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.

Little Nipper

There's nothing more annoying than a mouthy horse.  Use Clinton Anderson's exercises to help a horse overcome his urge to nibble! NippingMouthy horses are like little kids; they’ve got nothing to do and all day to do it in. If you don’t give a kid something to do, he’ll stick things in his mouth, climb on the furniture, draw on the walls or do a number of things that’ll drive you crazy. Horses need both mental and physical stimulation to be happy and content. If you don’t give your horse a job and keep his mind busy he’ll find an outlet for his pent up energy. In a lot of cases this will result in the some sort of vice including being ‘mouthy’ – constantly playing with your shirt sleeve, nibbling on the lead rope etc.

Very athletic horses and young horses tend to develop this habit. The bad news is that mouthy behaviour often turns into biting, which can be very dangerous. The good news is if you give your horse a job, as simple as making him move his feet forwards, backwards, left and right, his mouthiness will disappear.

If you know your horse tends to get mouthy and nibbles on you, protect your space and take the temptation away from him to begin with. Don’t let him get close enough to mouth on you. Any time you’re with him, keep him out of your personal ‘hula hoop space’ – a four foot circle that surrounds you and serves as your safety zone. When you are working with a horse, always imagine that there’s a four foot circle drawn around you, almost like an invisible electric fence. Unless you invite the horse into your personal hula hoop space he should keep a respectful, safe distance from you.

Move those feet When a horse gets mouthy, put his feet to work. The most effective punishment you can give a horse is making him move his feet. Horses are basically lazy creatures and would rather stand around with their legs cocked daydreaming about their next meal than moving their feet and working up a sweat. They’ll always choose the option with the least amount of work involved.

So, if you’re standing next to your horse and he starts nibbling on your shirt, turn around and put his feet to work and turn a negative into a positive. Practise some backing up, side passing or circling. The horse can’t mouth on you and move his feet at the same time, especially if you make him hustle with energy and do lots of changes of direction. If you’re consistent, it won’t take long for the horse to connect the two together; when he gets mouthy, you’ll make his feet move.

One of the best ways to stop a mouthy horse, and especially a horse that bites, is to back them up. Backing up is a very humbling exercise for a horse to do. When a horse gets mouthy or tries to bite you, it’s a very forward action; he’s coming forward to get you.  When you back him up, it’s the complete opposite; he’s being submissive to you by moving out of your space.

Return the favour There are some horses that just like to put things in their mouth. Most people’s first reaction when the horse grabs a hold of the lead rope or halter is to try and tug the object out of his mouth. However, the more you try to pull something away from them, the mouthier they will get. It’s like a puppy with a toy. The more you try to yank it away, the more he grits his teeth and hangs onto it.

Instead of getting into a tug of war, use reverse psychology and ‘mouth’ him back. Use both of your hands to vigorously rub the horse’s muzzle for a good twenty seconds. While you’re not hurting the horse, you’re rubbing him firmly enough to make him feel uncomfortable. It’s like when your uncle would scuff your head at a family get together. Every kid in the world hates that. It didn’t hurt when he tousled your hair but it was annoying and you didn’t like it, and you soon learned how to avoid him.  It’s the same philosophy with your horse. If he wants to get mouthy, take all the fun out of it for him by roughing up his muzzle with your hands.

Dare him Let’s say that your horse grabs the halter in his mouth as you go to put it on. As soon as he grabs it, instead of trying to pull it out of his mouth, stand beside him and tug one end of the halter up in his mouth and then the other end to make him feel uncomfortable. When you do that, the horse might throw his head up in the air but you’ll continue to tug up on the halter. You’re not really hurting him but you are making him feel uncomfortable. Do that for 10 seconds and then let the horse lower his head and spit the halter out of his mouth. Then dare him again by waving the halter in front of his nose. If he grabs it, repeat the process. You’ll only have to do that two or three times and pretty soon those horses wise up and want no part of grabbing a hold of the halter.

You might be thinking, ‘Well Clinton, isn’t that going to make the horse head shy or not want to accept the bit?’ No, because you’re only making him feel uncomfortable when he gets mouthy. You’re not physically putting the halter in his mouth and then roughing him up. He’s choosing to take the bait and be mouthy. As long as you use common sense and only make him feel uncomfortable when he grabs a hold of the object, you don’t have to worry about him getting head shy or not accepting the bit.

Stop bitingPunish thyself Another tactic is to make the horse think that he’s punishing himself. If your horse walks up to you and starts playing with your sleeve, flap your elbow out to the side without even looking at him so that he runs into it with his nose and feels uncomfortable. You have to time it just right so that at the same time he leans forward to play with your shirt, he runs into your elbow.

The secret is not to look at him or act like you’re moving your arm on purpose. It’s like your elbow just developed a nervous twitch. If you look at the horse, it’s like you’re acknowledging that you’re the one making him feel uncomfortable. You want the horse to think that he’s doing it to himself. Every time he leans in to nibble on you, he runs into your elbow. Horses always learn faster when they teach themselves the lesson. It won’t be long before your horse is like ‘Man, I really need to keep my lips to myself because I seem to be running into his elbow.

Sight Seeing

Does your horse like to look around when out on the trail? That’s fine but if this turns into disobedience to your aids, then you have a problem. An obedient horse will be focused straight ahead and will go in the direction you ask at the speed you dictate without constant direction from you. Trail ridingMany riders micromanage their horses by constantly steering and correcting speed with the reins, so the horse becomes dependent on that. Once you cue a horse to go at a certain speed, and in a certain direction, he should continue on that path and at that speed/gait until you ask him to speed up, slow down, turn right or turn left.

To check how obedient your horse is, find a target and give him a cue to walk or trot straight towards it. Lay your hand down on his neck with a loose rein and see if he continues. If he changes speed or direction without a cue from you it means you have a horse that is either disobedient or co-dependent on you and you have some work to do. You need to break your habit of micromanaging, give clear directives and give your horse the responsibility to obey. Correct him with your reins and legs if he makes a mistake but leave him alone when he is obedient. Use enough pressure in your corrections so that he is motivated to behave.

I have written a lot about having nose control on your horse. He should not be looking around while you are riding him either in the arena or on the trail. Simply correct the nose with the opposite rein - if he looks right, bump the left rein and visa-versa. Do not try to hold the nose in place just correct it when he is wrong. I use the point of shoulder as a guideline; he can move his nose all he wants as long as it stays between the points of his shoulder. As soon as it crosses the line he gets a correction. In short order, he will keep his nose pointed in the right direction.

Keep in mind that just because you control the nose it does not mean you control the rest of the horse. He can easily run through his shoulder and go in the opposite direction that his nose is pointed. The most important thing is to control the horse’s shoulder but if you cannot control the nose you have little chance of controlling the rest of the body.

How strict I am on the horse’s nose and his looking around depends somewhat on the horse, his level of training and his willingness to be obedient and subordinate. If I am riding a horse that has proven to be well behaved, responsive and obedient, I may let him look around a little, as long as he does not alter the course I have set in either speed or direction. On the other hand, if I have a horse that has proven to be disobedient, spooky or otherwise fractious, I will have a zero tolerance for looking around.

If you have a cow-bred horse, you will have to factor in his training, temperament and obedience in order to decide how strict you will be. You should always correct a horse when he changes course without a cue from you but with a cowy horse, that is bred to be very alert to any movement in his environment, you may have to cut him a little slack as long as he remains obedient.

The most important thing for you is that you have a clear and consistent view of what will be corrected and what is expected of your horse. That’s why I use the points of shoulder as a landmark - that way I have clearly defined what I expect and I know exactly when to correct the horse and when not to, so that the horse can clearly understand the rule and that I can give consistent corrections. You’ll have to use your own judgement with your horse, but as long as it is clear and consistent, your horse will learn quickly.

Stand Still

A horse that won’t stand still can be maddening and sometimes unnerving. He circles, invades, pulls, even rears up, and a restless, restive horse can be dangerous. Some people may turn to methods to restrain the horse with hobbles, ties or even drugs but none of these quick fixes will make a horse want to stand. The answer lies in doing the exact opposite of what most people want to do. Stand StillWhen your horse refuses to stand still, instead of holding him tight and jerking on the halter, give him more rope and get him to move more! It’s called reverse psychology and it works. Give your horse at least four feet of rope then play what I call the ‘Driving Game'. This is basically sending your horse quickly from one side to the other. When a horse is full of adrenaline, holding him close makes him feel claustrophobic and panicky. Think about him out in the field - he may run if he is panicked but then he stops, assesses the danger but stands still. By giving him more rope, you stop aggravating his nervous energy and allow him to make a choice.

When a horse needs to move his feet, the more you try to stop him the worse it gets. So do the opposite - get him to move his feet faster than he wants and pretty soon the adrenaline comes down and all he wants to do is stand still. Oh, and don’t let him go in circles. The fact that he has to go back and forth faster than he wants to is the secret to this exercise. This can take a little time if it’s an extreme horse, but even though a few minutes might feel like an eternity to you it’s a drop in the bucket of time where a horse is concerned.

One of the common mantras of my approach to horse training is, ‘take the time it takes.’ So many people don’t take the time it takes to do things right and end up spending so much more time dealing with the horse’s problem on an ongoing basis. If you invest the time it takes to understand why your horse refuses to stand still and then do what it takes to naturally discharge the underlying cause, you’ll have a horse that stands still with no problem.

Cure for Rearing

At your wits end with your rearer? Try these tips from Clinton Anderson to cure a frustrating and frightening behavioural problem. I’ve heard lots of crazy stories about how to deal with a horse that rears, and I’m sure you have too. I’ve heard of everything from whacking horses between the ears with sticks, busting a balloon filled with warm water over their heads and making loud noises to get horses to stop. Very rarely do any of these techniques work, and even if they do the result is usually short-lived.

RearingWhy horses rear A horse doesn’t just rear. He rears because something is making him. The three main reasons that horses rear are:

1) He is afraid - The horse is afraid and wants to run, meaning he’s using the reactive side of his brain. To make matters worse the rider holds onto his mouth with two hands making the horse feel claustrophobic. When this happens the horse’s energy bottles up and he can only release it by going up in the air or flying backwards and flipping over. 2) He is balking (napping) - When he doesn’t want to do something his way of getting out of it is to rear up or run backwards. 3) His is in pain - A horse with a sore back or other physiological disorder may rear as a sign of his discomfort. Make sure to have a rearing horse checked over thoroughly by a vet before you work on stopping the behaviour.

The Cure Once you have eliminated pain as a possible cause of rearing you can move on to the behavioural side of things. Rearing because of baulking or fear shows a lack of respect. You need to make the horse understand that you’re the leader and that he needs to respect you. To gain a horse’s respect, you have to move his feet forwards, backwards, left and right, and always reward the slightest try. When he’s moving his feet he’s using the thinking side of his brain and he is no longer fearful.

The more changes of direction you do, and the more you make the horse move his feet, the more he’ll think and pay attention to you. The best way to cure a horse that is unnecessarily afraid is to yield his hindquarters. When a horse crosses his back legs over one another, it takes away his balance point. Once his balance point is taken away, the horse can’t stand on his hind legs and rear. Disengaging a horse’s hindquarters is like pushing the clutch in on a car; you take the power away from the horse.

Yielding the Hindquarters Yielding the hindquarters also gets the horse to stop thinking about being disrespectful or fearful, and makes him concentrate on where he’s placing his feet. To yield the hindquarters under saddle, pick up one rein and pull it to your hip, bringing the horse’s head around towards your toe. Put your inside leg back (the same side as the rein) and apply pressure by the horse’s flank. Once the horse moves off of the pressure, take your leg off. Wait for the horse to soften to the rein and then release it.

A horse that rears because he is baulking at something indicates a lack of control on the rider’s part. First get control of the horse on the ground by moving his feet forwards, backwards, left and right. This will carry over to riding. If the horse rears because he doesn’t want to go somewhere, use a little reverse psychology on him. Don’t think, ‘How can I make the horse move?’ Think, ‘How can I make it uncomfortable for the horse not to go in the direction that I want?’ Do that by working the horse hard wherever he wants to be and letting him rest and relax where he doesn’t want to be.

Work him hard and make him hustle his feet, but only use one rein to direct him. Serpentines are great exercises because the horse has to constantly move his feet and change directions. The more times a horse changes directions, the more he has to think and pay attention to you. Rollbacks are another good exercise to get a horse’s feet moving. Not only do they make a horse’s feet hustle, but they also make him use his hindquarters. The hindquarters are the horse’s gas pedal. The more control you have of the gas pedal, the more control you have of the horse. When doing a rollback, canter the horse off, bring him to a stop and roll him over his hocks.

It doesn’t really matter how you move the horse as long as you hustle his feet. The horse wants to be moving, so either you do something constructive with his energy or he’ll do something destructive with it. If you let the horse drag his feet and daydream about fairies, then the exercise won’t work. Make the horse hustle his feet and give him a reason to want to get away from the barn or wherever he doesn’t want to leave.

Safety First

  • Get off. If at any time you’re riding a horse that rears and you don’t feel safe, immediately get off. On the ground you can lunge the horse and do other exercises to gain his respect and get him to use the thinking side of his brain. Once the horse is listening, you can get back in the saddle. A lot of people don’t like getting off because they feel that the horse gets a win. The horse only gets a win if you get off, rub him and then walk him back to the barn and put him away so make sure to get to work from the ground on moving his feet.
  •  Use one rein for control. When a horse panics and turns to the reactive side of his brain, control him with just one rein. If you’re tempted to grab onto both reins for control or balance, grab a fistful of mane or the saddle horn instead. Put the horse on a loose rein and redirect his feet with only one, then concentrate on getting him to use the thinking side of his brain by doing lots of changes of direction. When a horse rears, never pull back on both reins. Doing this can pull the horse off balance and over backwards. Pulling with both reins will also make the horse more nervous and upset, exacerbating the rearing problem as he will feel he has no escape.

