My Horse Bit Me!
This is something that I have heard from people across the country from the west to the east coast. What I hear are two different things but basically they refer to the same problem: My horse bit me/kicked me for the first time. What caused that and what should I do?
My response is always the same and it is never meant in a derogatory or sarcastic way. The horse may have bit or kicked you before but you just didn’t recognize it. What I mean is that any time you approach your horse, you have an opportunity to ‘’read” your horse. This situation happens most frequently in a stall or a stall and paddock. As you approach the stall, they horse’s ears may be back or there may be some aggressive behavior like pawing. This may be because you brought a treat and the horse is anxious and demanding. The horse may be getting a little cranky, telling you to hurry up and feed me. The demeanor of the horse is not pleasant. Sometimes we do not recognize this behavior as a red flag; we pass it off thinking that the horse just wants his treat or feeding.
What this behavior does is become a pattern where the horse starts becoming more aggressive. This behavior may have been going on for years or maybe it only started recently. You approach the stall and the ears go back. You don’t think anything about it, but just push your way into the stall and halter your horse. But, the thought is as good as the deed, and one day they horse will actually bite or strike out. When you approach the stall and the horse exhibits a negative attitude that is how the horse is thinking about you. There is no respect for you and the horse not greeting you in a friendly way. If you don’t deal with it, the aggression will increase.
I’ve learned this the hard way over many years. I remember one time I went through the same situation and failed to recognize the signals. I entered a stall and fortunately I had on a leather jacket because as I turned my back to the horse, he bit me on the shoulder and actually threw me across the stall. Since then, I have become more aware of the body language of the horses that I work. As I said, with a horse, the thought is as good as the deed.
The other situation that may occur is that as you approach the stall the hind quarters are facing you or as you approach the ears are back and the horse turns around and presents his hind quarters. If you fail to do anything and just go ahead and go into the stall, the horse will get more protective of the stall and the aggression will increase until the horse bites or kicks.
Kicking and biting are very natural ways that horses deal with each other in the herd environment. Humans are way too frail to allow this behavior and the way to solve this problem is very simple. Over the years, I’ve had a lot of good comments from people who walked though my main barn in Castro Valley. There were 25 horses and at given time, even when the feeding cart was coming through and they all knew it was feeding time, they were not exhibiting aggressive behavior. They were not lunging against the stall doors, they were not pawing or kicking or demonstrating any impatient behaviors. These types of behaviors are negative and cannot be allowed if horses are to be safe to handle.
When I have a horse that exhibits negative behavior when I approach, I have a halter or plastic bucket with me and I pitch it right at the stall. The idea is not to hit the horse or hurt the horse but to startle it. In other words, we want to distract its thoughts because remember, the thought is as good as the deed. So, when you approach and the ears are back or the hindquarters are turned to the door, throw a halter at the door and make enough noise to distract the horse. The horse may jump or go to the other end of the stall but you have distracted the thought. You have to do this on a regular basis; you have to be consistent. So every time you approach the stall and the horse exhibits negative behavior, you have to respond in a consistent manner.
The same is true with a horse that turns his hindquarters as you approach. I take it further than distracting and teach the horses I work with to face me when I enter the stall. I have a hard time putting a halter on a horse’s hind end. I always make sure they turn and face me and present themselves in an orderly fashion. To get a horse to turn and face you, bang the gate and if the horse does not turn, tap on the hindquarters with a lunge stick just until the horse moves his feet and turns. Do not use a short dressage stick or crop and do not stride the horse, just tap to get the attention of the horse.
This is what I call stall manners. Some people think the stall belongs to the horse and he can do anything he likes. I disagree with that idea. When I walk into a stall, or a stall cleaner or farrier enters, I want good behavior. I want a positive attitude, I want the horse thinking about whoever enters in a respectful way.
Remember, if you get bitten or kicked for the first time, it really wasn’t the first time. It started days, weeks, months or even years ago because the thought is as good as the deed. Also, remember, it is never, ever the horse’s fault.