Thursday, August 7, 2008

How to stop nipping or biting

A horse that nips or bites can be an annoying pest but don't feel bad or discouraged because it's actually a pretty common behavior in horses. The great news is: for most horses it's also usually pretty easy to fix.

When I was 14 years old, I bought a two year old Paint stud colt for $75 dollars. His mother was a big, chunky registered bay Quarter Horse mare and his father was a little paint pony. How that happened, I don't know but he came out as a chestnut and white paint with a black mane and tail and black stockings like a bay. I'm not exaggerating when I say he was breathtakingly beautiful. I was really into Native American Indians by that time and he looked like a painted war pony so I named him Red Cloud, after the famous Sioux Indian chief. An older lady sold him to me so cheap not only because he was of mixed breeding but also because he had never been handled, haltered or trained in any way! He had only been fed by people and nothing more. (Yeah, I was a crazy kid and thankfully, my dad didn't know anything at all about horses or I probably would have never owned Red Cloud and therefore would have never gotten all of that great experience in handling horses! Thanks Dad!)

Considering that he had never been handled, Red Could was actually a pretty nice guy but he was a biter from day one. I couldn't get close to him without him biting at me. Using the technique I'm about to share with you, I broke his biting habit in two days and he never bit me again. In fact, when I sold him a year and half later, he was still a stud but he was so sweet and gentle that you could do anything you wanted to: on, under and around him and an old farmer bought him from me as a present to his 3 year old grandson. That was 30 years ago. Since then, I've used the technique on other horses and I've given the advice to other people and the technique has stopped every single horse from biting.

Now when I talk about a biter, I'm not talking about a horse that is viciously trying to attack you! Unless you are a professional, do not go into a closed area such as a stall or corral with a horse that is violently and deliberately trying to hurt you. That horse has issues that probably can't be corrected by reading a book or webpage. Consult a professional that can come work directly with that type of horse. What I'm talking about is a generally well adjusted horse that just has a nipping problem.

Now there are some folks who will tell you that you should never hand feed your horse treats because it teaches them to nip. I totally disagree with that philosophy. Go ahead and give your horse treats if that's what you want to do. I have always given all horses I've been around treats by hand and yes, I have had a nipper or two but I've also quickly and easily broken that behavior and continued to hand feed the horse and have them never nip again. I will agree that hand feeding can teach a horse to nip (especially a young horse) but I also think it's a good opportunity for your horse to learn what is good to do and what is not. Horses are smarter than some give them credit for. They absolutely can learn that they can have treats but biting or nipping is just not the thing they need to be doing (and not something they will want to continue doing)

In the case of a mild biter or nipper, you can usually cure the problem within just a couple of days. Carry a thin, sharp object such as a nail or toothpick in your pocket or hand for a few days whenever you're going to be around the horse. Now before you freak out on me, we're not going to stab at the horse it. The objective is not to draw blood or create a wound. We're talking about a slight pinprick, something along the lines of being stuck by a thorn or a briar and you're not even going to prick the horse with it. You're going to allow him (or her) to prick themselves. Every time you get near the horse, be nonchalent and go about your normal routine but have the nail or toothpick ready in your hand with the pointed end facing out. Hold it in your hand so that it's hidden, with just the tip sticking out maybe a quarter of an inch. When the horse reaches for your hand to nip, hold the object so he runs his muzzle into it. You may have to slightly move your hand a little bit to "help" the horse prick himself with it but the objective is to try not to move your hand so that the horse doesn't realize that you're doing it to him. You want the horse to think they've hurt themselves. (Yeah, this really does work). When the horse gets pricked a few times, especially in the sensitive lips or muzzle, they think something along the lines of, "Wow, that hurt...that hurt me! That's not what I had in mind!" or "I don't think I'm gonna do that anymore." They basically learn that the action of biting hurts them. It usually only takes a few good pricks with the sharp object for them to stop nipping. It's exactly the same concept as a horse touching an electric fence or us grabbing a hot skillet without an oven mitt - - we usually only have to do it a couple of times and we learn not to do that anymore. No one, not even horses, are going to continue to do something that is painful to them.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

What a great idea! My guy is good except in model classes & he bites me every time on my hands or arms--thank you!

Anonymous said...

That's an extremely good idea!!

Anonymous said...

i have had this appaloosa colt for 4 mths. It seems as if he goes threw stages where he nips sometimes especially when haltering or teaching and even sometimes feeding i have tried your method, but it doesn't seem to work, it like he just got use to it. any other ideas.

Anonymous said...

What a brilliant idea i am going to try it on a nippy foal that is not getting the message when doing the chest straps on a rug !

