Monday, January 26, 2009

The Biter

Most of us have had one of these at some point in our career with horses, from the lippy youngster to the nasty biting schoolhorse.

A horse bites for one of two reasons:
1. As a defensive reaction, or
2. Out of a lack of respect

The defensive bite occurs when the horse is fearful and feels the need to protect itself. The normal reaction in most people is to smack the biting horse, right? Well in the defensive horse that is already lacking in trust, you have just confirmed what it suspected all along: humans are unpredictable and may hit you at any point in time. WATCH OUT!! So what do you do? Earn the horse's trust; it sounds simple and it really is: if the horse has got trust in you he won't feel the need to protect himself. This involves learning to think more like a prey animal and to communicate with the horse in a way which he understands. With a mutual language, you can start to play games that earn the horse's trust in both you and your leadership.

The dominating bite occurs in the horse that is reacting disrespectfully towards you. He's letting you know in no uncertain terms that he's unhappy with what you've done and that he'd like you out of his space. Now. This isn't a result of a "misbehaviour" that must be punished, it's the result of you failing to earn the respect of your horse. Smacking this horse will result in your horse either a) escalating his aggressiveness in an attempt to "put you back in line" (since you obviously ignored his previous cues) and/or b) continuing the "see-how-fast-I-can-bite-you-before-you-smack-me" game you've now created. What's important here is to find a way you can earn, not force, your horse's respect; create a partnership so that he does not want to bite you in the first place!

As far as the horse who "just" lays his ears back, he's telling you "one day I am going to bite you". He may not bite you today or even tomorrow, but don't be shocked when one day you enter his stall and he bites or kicks - after all, he did tell you he would!!

What can you do in the mean time, whilst you earn that respect and/or trust? Don't place yourself in a position where you can be bitten!! Tie your horse up shorter so that he cannot reach around to grab you. If this is not possible, raise your elbow or arm to "block" the bite - never hit the horse, but you can allow him to run into the blockade you've erected. While it may seem trivial to us, the horse notices the difference between it running into your still arm and your arm moving towards it in a hitting motion. Lastly, look at things from your horse's perspective to figure out why he is biting. Are you doing the cinch up too tightly too fast? Are you being unfair in your requests? Is his back sore or his tack ill-fitting? Is he expressing frustration at being cooped up with too much energy to vent?

No comments: