Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dealing with Biting or Nipping Horses

Beth from Adventures with Sam asked me if my studs are nippy. Actually, the question makes me just want to laugh. Aren't all stallions nippy? Many people think it's just a fact of life that you have to learn to live with. I just don't happen to be one of those people. So, no my Arabian horses are not nippy, particularly my stallions.

But my stallions would like to be. I know they sure start off that way. From the time that they are born, they begin their target practice. By the time they are two they have grown into land sharks despite my best efforts to make them otherwise. They are always looking for an opening. It's an ongoing effort to keep them under control.

But I said that my stallions aren't nippy so how can that be if I'm calling them land sharks and the like? Well, to be honest, they're usually not nippy. But that is dependent on me staying on top of my game. If I slack off, the land sharks might return. Right now I have a five year old stallion in particular who will let me know if I'm letting him down by pulling at my clothes.

I think in order to deal with biting stallions you first need to understand where the behavior is coming from. There are all of those things about dominance and pecking order and they surely come into play. If you watch young colts out in a field together, they pick at each other all day! And I do mean, all day. It is a darn game. They are practicing their combat skills for later down the road when they might get to take over a herd. They aren't playing seriously enough to get hurt because they're saving themselves. They're just picking (unless you put a mare in close proximity and then the stakes have changed)

But for me the most important thing is the fact it is a game for them. They need that game for stimulation. Stallions fiddle around with us whenever we handle them because they are bored. They need something to do to keep them occupied so they won't play with us. So that is my approach to dealing with them.

I start all of my horses off in the round pen with the lessons I learned from Harvey Jacobs. Once I get past the round pen work, I move on to inhand work with a rope halter. I had some special rope halters made with a noseband of cord rolled around the base. This gives me a little extra leverage across this sensitive region.

I work at teach the horse to drop his head. I want him to keep his eye lower than mine when I am handling him (except for halter training and then I stand directly in front of the horse so he can tell the difference). When the horse has accepted dropping his head and staying there, his eye will be soft. Both of these are signs of submission.

I also want the horse to stay in his box. I don't want his head moving into my space at all. If he can't put his head near me, he can't bite me. Controlling every move the horse makes helps establish that I am the leader.

I also work on the horse moving away from me as I move into his space. The horse having to give up ground is another way to achieve submission. I work on backing and moving from side to side, all with the head dropped low and the eye soft. My goal is to get the horse so light I can just begin to move and he will respond appropriately.

I might take two steps forward. Stop. Turn to the right (through the horse's space). Back up three steps. Stop. Walk forward five steps. Mix it up. But I'll work at teaching the horse a different cue for each thing so that he has the opportunity to get very very light and responsive.

Every time I handle my stallions, I put them through this exercise. Before I even walk them out of their stall, I ask them to lower the head. At any time they raise up, I take a hold and bring them back to me. I never lead them anywhere without the head dropped low and the eye soft. They just know that's part of the deal.

The object of all of this, is I'm giving the horse something to do, something to think about when I'm handling him. If the horse is having to think about what I'm asking next, he doesn't have the time to be thinking about biting me. And I'm always mixing it up, so he has to keep thinking.

In addition to this, stallions need to work. They need a job. Not just lunging on a line because that doesn't stimulate their brain. They need some form of stimulation. Even if a horse isn't ready to be ridden, it can be walked over poles, around cones or barrels, backed through chutes, you name it in addition to the in hand work I've already talked about . Stallions thrive on stimulation.

So the horse above and pictured that I said will let me know if I'm letting him down by nipping, that would be Scandalous Storm. If he gets worked every day, he is a doll to be around. If he stands in the stall for a day or two or just gets turned out, you can bet he'll be trying to pull at my clothes or my hair. And he'll be naughty at first when I put him to work. But the only time he's naughty is when I've not worked him.

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  1. Dearest Fred who was cut late, and possibly proud, is an extremely oral horse. Everything goes in his mouth, covers, saddles everything. Even if they are on another horse. He will grab Butchs cover in his mouth and drag him around.

    It's got alot worse because he isn't being handled (read disciplined) even even tried to nibble me yesterday. That didn't last long. It was interesting the way you handle your stallions, I like the idea behind only handling them with a soft eye and a low head. I dont think I have ever heard of that before. I wonder if the low head helps, because lowering the head causes endorphin release in horses?

  2. THank you for indulding me AGAIN!!! I appreciate it! I am doing all of those things with Sam and it is getting much better. He is excellent if in work every day and I have added in going over poles, around cones and serpetining all over the arena in hand. We also do lots of target training as well, its really helping.

    THANK YOU for your suggestions!!!

  3. As usual, fascinating reading.

    I don't have those issues, fortunately, but it is interesting how you explain how, what and why.

  4. MiKael I completely agree that it is a game, they arent being mean, they just like to see if they can snake in quick enough to get a nip and avoid the crack across the muzzle LOL. In fact it is not a good idea to smack them on the mouth as it makes them really fussy with their heads. I find with Taxes, who has been the worst for this my others have grown out of it, I just ignore him after telling him NO in an assertive tone and that is more effective with him. I have to be careful though that when I turn away from him I am watching that he doesnt come up behind me and jump on me so it is a trade off sometimes. He is the only baby that we have not had a buddy for as we normally have at least two or more babies and this year he was the only one so that hasnt helped. He desperately needed and still needs to have a sparing buddy.

    Hope all is well.