Mouthy Horses

Discussion in 'Horse Training' started by Mcdreamer, Oct 28, 2018.

  1. Mcdreamer

    Mcdreamer Senior Member

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    Let's talk about this.
    Mr. Henry is about 6/7 years old and he has always been a mouthy and just overall odd little horse. I literally described him to clients as autistic. He has little to no social skills in the herd and is very easily over stimulated and overwhelmed. He absolutely does not respond well to harsher handling or domination games. He's not very confident in himself either so if he feels like he's doing something that is wrong or makes you unhappy, he shuts down or gets aggressive.
    I've been working with him now for a little over 2 years and my style with him that really seems to work is keeping things light and fun and playful. I do my best to not set him up for failure and to build his confidence. I think he was either an orphan baby or was started way too young and cowboyed/fried his mind. But whatever happened to him or what his story is, he loves to do the right thing.
    When he was in the program I was managing he was constantly biting clients. The problem being he's not a big fan of pets or face rubs. In fact, he hates it, and clients would never respect that boundary so if he couldn't physically move away from them he would often bite them. Which I think is relatively fair. Horses have certain boundaries and if you can't respect them then you're asking to get bit or kicked. Clients would take a hold of his lead rope and immediately he would start biting the lead rope. I would take the lead rope back and he would immediately stop. This is essentially how I became Henry's mom when I left the program he came with me.
    Now. He KNOWS that mouth contact on human body parts is wrong. As he's doing it he's already expecting punishment for it. There are times where it literally looks like compulsive behavior. For example, today I was taking him for a walk through the recently harvested soy field and there was a pretty good sized ditch. Henry loves to jump so we jumped it and because he was so pleased with himself, immediately upon landing on the other side he reached over to nip me. I don't believe in hitting horses in the face so my response is usually to make an angry AH AH AH noise and immediately get him to back away from me. Most of the time he's already backing up by the time I increase my pressure.
    It's not even a matter of a training issue at this point. He knows he's not supposed to do it but he literally cannot himself himself. I'm hopeful as he ages and has more consistent handling and gains some confidence, this will slowly take care of itself. He has never had one single owner consistently asking the same thing from him and there has already been a big improvement in his overall mental health since moving him to Ohio with me. So. How would you address this if it were your horse?
     
  2. DocsLglyBlonde

    DocsLglyBlonde Senior Member

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    Eh... As someone who has an old horse who clearly was never reprimanded harshly (ETA rather, appropriately - harshest is not necessarily most effective) enough for being mouthy and nipping, who turned into an extremely dangerous biter, I tend to overreact to horses when they nip. If they are a little mouthy, it's not such a big deal and does not require a large correction imo, but when they actually nip, depending on my location relative to them I may physically correct them, but otherwise, with Samson at least, I charge and make a big stink and scare the hell out of him so he knows I will not tolerate it.

    Samson has a similar personality, and can get quite fearful and lack confidence. Consistency has made a huge difference, but he will still lunge and bite with no provocation from time to time. I even get on him about lunging at Jessie, because she'll shy away and not correct him, so I correct him for her if it was a completely (often seems neurotic) unprovoked attack. Two days ago for example, Sam was due for a ride, but I rode Jessie instead and he got jealous. I was going in his stall afterward and he nipped at my hand. I got no more than his lips touching me, but there was I'll intent and it was not an appropriate reaction from him, so I hollered and made a stink and chased him away from me. I didn't physically touch him, just scared the bejeezus out of him and made him think he really pi$$ed me off by doing that. Once he backs off I leave him alone. It's done. You have to be careful though, because with horses like Sam, he will occasionally challenge back and I almost always have something in my hand in case he lunges again. He sounds like a monster. He's not. He did not have a great life, and I've discussed his habits on here before and gotten some flack about it, but what I do has worked for him. He is a very different horse from when I got him, but old habits die hard and he unfortunately learned to react this way and did so for the 15 years before I met him. It's worth mentioning too, changing his environment to a much quieter, less busy one made the biggest difference of all for him.

