Dr. Jess explains why horses bite below:
Let’s Talk Horses:
Horses are equids, also known as an equine.
An equine is just another term for a horse or pony.
There are wild horses and domesticated horses that are seen commonly being ridden.
Horses are herbivores, weigh an average of 1,000 pounds, and have an average life span between 25-30 years.
They are herd animals, typically wanting to be in the presence of others, whether another horse, farm animal, or human buddy.
They can make great companions, pets, and riding partners.
Even though horses can be very well-trained, they all have their own personalities and issues.
Let’s discuss a Horse’s Teeth:
Teeth are found in the mouth of many living creatures and help the animal cut and break down food particles, making the food small enough to allow the animal to swallow the food and move it farther down the alimentary (food or digestive) tract.
Teeth are made of bone, and are usually a shade of white.
They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes depending on their intended purpose.
Many animals that are herbivores (plant eaters) have wide, flat-surfaced teeth used to grind their foods, plants.
Other animals have sharper, with a more pointed, sharp, or jagged tooth surface, used for cutting, like carnivores, meat-eaters.
Since horses are herbivores, I bet you can guess what type of teeth they have squished inside those big, long mouths of theirs? Yes, flatter-type teeth for grinding grasses, hays, and other feeds.
And there are animals with a dentition (tooth arrangement) in between.
Many of these creatures are omnivores, where they eat both plant and animal matter, so they need flat, grinding surfaces and sharp, cutting surfaces to properly chew their foods.
Teeth have an incredibly hard outer coating called the enamel that protects the sensitive insides of the tooth.
The enamel does not have any blood or nerves that go to it. This means that it is not living nor can this part of the tooth feel things like pain.
The middle layer of the tooth makes up the main bulk of the tooth and is called the dentin.
But the inside layer of the tooth, the pulp, does have blood running to it and also very sensitive nerves, so the inner part of the tooth is living and can sense pain, cold, etc.
What Truly is a ‘Bite’?
For the purposes of this article, we will assume that a ‘horse bite‘ is when the upper and lower teeth and jaw of a horse come down and apply pressure to something that the horse places inside of their mouth and contacts most commonly, their incisors, or the horse’s front teeth.
How Does a Horse Bite?
A horse bites by using their muscles of mastication, the muscles used to open and close the mouth during chewing, to close the upper and lower jaws closed.
A horse can control how hard or tight the bite is – bites can be soft little nibbles, to hard forceful chomps.
What Do Horses Bite?
A horse can bite into, onto, or around anything that can fit in or around it’s mouth.
This means that horses can bite themselves, inanimate objects, other horses, and people!
Why Do Horses Bite?
How much time do you have? Just kidding…. but there is an extremely long list of reasons why horses bite.
The list below compiles the most common reasons for a horse to bite:
- Bitting for protection: for protection of their territory or to protect themselves
- Biting to protect food (food aggression): some horses will defend their food while eating
- Biting to protect young: many mares will bite if someone or something else gets too close to their foal.
- Response to grooming: some horses will nibble when being groomed as a sign that the grooming is a pleasant experience. Other horses will bite at grooming because of their distaste for the activity.
- Response to tacking up or riding: Some horses will bite when getting saddled, cinched or girthed up, or when being asked to ride or move forward while riding. This can be due to pain or lack of desire to do what is being asked of them.
- Biting for play: many young or juvenile horses will bite while playing with other horses.
- Biting due to pain: Many times a horse will bite at themselves (ex. when a horse bites at their sides when colicking) or others when in pain or feeling off or not well.
Do Horses Bite People?
Yes, many people who have been around horses long enough, have had the unfortunate testimony of being bitten by a horse or pony.
Because horses can sometimes communicate with others via different biting/body language gestures, the biting horse may be trying to communicate something to you.
It may be that they are happy with you and want to show you love.
Maybe they are trying to tell you that your current grooming session feels lovely and they want to return the favor.
Maybe they aren’t in the mood for you and want to be left alone.
Or maybe they are trying to tell you that something hurts or that they don’t feel good.
Do Horses Bite Other Animals?
Horses are very well known for biting other horses to communicate with them.
Sometimes they will groom one another with little chomps and nibbles.
Sometimes a horse will playfully bite a companion horse.
At other times, a horse will bite at another rival horse for space or territory.
Other instances horses will bite other horses if they feel scared or hurt.
How Do You Stop A Horse From Biting?
It’s a combination of finding out why they are biting and then training.
To find out why your horse is biting, a good history of other behavior issues is helpful. Contact your local veterinarian if you notice your horse starting to bite.
Your vet may recommend an exam to make sure that your horse is not sick or hurt – 2 common reasons why horses may start to bite.
Once you have ruled out physical pain or addressed the pain with your horse, then you must focus on training your horse to no longer bite.
I highly recommend reaching out to a highly-skilled and trained horse trainer. Many times your equine veterinarian will have trainers that they recommend that you can use.
Training a horse not to bite is not an overnight process – but with dedication and diligence, it can be done.
My last two personal horses were both biters when I first purchased them.
After ruling out physical problems, I worked continuously with both horses to get them to stop painfully biting me.
I can happily say that neither horse would even THINK about biting me today.
As amazing as horses are, they are not perfect.
With a large mouth with giant teeth, there is always the chance that a horse could bite themselves, other animals, or even you.
There are many reasons why horses bite and it is a very good idea to work with your veterinarian to figure out why your horse is biting and work with a trainer on correcting the issue.