Once Bitten

Not to be confused with the behavioural problems surrounding playful nipping, a horse that really bites requires careful treatment, writes Linda Parelli. BitingBecause Parelli Natural Horsemanship always begins the process of solving a horse problem by first seeking to understand the horse’s behaviour I like to ask, ‘Why is the horse biting?’ Usually a horse bites for one of three reasons – fear, an attempt to dominate or as an indication that he wants to play.

The latter shouldn’t be thought of as true biting although steps need to be taken to prevent this playful behaviour turning into a painful problem (see Little Nipper).

A biting horse is not a bad horse and it shouldn’t be thought of as a bad habit. It is usually a very real response to something that is really worrying the horse. Either he’s reacting to something that is scaring or hurting him, or he’s telling you that you should move out of the way because he is the boss! Biting is a symptom, not a problem in itself. It’s feedback, really. The horse cannot speak to let you know that something is troubling him, so he kicks or bites or bucks.  Often people react to a biting horse by slapping the horse on the muzzle. This is not the least bit helpful. A horse is a prey animal and prey animals do not understand punishment. What is helpful when confronted with this problem is to figure out your horse’s personality. This will help you figure out which motivation is prompting the horse’s biting behaviour. Once you’ve determined whether your horse has a Right-Brain or Left-Brain

‘Horsenality’ (see Parelli’s Horsenality profiling technique at www.parelli.comor WHUK Jan/Feb 2011) you will understand why he is biting. Right-Brain horses bite in defence when they are afraid or hurt. Left- Brain horses use biting to dominate. Each of these Horsenalities and reasons requires a different horse training approach to arrive at a humane, effective and lasting solution. In order to cure the problem, you have to first know where your horse is coming from. You can then be appropriate in your response and preventative measures.

Keep your distance The number one rule with a horse that’s been known to bite is to keep him at a distance! Just because we love horses and seek to understand them doesn’t mean we don’t recognise the danger a biting horse presents. Until you’ve learned your horse’s Horsenality and what training method will get you the best and most lasting solution, keeping your horse at a distance – and out of biting range – is a good interim solution This, however, means that you need to know how to skilfully back your horse up from a distance. For this, we recommend wiggling your rope using the one of the Parelli Seven Games called the Yo-Yo Game. Backing up your horse just a step or two may not be enough. You need to back him up until the look on his face changes. The Liberty and Horse Behaviour home study programme at www.parelli.com explains this in more detail.

Once you’ve gotten out of the way, the next step is to work with your horse so that he doesn’t feel the need to bite you. If he’s biting, he’s reacting to you as if you’re threatening him, as if you’re the predator and he’s the prey. Depending on his Horsenality, he’s either scared by this or takes it as a challenge to try to dominate you in turn, but either way, he’s seeing you as predator. The cure for this – which in turn cures bucking, biting, and most other horse problems – is to break through the prey-predator barrier by becoming your horse’s partner.

You’re still in charge – because you’re the alpha/leader – but you’re no longer a threat. The cure for a biting horse is to teach the horse that you’re a good guy, that you’re nothing and no one he needs to be afraid of or try to dominate. The Seven Games is the best way we know of to do just that. It’s why we recommend them so often.   Establishing a new relationship by learning to play with your horse changes the predator-prey relationship, and that changes  everything!  We also have a brand new natural horse training starter kit that addresses horse biting problems specifically along with kicking and bucking and other reactive horse behaviours.

Mecate Reins (Part 1 of 2)

Clinton Anderson explains about Mecate reins and how to attach them correctly. Pronounced ‘Muh-caw-tee’ or ‘McCarty’, the mecate rein is a line of 20-25 feet made of rope or braided horse hair, which is attached to either a bosal noseband or Snaffle bit. One or both ends of the Mecate have one or two thin leather straps called a popper. They are used a lot in natural horsemanship and in the training of young horses when used with a bosal (a braided rawhide noseband that acts upon a horse’s nose and jaw and is often used as a precursor to a bit).

Mecate reins create a looped rein and a long free end that can be used for a number of purposes. It is coiled when a horse is under saddle but can be released and used as a lead rope or long line when working a horse from the ground. When used with a bosal, Mecate reins can be used to adjust its fit around the muzzle of the horse.

Attaching Mecate Reins

1 With shiny side of slobber straps (used to protect the reins from saliva) to the outside, fold and put through snaffle rings.

Step 12 Standing with the front of the snaffle bit facing away from you, take the thin popper end of the rope and thread from left to right, through all four slobber strap holes so that there is approximately six inches of rope hanging past the right slobber strap. The mouthpiece of the bit should curve away from you when positioned correctly.

Step 23 Form a half-hitch with the right rein around the right slobber strap. Take the rein on the outside of the slobber strap, under the strap towards the centre, over the top and down through the loop. Make sure the end points down.

4 Pull through 10 feet of rope in the middle to form the reins.

5 Form a half hitch with the left rein around the left slobber strap. Take the long lead rope on the outside of the left slobber strap under the slobber strap towards the centre, over the top and down through the loop. Tighten the knots - you will have a long length of rope on the left side.

Stages 3-6

6 The chin strap should be attached to snaffle so that it is between the slobber straps and the bit bars. The buckles should face down.

7 The headstall should be attached to snaffle rings above the slobber straps. To get the reins the correct length, sit on your horse, hold the middle of the reins and pick up to your sternum bone. When the reins touch your chest, you should be making light contact with the horse’s mouth. If you pick up to your sternum and there’s still a lot of slack in the reins, it means your reins are too long. If you pick up and make contact with the horse’s mouth before you even get to your sternum, it means your reins are too short.

8 Be sure that the loops around the horse’s neck are not big enough for a hoof to get through if the horse should lower his head to the ground, nor should the loops be so loose that they are able to come off over the horse’s head. The easiest way to prevent this is to either shorten the reins before you start or simply tie another half-hitch or two to snug it up a bit - not too tight, of course.

Mecate Reins (Part 2 of 2)

Securing the Mecate Clinton Anderson explains how to safely secure and tie up with Mecate reins.

When riding, there are two ways to secure the lead rope end of Mecate reins. You can either tie it around the horn or push it up through your belt loop.

To tie it to the horn, you will make a series of half-hitches until the rope hangs down about even with the horse’s knee. This will leave it long enough for you to use the end of it, but short enough to avoid the horse stepping on it.


To use the second option, bring the lead rope around the right side of the pommel of the saddle, then up to your left hip. Make a loop and push it up between your belt and jeans, from the bottom, so that the loop hangs over the top. Always put it past the second keeper of your jeans to keep it from falling out.

It will stay in place while riding, but will come out easily if pressure is applied, making it a safe option. For either option, the slack in the rope should hang down slightly lower than the loop rein, hanging two to three inches below it. The reason being that you don’t want the lead to hinder the horse’s head if you are flexing to the right when mounted. If the lead is too short, your horse can’t flex far enough because he’ll run into pressure.

TieHow to safely tie up 1 Pull the reins to the left side of horse’s neck and make a figure 8 in the reins. Pull the loop over the horse’s head and adjust so that the reins are in four equal lengths.

Tying2 Gather the loops under the horse’s neck. Take the end of your lead rope and go around all four lines. Then tuck the end of the lead rope through itself to form a half hitch.

3 Repeat Step 2 to make one more half hitch. Now you can safely tie your horse and he will not hurt himself if he pulls back.