    When he actually bites (he bites hard and knows it is wrong... He'll lunge, grab, hold, then take off), I honestly punch him if I can. I'm not going to hurt him, and I've literally clocked him in the head a few times when he's bitten and not let go. My safety comes first. Others may disagree, and I would not otherwise hit a horse in the head, but if I were a big alpha mare, he'd be getting a lot worse than a clock in the head. It's very dangerous, and I've had some serious bone bruises and muscle damage from his bites, and he sent his owner's relative before me to an OR after a bite. I react however I can to protect myself and to reprimand him when he bites. So, to me, nipping is 100% unacceptable behavior and will get at least an equal and opposite, though appropriate (graded) reaction from me.
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2018
  3. peg4x4

    peg4x4 Senior Member

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    This is not the same,but my cat,Linus,will nip. I do believe in a whack upside the head .. So he knows what will happen and knows it will not be fun. He'll nip,then you can see the expression/flinch/*what the H#!! did I do*.. I hiss... Big I'm gonna kill you hiss and shove him off the bed.. Yea,I know..but trying to remove an ingrained habit from anything is difficult,at best
     
  4. bellalou

    bellalou Senior Member

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    For a lot of mouthy horses, it’s a game to them. So a smack is just a challenge.

    I do have to address your comment about it being “fair” that he was nipping when his boundaries were pushed. I disagree. There is NEVER a time when my horses get to react violently with humans, boundaries or no. Just yesterday Bella nipped at another horse while I was haltering her and my arm was in the way. That’s not okay and I responded promptly, loudly, and vehemently by letting out a “oh no we don’t do that!” And smacking her sharply across the chest with the lead.

    Playing with ropes, picking up buckets, putting stuff in their mouths- I don’t care. My skin or anyone else’s is different. I respond fast and furiously because I’d rather have that conversation once than have it all the time.

    You’ve had him long enough for him to know you’re not going to abuse him. I’d get after him with more oomph - not beating on him but letting him know you’re really mad rather than making it just another correction.
     
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  5. JStorry

    JStorry Senior Member

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    Maybe I'm mean, but if a horse makes a move to nip or bite me, I will hit him. I hit hard, fast, and then ignore what just happened. No coddling afterwards and no fan fare. I don't want to encourage a game in their mind.

    My 2 year old has been good for a very long time but has been nippy in the past. My mistake was in allowing people handle him that didn't know better when he was young. He got away with being nippy and playful with people. People other than me but he is my responsibility. And he's had to pay that price, as I had discipline him for behaviours that others allowed.

    I never allow it. I don't care how old the horse is, or what his history. Nipping is never allowed.
     
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  6. RG NIGHT HEIR

    RG NIGHT HEIR Senior Member

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    Hm,I'm not sure I can site with " He knows biting is wrong ".In a herd you will find teeth coming at you from the higher ranking horse,because you have ignored all other more subtle signs before the teeth coming your way.
    Imo,a horse biting at you is a sign that you are placed below your horses rank.
     
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  7. manesntails

    manesntails Senior Member

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    He probably is a little “teched“ in the head.

    I had one similar. Punishment didn't work, but a muzzle did.

    Buy a muzzle. Put it on while working with him BUT... start with VERY short periods with it on, lengthening the time he wears it over time.

    This breaks the habit completely with SOME horses. Others are okay after but not with strange handlers.
     
