’t be thought of as true biting although steps need to be taken to prevent this playful behaviour turning into a painful problem (see Little Nipper).

A biting horse is not a bad horse and it shouldn’t be thought of as a bad habit. It is usually a very real response to something that is really worrying the horse. Either he’s reacting to something that is scaring or hurting him, or he’s telling you that you should move out of the way because he is the boss! Biting is a symptom, not a problem in itself. It’s feedback, really. The horse cannot speak to let you know that something is troubling him, so he kicks or bites or bucks.  Often people react to a biting horse by slapping the horse on the muzzle. This is not the least bit helpful. A horse is a prey animal and prey animals do not understand punishment. What is helpful when confronted with this problem is to figure out your horse’s personality. This will help you figure out which motivation is prompting the horse’s biting behaviour. Once you’ve determined whether your horse has a Right-Brain or Left-Brain

‘Horsenality’ (see Parelli’s Horsenality profiling technique at www.parelli.comor WHUK Jan/Feb 2011) you will understand why he is biting. Right-Brain horses bite in defence when they are afraid or hurt. Left- Brain horses use biting to dominate. Each of these Horsenalities and reasons requires a different horse training approach to arrive at a humane, effective and lasting solution. In order to cure the problem, you have to first know where your horse is coming from. You can then be appropriate in your response and preventative measures.

Keep your distance

The number one rule with a horse that’s been known to bite is to keep him at a distance! Just because we love horses and seek to understand them doesn’t mean we don’t recognise the danger a biting horse presents. Until you’ve learned your horse’s Horsenality and what training method will get you the best and most lasting solution, keeping your horse at a distance – and out of biting range – is a good interim solution This, however, means that you need to know how to skilfully back your horse up from a distance. For this, we recommend wiggling your rope using the one of the Parelli Seven Games called the Yo-Yo Game. Backing up your horse just a step or two may not be enough. You need to back him up until the look on his face changes. The Liberty and Horse Behaviour home study programme at www.parelli.com explains this in more detail.

Once you’ve gotten out of the way, the next step is to work with your horse so that he doesn’t feel the need to bite you. If he’s biting, he’s reacting to you as if you’re threatening him, as if you’re the predator and he’s the prey. Depending on his Horsenality, he’s either scared by this or takes it as a challenge to try to dominate you in turn, but either way, he’s seeing you as predator. The cure for this – which in turn cures bucking, biting, and most other horse problems – is to break through the prey-predator barrier by becoming your horse’s partner.

You’re still in charge – because you’re the alpha/leader – but you’re no longer a threat. The cure for a biting horse is to teach the horse that you’re a good guy, that you’re nothing and no one he needs to be afraid of or try to dominate. The Seven Games is the best way we know of to do just that. It’s why we recommend them so often.   Establishing a new relationship by learning to play with your horse changes the predator-prey relationship, and that changes  everything!  We also have a brand new natural horse training starter kit that addresses horse biting problems specifically along with kicking and bucking and other reactive horse behaviours. Visit www.parelli.com for more