Anonymous said...

my pony is not biting my hand but arms and stomach area when you are leading her...how can you stop that?

stephanie said...

we have a 15 month old mini gelding. he normaly has good ground manners. he is the only horse we own. he usually nips while walking behind us. in the butt. he seems to be mad about being disturbed while he is eating grass, or doing what he wants to do. like a little fit. or maybe looking for a treat. not sure. he has never broken skin after nipping. but today he broke my sons skin on his buttock a little. how can i do this when he doewnt try and bite our hands ?

Leo's Owner. said...

I recently bought a 4 year old Quarter Horse Gelding named Leo, he lives with 2 other Geldings. But he is a nipper, it isn't a bite but it is hard enough to hurt. I really like this idea and I think it is great. I hope it'll work. I will post later on his progress - Thank You SO Much!

shannon + anon said...

this is such a good idea and i love the way you have writen it :) i cant wait to try this out on my horse thankyou!!!

Anonymous said...

My horses are in a field with a nipper called thady so i'll ask his owner if i can do this and hopefully she'll agree as she gets annoyed with him biting her too!
Thanks a million!!!

Robin:) said...

Wow! I love this idea! I'm 13, and although I love my horse extra super-duper much, he's a chronic nipper. However, he usually go for my hip when I try to rub him or he'll nip at me when I try to pick his hooves while I'm faced away from him. What would you suggest to fix that?

Zoe said...

That's fantastic I have stoppped her nipping in 2 days. Thank you so much :)

Susie M. said...

I am so grateful for this advice! I've owned my [first & only] horse for almost a year and he has recently taken to nipping. It disturbs me because I have been badly bitten by a horse in the past, so I am very leery of the nipping. I've had many tell me to beat him in the nose, but I do NOT want to hit my horse (and WILL NOT). He is my companion and I don't want him to be afraid of me. There is a fine line between respect and fear and I'd rather have his respect. Thank you so much! I am going to start working on this immediately!

Anonymous said...

I just came across this and can't thank you enough! I recently purchased a wonderful trail horse and when I groomed him the first time he repeatedly tried to bite me. I was so upset, thinking that I made a big mistake buying a horse with serious issues, thoughts of having to give him back to the seller, etc. I put a sharp nail between my fingers for the second grooming session, and VIOLA!! He attempted to bite me twice and got a good poke on the muzzle each time and that was it. The rest of the grooming session and ride afterward were delightful. Thank you, thank you!! The nail will remain in my grooming kit if I ever need it again.

Anonymous said...

My Great Grandfather told me he had a horse that used to 'lean' against him, sometimes so much that he would be pinned between the horse and the stall. One day he got a board and put some nails in it, set the board by his side and went into the stall of the horse.. the horse went to lean on him like always, and hit the board with nails... he never did it again... so this really makes sence totally!! Thank you so much for sharing this!!

rachael chatoor said...

Awesome thank you, gonna try that!

Anonymous said...

mY ONLY PROBLEM WITH YOUR SUGGESTION (WHICH i AM SURE WORKS GREAT,) IS THAT, MY YOUNG 4 1/2 YR. OLD GELDING , WHO IS ALSO VERY MOUTHY, NIPS IN OTHER AREAS OTHER THAN THE HAND. wHEN YOU SAY WHOA , HE STOPS GREAT, BUT WHEN HE IS NEXT TO YOU, HIS LIPS LIGHTLY GO FOR YOUR ARM, OR WHAT EVER HE IS NEXT TO, BUT NEVER AGGRESSIVELY. He is a sweet animal, and not a malicious bone in his body.
So, holding a toothpick or nail in my hand, would'nt work. Any other suggestions? Thanks alot !.

Anonymous said...

i just got a new horse and he likes to give kisses, but then sometimes "kisses" turn into him biting. not hard but enough to feel it. instead of poking him i push him away and make him work and run him and he seems to do better.

blaze's owner said...

thats brillent im going to try it on my 15month old pony as hes gone through atlot as growing up i have only just got him but i rescued him and thats all he does is nipp n bit other horse thanks

~ Melanie ~ said...

For those who have asked about the horse biting other areas of your body, I get it. When I was working with mine, I had my full attention on HIM and I was there for a lesson. Depending on what I was doing, leading, grooming, etc., I was very alert and tried to keep one eye on HIS eye at all times and try to guess where was the closest place to his mouth that he thought he could slip in a quick nip. While you may not catch him every single time, it shouldn't take him pricking himself in the soft muzzle very many times until he stops. If he doesn't stop, then I highly suggest either hiring a professional trainer. :)

Please feel free to email me your horse questions and I'll do my best to answer them or at least point you to someone or someplace that can. (Scroll down to the "About Me" section and click on "View my complete profile" to send me an email) I look forward to hearing from you! ~Melanie