  8. Mcdreamer

    Mcdreamer Senior Member

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    Yeah, I'm with Manes on this one. 2.5 years of correction clearly isn't solving the problem. Just to be clear--he has never actually put teeth on me. He knows the wrath of God would come down on him if he did but the inclination to nip is still his go-to. And it's only when he's frustrated or feeling super fresh. It's clear is a coping mechanism of his that I'm trying to help him out with un-learning. And I'm not above physically reprimanding a horse but I don't believe in decking them in the face. The first time he made the motion to nip me I cracked him across the chest with the lead rope and made him back up until he all about fell over. Now all I have to do is turn my body towards like I mean it and he's already leaning into his butt backing up as fast as he can. He KNOWS it is the incorrect decision but he does it anyway. I guess the question is how do you all work with a horse who is different mentally than *most* other horses. I try to make things as clear and understandable for him. Nothing super complicated. I offer soooo much praise and when I need to correct, I make it sharp, short, and sweet and I immediately move on (we're talking less than 2 seconds). I keep working sessions short and the moment I see him starting to get frustrated I try to ask the question a little differently. It's truly rewarding working with a horse that needs a little extra hand holding whether it's due to an emotional or physical handicap. But boy does it make you need to think outside the box!
     
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  9. slc

    slc Senior Member

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    Mcdreamer, I am going to explain to you how I would handle it. Now right from the beginning, I want you to know, that I am explaining how I handle it, and how I think about it, because you asked, not because I am trying to change your way of thinking about it or how you handle it - your question was how would you handle this if this was your horse, and that is the question that I'm answering. You handle it your way, I'll handle it mine. What I am explaining is first, how I think about these issues, and next, how I would address them.

    The reason I would handle it differently from you are the following:
    1. I would worry about what happens to the horse if I die or become too sick to keep him any more. If something happens to me I want to be very sure that the horse goes to a good home, is not abused or beaten, and that he doesn't hurt anyone and as a result get abused, beaten or sold down the road. In other words, he cannot bite. Ever. He can't nip, he can't swing his head around to someone and come near to biting, and he can't bite. A lot of biters end up as Biljac. I won't take that chance. I have a responsibility to make that not happen.
    2. I don't conceive of a horse's thought processes and how it relates to his behavior, in the same way you do. I don't think of horses as autistic, as biting due to not having social skills, or getting overstimulated, overwhelmed, or not being into domination games. I would not describe any horse in those terms. I would not be speculating if he was an orphan. I have one concern and one thought only: the horse has to stop biting.
    3. I don't feel that the horse that bites is doing so because he wants to please me so much, or that he has the option of 'shutting down or getting aggressive' when he is unhappy because he wants to please me so. I don't believe a biter is suffering from wanting to please me too much.
    4. If a horse is biting, I don't concern myself with not setting him up for failure, or with building his confidence. I concern myself with one very, very simple thing. He can't bite. Period. End of sentence. he can't bite. He can't make a gesture as if he's biting, nothing.
    5. I don't explain a horse's biting by saying that he doesn't like face pets. I don't give that as a reason for biting. It's too bad if he hates face pets, but that does not give him the privilege of biting people. If he's going to be owned by people and not wind up in a can of dog food, he will have to learn to stand there and not bite while people pet his face. I can't be standing there 24/7 every second of his life screaming at people to not pet his face. That's not possible. I have to go to bed and sleep sometimes. I have to go to work. I have other chores. I can't sell a horse that bites, and when a passing kid has his face bit off, say, 'I warned you not to let anyone pet his face.'
    6. I would never, even when completely blind drunk, ever, ever say that it is 'fair' for a horse to bite someone if he 'doesn't like having his face pet.' To me that is the height of irresponsibility, to claim such a thing.
    7. If I tried to teach a horse to not bite, and he was still biting 2 years later, I'd be questioning the effectiveness of my method.
    8. If after two years a horse was still reaching over to bite me after being led over a ditch, I'd be questioning the effectiveness of my method.
    9. If my method to stop biting was backing up and/orr saying 'Ah Ah Ah', or doing both at the same time, every single person I know who had horses would be telling me my method was wrong. That would also cause me to question my method.
    So what would I do if a horse was biting me?

