What causes a horse to start biting or kicking? What can we do about it? A horse will bite or kick most frequently in an enclosed area like a stall, a stall and paddock or in cross ties. Every time you approach your horse, you have an opportunity to “read” your horse. As you approach the stall, the 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 is getting a little cranky, telling you to hurry up and give him the treat. 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 to be fed. The horse has just bit or kicked you and you just didn’t recognize it.
When a horse exhibits this type of behavior, it will become a pattern and the horse will become more aggressive. This behavior may have been going on for years or maybe it only started a month ago. 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 the horse will actually bite or strike out. When you approach the stall and the horse exhibits a negative attitude, he is demonstrating how he is thinking about you. There is no respect for you and the horse is not greeting you in a friendly way. If you don’t deal with it, the aggression will increase.
I learned this lesson the hard way over many years. I remember once I went through the same situation and I 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 tossed me across the stall. Since then, I have become more aware of the body language of the horses I work with. I keep in mind that the thought is as good as the deed.
Another situation that may occur is that as you approach the stall the horse turns his hind quarters to you or, as you approach, the horse pins his ears and turns presenting his hind quarters. If you ignore the behavior and enter the stall, the horse will get more protective of his stall. The aggression will increase until the horses bites or kicks you.
Kicking and biting are very natural ways that horses deal with each other in the herd environment. We are way too frail to allow this behavior and the way to solve this problem is very simple. I’ve had a lot of good comments from people who walk through my main barn. There are 25 horses and at any given time, even when they all know it is feeding time, they do not exhibit aggressive behavior. They are not lunging against the stall doors. They are not pawing or kicking or showing any impatient behavior.
When I have a horse that exhibits negative behavior as I approach, I have a halter with me and 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, to distract its thoughts because remember, the thought is as good as the deed. When you approach and the ears are back or the hind quarters are turned toward the door, throw a halter or something at the door. Make enough noise to distract the horse. A plastic bucket also works well for this. The horse may jump or go to the other end of the stall but you have distracted the thought. You have to do this each time the horse exhibits the behavior. You have to be consistent. Every time you approach the stall and the horse exhibits negative behavior you must respond and distract the horse.
The same is true with a horse who turns his hind quarters as you approach. I take it further than distracting and teach the horses to face me as I go into 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 politely. To get the horse to turn and face you, bang the gate and make noise. If the horse does not turn, tap it on the hind quarters with a lunge stick just until the horse moves his feet and turns.
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. When I walk into a stall, I want good behavior, positive behavior, I want the horse thinking about me 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 that it is never, ever the horse’s fault.