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Dealing with a Biter

Dear Brian,

I have a 7month old colt that is nipping. I do not want to scare him with the wrong technique, however he makes me nervous with his constant nipping. I've read that perhaps he is trying to say "don't hurt me I’m little”, or because he is a colt he needs head attention. I am not sure what I am dealing with here.

It is wintertime and I do not spend a lot of time with him. Could this be an attention ploy? I am thinking now that perhaps he thinks it is a game. He is actually biting now. I am lost as to what to do to remedy this. I am hoping this is not becoming aggressive behavior. The method I have been using is rubbing his nose to deter him from biting. I have only used this technique for 2 days now. I know this will take time.

 However, he seems to be just as bad if not worse. He is a grade horse. His mother was a 14.3 hands tall palomino. His father was a pinto draft horse. As far as his height, I never saw him. The owner told me she bred with the draft pinto for size. However she owned mostly pinto or paints. Dancer was seven months old on Christmas. In addition, I should mention this is my first horse at age 42. I also question have I bit off more than I can chew with this little grade warmblood. HELP!     


 Howdy Peggy,

            Let me begin to try to answer all of your questions by establishing that your colt is not becoming aggressive. HE ALREADY IS AGGRESSIVE. When a horse bites, that is the one act that he does that “Declares War” on whomever he bites! A horse can kick out of a natural reaction to danger, or fear. Such as when you walk up behind while he is dozing, or perhaps eating. However, when he bites, he has to turn towards you, giving him the ability to size up the situation, and DECIDE to bite, not to perform a natural reaction.

            So, with that established, lets talk about what our reaction should be to overcome his declaration of war. Lets use the example of we are one country and he is a different country, who, through his ambassador or agents, have declared war upon our country. I use the agents and ambassador reference specifically to point out that there is a TIME DELAY, (The colts DECISION to face you and bite) during the declaration of war.

            Once war has been declared, and we are attacked for the first time, would you expect the government of our country to just sit by, and wait to make sure that they actually meant to attack us? Hardly. The more prudent reaction would be to act so swiftly, and so decisively, that the attacker would be convinced that they made the worst mistake of their entire lives. Mind you, that I did not say that we would annihilate the entire population of the attacking country. Just an extremely swift, decisive counter attack.

Now, keeping the above reference in mind, let us get back to your colt, Dancer. Whenever Dancer bites you, he declares war. It is that simple. No matter how cute and cuddly, no matter how much you love him, no matter how nice he is in every other way, he declared war upon your person. It does NOT matter that he is only seven months old, its still wars. The only concern you should have for his age is that during your counter attack, you do not attempt to annihilate him entirely. Use force that is prudent for his age, while still driving home the point that he made the worst mistake of his life.

            While we are on the subject of your counter attack, let me state VERY CLEARLY, that the intent of the counter attack is NOT TO HARM the horse. Merely, to convince him of his mistake. That means that the entire body of the horse is fair game for the counterattack, with the exception of the head, forward of the ears. We do not want to use anything that will penetrate his skin, or do damage to his bones, of cut or scrape him in anyway. Do not go for the head as you could damage an eye, or other facial feature. However, the neck, body, and legs are fair targets. 

Notice I said fair. When the horse perceives the punishment as fair, it will not produce any unwanted affects, such as head shyness, or fear. In the pasture, while still a baby, watch a mare discipline a colt. They are severe in their punishment, but not abusive. So should your counter attack be governed. It should also be mentioned here that anything that you have in your hand, other than the above-mentioned cautions, could be used. A halter, your hand, whatever. Just DO NOT CAUSE PHYSICAL HARM to the horse; punish him.

In addition, another rule to keep in mind is applied by very good teachers all over the world. YOU ONLY HAVE THREE SECONDS IN WHICH TO ADMINISTER YOUR COUNTER ATTACK. After that, the horse’s attention has already turned to something else. So lets say for instance, that you are out in the paddock and he bites you, then immediately runs away, and you cannot get to him within three seconds, then guess what? He got a FREE SHOT. Do not attempt to chase him down for thirty minutes and then punish him. Three seconds. That is it!

Once you have launched and completed your three-second counter attack, its over. I mean OVER. Do not harbor any ill will towards your colt. Do not let it hurt your feelings. Do not pout or carry a grudge against him for the rest of the day.  It is over. Move on with a nice caring, nurturing relationship with your colt. Treat him as nice as any other horse in the world, and you will be amazed at the results. You will be surprised at how little you will have to do this. If administered correctly and fairly, perhaps only two or three times of your counter attack, and your biting problem will be cured.

 Remember also, that we do not advocate violence against horses, just fair conduct with fair punishment for this one thing. Biting is the ONLY THING that we punish a horse for here at Paradise Ranch, and we have had amazing results with this method.

 I would also like to make a few comments on other things that I picked up from your letter. Going to the fact that you mentioned him being a stud colt and needing attention around his head. You are correct. Stallions need more attention. It is very difficult to give him to much attention. His fragile little ego demands lots of love and patient attention around his head. Please, continue to give him that attention.

 As for rubbing his nose, that does not correct anything like biting. It just gives him attention. In addition, as I said above, give it to him. Just do not think that it will solve his biting problem. 

As for him thinking biting you is a game, my opinion is NO. He does not think that. Horses in the wild bite for only two reasons of which I am aware. One is to practice the art of combat for when they mature and have the need to fight, to dominate other stallions for the overtaking command of the “herd”. The second is to help groom one another. However, the latter is a very gentle raking of the teeth, not an actual bite. 

So, in conclusion let me state that the above is my opinion, and by no means should be considered the ONLY way to end the biting problem of your colt. It is however, the most successful and purposeful method that I am aware of at this time. I would also ask, that if you find a better way that works every time, and does not hurt the horse, please let me know, so that I can learn also. As you seek remedies for your problems that arise from time to time, I would encourage you to use the following three criteria to evaluate the training method.   




If you follow those three rules, and it works, I say it is a good training method! I wish you all the best with your little pinto colt, Dancer, and hope that you write to me in the future to let us know how it turned out. If there is anything else we can do for you, please do not hesitate to ask.




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