    He would get punished. Severely. Every single time. And he would stop. Slapping horses on the face, muzzle or mouth makes them head shy and makes a great many horses BITE MORE. I don't do that.

    There are fundamentally a few things about biting:
    1. Horses bite. It's normal behavior. They bite each other. They bite in play, in fighting, in defending their food, in figuring out their pecking order, and even when mating. They bite. It's that simple. It's normal behavior. If it is not trained out of them, they will bite people. Horses have to be taught not to bite.
    2. They tend to bite humans because we are small and move around in front of them. It's instinctive to bite at a motion near the front of them. Additionally, a horse that was 'played with' by grabbing his crest and muzzle will bite humans as a form of play. Giving some horses food by the hand can also cause biting, as they get excited about finding some food, as can allowing a horse to 'chase' you out of the stall, which they often do when they have been allowed to do so.
    3. Biting often starts when a horse is very young because it is seen as 'cute' when they are small. Foals should not be allowed to nip or bite. When they are young and impressionable and their behavior is very, very shape-able, is the time to start building good lifelong habits. If it's not done then, it will require more effort, and more firmness, to break the habit later on in life.
    My pony TJ bit. He was very bad. He had been played with when young by his young teenage owner. She created a very bad habit in him. So when I got him (I don't remember how old he was when I got him, it was 33 years ago, maybe he was 3), everyone who handled him had to 'toe the line' and be extremely consistent about punishing him for it because it was a very entrenched habit by that age. Even so, within a few weeks, he had stopped biting. But it was only because I and everyone else involved made it extremely clear that it was not allowed.

    And no, there was nothing nice about punishing him. It was harsh, and it had to be. The longer the habit goes on, the more harshly it has to be punished to break the habit.

    I started with Wuss Horse when he was hours old, by scratching his neck, and every time he swung his head around toward me, I stopped scratching his neck. It was then very easy to go to the next stage, which was not responding by nipping or biting when his face was touched, then to not responding to motion in front of his face by biting, and so on and on through each stage. They have to get shown what it is they're supposed to do, then tested, then challenged, to be sure they understand the scope of the idea. The scope of the idea is this: they are never allowed to bite. There is never a valid excuse for biting. There never is a situation in which biting is wrong.

    Why do I feel strongly about this?

    Because I was in the hospital once, for one of my 'strokes' (misdiagnosed, fortunately), and I saw a kid that had been bitten by a horse on his face. It was not good. In that moment, his life changed forever. I have never heard a kid scream like that, and I hope I never do again.

    Muzzling a horse that bites is not a solution that works outside the race track, and it only works there for horses that are going to be put down the moment they can't race any more. There also has to be some brave lad who puts the muzzle back on now and again.
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2018
  10. Mcdreamer

    Mcdreamer Senior Member

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    SLC, we have very different outlooks on horses. And that's fine. I don't care to get into arguments with people about who knows what they're doing and who doesn't.
    In this horse's case, the problem is he still tries to nip (not bite) me regardless of being punished. I do not hit him in the face but I do crack him in the chest and send him away swiftly. He was handled by somebody before me for over a year and would clock him in the mouth when he tried to nip her. The only thing that resulted in was a horse who doesn't want his face touched because he thinks you're going to smack him. Did nothing for his mouth behavior.
    I correct the behavior the moment it happens, if not before. If he's within reach I crack him on the chest and get really big and send him back or away. In the instance of the ditch he wasn't close enough for me to physically get him and by the time I turned my body to him he was already backing up with "oh snot" eyes.
    The issue is he does it anyway. And he's odd. And regardless of whether or not if we can agree on anything, hopefully we can agree that some horses don't learn the same way others do. Some horses aren't the brightest bulb in the box. And we often have to find ways to adapt what we're doing to make any progress. Am I ever going to stop correcting the nipping behavior? Of course not! But I wonder if there's something else I can be focusing on that will help him feel less like he needs to nip in situations of frustration or freshness.
     
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