Loading Masterclass

Understand how to manage a tricky loader with this easy to follow process from Monty Roberts.

A non-loading horse benefits significantly from the process of ‘Join-Up’ (see below), and is far more likely to cooperate with trailer loading if he has consciously chosen to be with you. Perhaps the most useful piece of equipment for helping a non loader is the Dually halter (available from www.intelligenthorsemanship.co.uk). It is imperative however that you understand how this pressure and release device works. It is basically a headcollar with an adjustable double noseband which tightens and loosens according to how much pressure the horse exerts against it. It is extremely effective in creating a light and responsive horse which ultimately will follow your body language with no need for pressure from the halter at all.

LoadingWhile working with the Dually, do not underestimate the power of schooling a horse to willingly back up. A horse that does so willingly is much more likely to load. Before loading any horse you should take great care to provide an acceptable vehicle and equip your horse appropriately to protect against potential injury. You should be diligent and place safety as a priority and also that of the horse’s comfort. Make sure the footing is good and that you help the reluctant loader as much as possible by positioning the vehicle alongside a wall or fence or fashion a loading shoot. It is very useful to have a portable barrier that can be brought in carefully behind the horse to encourage him if necessary.

After you achieve complete cooperation schooling with the Dually, you can approach the truck or trailer. When you are near the ramp, work the horse in a forward and back routine (two steps forward then two steps back). I call this a ‘rocking horse’ motion. During this procedure, you should make no attempt to load the horse until the forward and back motion of the animal can be evoked readily by body communication alone, which should be easy if you have mastered the Dually!

Once your horse is following your body motion (moving forward and back when you move towards or away from him without any tension on the lead) you can turn and walk into the vehicle. In extreme cases, should the animal refuse to come forward, you can place tension on the halter and wait for the slightest motion forward. If forward motion is observed, be quick to reward it with a rub between the eyes. If the horse flies backward, release the pressure and allow him to reach the temporary obstacle placed to his rear. Once the reversing has ceased, you should begin the pressure again on the halter and wait to observe forward motion.

When he negotiates the ramp and enters the trailer, you should consider his work just beginning. The horse should be taken off the trailer and reloaded 10 to 15 times before making any changes. Once the horse is loading with adrenaline down and in complete comfort, you can begin to remove the influence of any wings and walls you may have used to help him.

I believe that these loading procedures should take place on a day when there is no need for travel. Waiting until you must travel usually allows insufficient time to execute these procedures without anxiety. Each procedure should be conducted in a calm, cool and tranquil fashion. It should be your goal to achieve willing loading with the adrenaline level of the horse as low as possible. The horse should walk quietly with his head low and exhibit licking and chewing, which denotes relaxation. If you follow these procedures to the letter, the results are usually incredibly good.

Join-Up Just as with virtually every problem I meet, I recommend you complete the Join-Up process before attempting to work with a non-loading horse. Working in an enclosed space such as a round pen, one begins Join-Up by making large movements and noise as a predator would to drive the horse to run away. By using body language the horse can understand, you ask the horse, ‘Will you pay me the respect due to a herd leader and join and follow me?’ The horse will respond with the predictable behaviour of a herd animal by locking an ear onto you, licking and chewing and dropping his head in a display of trust. At this stage you should adopt passive body language by turning away from your horse and breaking eye contact. This will invite him to come close. Join-Up occurs when he willingly chooses to be with you, walking at your side and thus accepting your leadership and protection. This is a very brief overview of the process of Join-Up. For more, please visit www.montyroberts.com

Monty’s tips

  • Thoroughly study, understand and complete the Join-Up process
  • Thoroughly study and understand the use of the Dually halter (available from www.intelligenthorsemanship.co.uk)
  • Place safety at the top of your priorities
  • Make sure your vehicle is in good repair
  • Ensure safe footing for loading
  • Use appropriate shipping equipment
  • Provide wings or structures in the beginning to aid loading
  • Pick a day without the necessity for transport
  • Work without stress and excitement
  • Take time to repeat the process until the horse easily accepts loading
  • Load without wings or structure
  • Never tie your horse in a trailer while the back gate/ramp is open