A horse may bite other horses for a variety of reasons, including aggression, dominance, herd dynamics and poor socialisation skills. Every herd follows an established pecking order generally set by the dominant, lead mare. The leader assumes responsibility for moving the herd and controlling and correcting bad behaviour. If one horse continually bites other horses, it's your responsibility to take over as the herd leader and put a stop to the harmful behaviour. By performing natural horsemanship techniques in a round pen, you can teach your biting horse positive social skills.
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Things you need
- Natural horsemanship rope halter
- 12-ft. lead rope
- Round pen
- Submissive horse
Place some hay inside a round pen, spreading it out evenly in one area near the fence line.
Put the submissive horse into the pen. Dominant horses typically do not bite all herd members due to natural herd dynamics. Generally, one submissive horse will become the primary target of the biter's aggression. Allow the submissive horse to settle in and eat for about 20 minutes.
Catch the biting horse, using a rope halter. Attach a 12-foot lead rope to the halter and walk the horse to the pen. A natural horsemanship rope halter is designed with knots that lie against strategic pressure points on a horse's face.
Watch the submissive horse in the pen as you approach with the dominant horse. Ensure that the horse is relaxed and eating before you enter the pen with the biting horse.
Bring the dominant horse into the pen quietly, speaking softly and calmly as you walk. Hold the folded lead rope firmly but do not wrap it around your hand.
Establish yourself as the "lead mare" by setting boundaries for acceptable behaviour as you work with the horses. That will teach the dominant horse what behaviours you expect from it. The horse will learn to curb its desire to bite as a means of communicating or assuming a dominant role among the herd.
Walk the dominant horse near submissive one slowly. Allow the dominant horse to watch the other horse eat. If it tries to eat the hay, pull its head down two or three times using the lead rope. Pulling the horse's head down repeatedly makes the horse instinctively raise its head. With this move you are establishing yourself as the leader by communicating to the horse when it can or cannot eat. That is natural herd behaviour that the horse will understand.
Walk near the submissive horse as it eats, gradually getting closer to the horse. Using food in the teaching process establishes a territorial situation in which aggressive behaviour most likely will emerge. Prompting the horse's aggression will give you the opportunity to address the unwanted behaviour and establish positive social skills in the dominant horse.
Observe any slight change in the dominant horse's behaviour. Aggressive behaviours that will require immediate correction include flaring nostrils, pinned-back ears and rapid tail swishing. Remain highly aware of the horse's body language, for your safety and the safety of the horses.
Correct any negative behaviours by quickly and repeatedly pulling down on the lead rope, loudly saying "shhh!" and moving the horse away from the food and the other horse. Continue this pattern of training until the horse begins to settle down and regard you as the "lead horse."
Stand at the opposite end of the pen from the other horse for five to seven minutes, allowing the dominant horse to watch the submissive horse eat. That position will be uncomfortable for the dominant horse, and it will begin to recognise the correction and shift its mindset from feeling a need to bite to thinking about eating.
Approach the submissive horse and food again, but with more slack in the lead rope. Repeat the process until the dominant horse begins showing signs of submissiveness, such as dropping its head and working its mouth.
Release pressure and allow the dominant horse to eat alongside the submissive horse. This action will communicate to the dominant horse what behaviour is expected of it.
Reward the dominant horse by stroking it and praising its good behaviour. This will reinforce future positive behaviour, speed up the learning process and give you an opportunity to bond with your horse.
Observe the two horses as they eat, remaining watchful for any change in behaviour or signs of aggression. If the dominant horse remains submissive, remove the halter. If it begins to shows signs of dominant behaviour, re-halter it, say "shhh!" and begin the teaching process again.
Monitor the horses as they eat and lead them back to the pasture after they finish. You have laid the groundwork for future training, if necessary. You should be able to correct slightly aggressive behaviour with the horse, regardless of its environment, by giving the "shhh!" cue.
Tips and warnings
- Do not keep horses separate other than for health reasons or on advice from your veterinarian. Separating them will not allow them to have their social needs met and will not enable them to learn social skills that are necessary for healthy herd dynamics.
- Ask someone to assist you with the round pen exercise. Have the person remain outside of the pen, ready to help, if necessary.
- A horse that tries to bite people is dangerous, regardless of its motivation. Find a professional trainer if your horse bites you or other people.
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