Horse Bites: Danger, Causes, Punishment & Prevention

Written by Beulah Martin
Horse biting rail

A horse bite can be very serious. If you have a horse that is prone to biting, you need to be aware of the dangers and the prevention methods. I will share with you things I have learned over the years and what I have found out while researching recently.

First you might be wondering if horse bites are dangerous.

Are horse bites dangerous? Horse bites can be very dangerous. Horses have a lot of bacteria in their mouths which could cause an infection if a bite breaks the skin. Horse bites could also be severe due to the strength of your horse’s powerful jaws and sharp teeth. 

I googled to see what some of the most dangerous injuries have occured from horse bites and I hesitate to even repeat them, as I do not want to make people scared of horses. But it is good to know that the bites can be dangerous, so I will just mention a few.

There have been people’s noses, at least the tips, bitten off. Big chunks of cheeks and parts of ears. Mostly the arms and legs just result in large bruises, though I did see where a horse shoer had a finger bitten off. Well most of it, but they were able to repair it although it was only half as long afterwards.

Can you get an infection from a horse bite?

There is also the fear of infection from a horse bite. There are many infectious diseases that can be spread from a horse, through his teeth, to the human. Hand washing with soap and water after any contact with horses is an important step in minimizing the occurrence of these infections in humans.

Why Would A Horse Bite?

If you are around horses much at all, it is a good idea to learn about natural horse behavior. What might cause a horse to bite. Here are some ideas that most agree are probably the main reasons a horse would have a tendency to want to take a chunk out of you.

Many times the problem might actually start when the horse is very young. As a foal, he is tempted to want to explore everything with his mouth. Many an owner thinks it is cute when the foal starts nibbling on their arm or clothing. They think he is very affectionate and just wants to be close to them.

It can become a game to foal. What starts out as cute and funny can quickly can become a bad habit.

When leading the foal, keep a short hold on the lead line. Keep your hand down close to the halter. If he throws his head your way to nibble just use the lead rope and your hand to bump him hard on his jaw. He will think it is the ropes fault and not blame you for the bump.

In the herd, horses are usually arranged in a pecking order. The dominant horse leads with his ability to be the herd boss. Biting is a way that a horse can assert his leadership. It is not usually to harm, so much as a way to get the other horses to do his will. The bite demands respect from his followers.  

Other horses in the herd also bite each other—sometimes in fun, sometimes in irritation and sometimes they groom and scratch each other for pleasure. In this instance the horses bite is just a way to communicate and get the other herd members to do what is wanted.

This is carried over into their interaction with humans. If the horse feels like he is the herd boss, instead of feeling like the handler or owner is the boss, he might resort to biting to try and get his way. The training that should be done at this time is to help him realize that his owner is the herd boss and his demand for respect comes first.

Many times a horse is tempted to bite out of pain or discomfort. If a horse that has not been known to be a biter suddenly becomes one, it is important to check for what could be causing it.

It could be ill fitting tack. A saddle that does not fit his back, or a bit that is irritating something in his mouth. He could have aches and pains that cannot be seen that is making him miserable. Any number of reasons could result in him being so uncomfortable that he lashes out wanting to bite anything in sight. I have felt that way myself sometimes.

The owner should be willing to give the horse the benefit of the doubt and not just think of him as being bad. Check his feet, teeth, saddle, etc. and anything else that might give him a reason to want to defend himself.

Now we come to the horse that might actually just be a mean horse. A horse that has been abused or mistreated in his life sometimes becomes a rogue horse. His biting is a reflection of that and he cannot be trusted. Unless some good horse handling techniques are used that can help him overcome his bad habits I would not recommend keeping a horse with a severe biting problem. They are smart enough to watch and catch you unaware, just waiting for an opportunity.

Other people who come into your barn or stables will be at risk as they do not know to watch out for the horse.

Stallions are especially prone to want to bite, and you should always use caution when working with them. A Stallion should not be handled or owned by young inexperienced riders unless they have help from a confident professional.

So what can a person do to make sure the horses they are around can be trusted not to bite?

Punishment and Prevention

Your horse biting you may be a sign of disrespect.  As we have talked about the horse herd behavior this is a sign that he feels like he is the boss and he does not have to obey.  

