Horses are known to be great companions, but even they can develop a few habits that can become problematic for the relationship. In this case, we’re talking about biting. ‘Why do horses bite?’ you may wonder.
A variety of reasons could be the cause of the behavior. The most common reason horses end up biting is because they are feeling aggressive. The aggression in itself could be due to a variety of reasons.
Aside from aggression, however, horses are known to bite in other situations as well. For instance, they can sometimes bite in an attempt to show affection or initiate play.
Want to find out more about horses bites? This post looks at different details pertaining to this behavior from horses.
A Few Details about a Horse’s Teeth & Jaws
Since we’re talking about horse bites, I feel it’s prudent to first mention a few details about its mouth and jaws.
From the image above, we see that a horse has different sets of teeth along both its upper and lower jaws. The positioning of the teeth is also different, so is their shape and sizes, which implies the degree of horse bites can vary.
The front teeth are called incisors and are mostly used to pick up foliage and nibble on things. They are, however, still capable of delivering painful bites. The teeth on the mandible (lower jaw) and those on the maxilla (upper jaw) are what you really have to look out for.
Compared to humans who can deliver a bite that is around 200 psi, horses can deliver bites stronger than 500 psi! That’s more than double what a human can deliver, implying the seriousness of horse bites.
Explaining Horse Bites
To better understand the reason behind a horse bite, we have to recall one aspect regarding horses. That is the fact that they are social creatures.
In a social structure, for whatever type of animal is involved, a means of communication simply has to exist. For humans, we can speak, write, and even use body language.
Horses (and other animals), as we have come to understand them, communicate through behavior. Horses bite, nip, and nibble on one another to communicate one thing or the other.
Since animals can’t learn how to speak, they interact and communicate with humans the only way they know how to. Through their behavior. With biting being a part of their behavior, they end up biting people.
Reasons why Horses Bite
They could be feeling Aggressive
Aggressive behaviors in horses are considered by many equestrians to be the most common reason for horses biting.
When they have an abundance of energy that they aren’t using or expending productively, it can build up inside them. The horses then get rid of this energy by engaging in aggressive behavior like biting.
They could be unwell
When a horse is ailing from a disease or infection, it can end up acting differently than it usually does. One such way it can change its behavior is when it starts biting people.
Horses communicate through their behavior, and as such, when yours starts biting, conduct a medical check to rule out health issues.
They could be uncomfortable
Aside from things like disease, several other things could make a horse uncomfortable.
For instance, trying to ride a horse when the saddle is incorrectly placed can bring the horse discomfort. A tightly placed girth can also be responsible for discomfort. The horse can then lash out in both these scenarios by biting.
They could be trying to engage in Social Grooming
Social grooming is a behavior observed in social animals whereby they help clean each other.
When animals of the same species do it, (in this case two horses or more), it’s referred to as allogrooming.
Since horses are used to this behavior, they may try to engage in social grooming with humans. This process usually involves some degree of biting, which is normal for horses but intolerable for humans.
They could be trying to Initiate Play
Horses are known to bite one another when engaging in play. When we talk about biting, there are various degrees of it, same as how humans can bite hard or gently.
The catch, however, is that the degree to which they are used to biting one another when playing can cause intolerable pain when inflicted on humans.
They could be trying to show affection
In line with them trying to initiate play, horses also gently bite each other when trying to show affection.
While their intention may be pure, horses can’t be allowed to develop this behavior with humans since it can escalate and cause harm when stronger bites end up being inflicted.
They could be trying to Protect Something
We’ve already established that biting is an effective means of attack for horses (and many animals in general).
With this fact in mind, sometimes a horse starts biting when it feels threatened and has to protect itself or other horses around it. Other instances in which they are known to bite include when they’re trying to protect their share of food or space.
How Serious are Horse Bites?
Horses are robust creatures, many times over compared to humans. They can inflict bites that are up to three times stronger than what humans are capable of.
Considering that kind of power, a horse bite is nothing to ignore. According to some medical research, up to 7% of horse-related injuries are a result caused by their bites.
There are several cases of horse handlers having to lose some of their fingers after getting them crushed under the pressure of horse bites.
A horse bite can also easily manage to break your skin, which allows infections to come about.
The best option a proper equestrian has in the event of a horse bite is to first clean the affected area. Thereafter, seeking professional medical attention immediately to assess and counter the damage.
How to Stop Horse Biting Behavior
If your horse has developed the habit of biting or trying to bite people, there’s hope to correct this behavior.
Some options you can explore on this front include:
Several horses are known to occasionally engage in biting do so because they have overly active minds.
That said, one way to help your horse calm down is by engaging it in clicker training. Clicker training is basically a way to reinforce positive behavior in animals.
With horses, you can teach them to focus on other objects and activities. This will keep them occupied so that they stop their habitual biting.
Cultivating a respectful Culture
Horses are beautiful companions to have around, but just like some of the friends we have, they can sometimes get a little too comfortable.
They may try to get close to you without your permission or nibble around your pockets. While it may seem friendly, they could suddenly turn aggressive without your realizing and inflict a bite injury.
As such, horses should be taught to keep their distance and only get close to you after you initiate contact.
Creating a regular behavior pattern
Horses form behavior patterns after some time interacting with their handlers. It’s therefore imperative that equestrians monitor and allow only acceptable behaviors to develop in their horses.
In the case of biting, horses can sometimes start out nipping and nibbling people, not really dealing any serious bites. These acts if left unchecked can become habitual, which eventually creates the capacity for dangerous situations.
As such, if a horse starts exhibiting these behaviors, it should be discouraged from doing so immediately before they become part of their behavior.
Seeking professional Help
For non-experienced equestrians, this option is the best and safest.
Professional equestrians have several years worth of experience dealing with horses in different scenarios and situations and can easily guide you around horse bite issues.
Preventing Horse Bites
Before horse bites can become a problem in the first place, there are some measures equestrians can pursue to prevent the behavior from forming.
This aspect comes in the form of teaching your horse respect and reinforcing that biting isn’t an acceptable behavior right from when they’re foals.
Young horses, like all young animals, tend to be quite cheeky and explorative. These behaviors may come in the form of biting or nipping.
As such, teaching them early can prevent problems further into their adulthood.
Providing a good environment
This aspect can be looked at in terms of:
- Providing an environment in which your horse can feel safe and unintimidated. It won’t need to lash out violently by biting.
- Providing a social environment where it can interact and play with other horses. Doing this helps alleviate aggression which would otherwise cause biting.
Horse bites are not to be taken lightly. Every horse owner has to be responsible and care for their horses as well as they can to prevent this behavior from cropping up.
We’ve discussed several details and hopefully, this post has informed you of all you needed to know about horse bites and has made you a better equestrian. Ride on!