Have you ever observed a person leading a horse, when the horse totally invades the handler’s space? Meaning, the horse almost walks over the human. When at a standstill, the horse gets right up into the human’s face, almost leaning into him.

Some owners feel like this is his way of showing affection—that he loves his owner. In truth it is a sign of disrespect. The horse should stay his distance and keep his focus on the handler, ready to do whatever he is asked to do.

The true way of leading your horse, is for him to stay a few feet behind. Not pushing forward into the humans space. When the handler stops, the horse stops. He should not circle around the human at his will as we see so many owners let their horses do. That’s how a lot of toes get stepped on.

If the owner turns and faces the horse and takes a few steps towards the horse, a horse should back up as many steps as his owner takes. This is how a trained horse would acknowledge that the human is the herd boss. He is just there to take orders. To please his owner.

These are some good training exercises an owner should take with any horse, not just a horse that bites. In fact, teaching a horse to respond this way and not get into your space takes care of almost every problem you would have handling your horse on the ground. You would have earned his respect. He knows you are the leader and he trusts you to take care of him.

This is how you would punish him in the beginning of your training. Causing him to give you an extreme backup maneuver if he has tried to bite you, or if he is nervous and anxious. You could also have him run circles around you (like a lunge line) switching the direction often, to keep him attentive. At any time he has shown he is focusing on you and has settled down, allow him to stand a while as a reward for co-operating.

If he gets spooked again, start over from the beginning. It will not take many sessions to have your horse stand very still waiting for a signal from you as to when it’s time to move out. Do not let him decide when it is time to move.

This schooling of helping the horse to not invade your space will do wonders in keeping him from thinking he can attack you and get away with it. He will have the manners and respect you desire all horses to have.

Horse behaviors to look for

In the beginning of your training, learn to tell the signs that your horse gives when he is thinking of misbehaving. He will usually lay his ears back flat against his head. He will roll his eyes with a wild look in them. That is when you will ask him to perform the task of circling or walking backward.

Anything to show your dominance over him and to get him to relax and obey.

Avoid risky horse handling

It’s a wise idea to avoid petting your horse on the face, especially down around his mouth. Teach strangers when they approach your horse that tip also. They can pet his neck and back and not take any chances of letting him get a mouthful of their skin.

Hand feeding your horse can create bad habits. He gets too familiar with you providing food for him and might want to encourage you by nipping at your hand or clothes. When disappointed he might want to show you how much that angers him.

There are so many conflicting methods to use to punish or train your horse when he has become a dangerous biter.  It will be best for you to do some in-depth studies on the way you would like to work with your horse. There are many who believe you can do a lot of harm by hitting them in the head, or smacking them on the muzzle to stop their biting. This could make your horse very head shy. Hard to put on halters and bridles.

There are some great videos on YouTube that demonstrate some ideas you might like to try.

Whatever you do to respond to an attempted bite, it needs to be done immediately.  Within about 3 seconds. The horse needs to know that the punishment is tied to his attempt to bite.

This is just the tip of the iceberg in ideas and suggestions that could help you form a great partnership with your horse. I hope I did not discourage you or make you fearful of horses in talking about horse bites. It’s true they are big and have strong teeth, but the example we see all around us of a beautiful creature who wants to please his owner and obey and give him pleasure should give you courage to join the ranks of horse lovers everywhere. Good Luck and Happy Trails.

Related Questions

Why do Horses bite each other?  You will notice that horses bite each other from time to time, and there are many reasons for this. It could be that they are trying to decide who is the alpha horse between them. They don’t mean to do actual harm but its like who is the toughest horse in the lot. They may bite in play, a little rough-housing between buddies. They may bite in defense of themselves, their food, or their offspring. They may use it to discipline a younger horse or a horse who is in a lower pecking order.

How to stop a Horse from Biting when doing up the Girth?  Your horse might be telling you that your tack does not fit correctly. The girth should be tight enough that it holds the saddle in place, but does not restrict the horses breathing. You should not do the girth up too quickly as this might cause pain and irritation. If your horse tries to bite you at this time, he is trying to communicate to you that he is having discomfort. It is better if you tighten the girth up slowly in 3 or 4 stages to get it to the correct fit. Try this and see if that will cure the problem.