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Let's Talk about Biting, Pawing and Headbutting

If you’ve spent any time around horses, you’ve probably been bitten or head-butted by one, or witnessed them pawing the ground, normally wearing down shoes or digging a hole in someone’s pristine arena.


And what is THE most human response to one of those behaviours? To tell the horse off, either verbally or physically.


When I’m working with clients and these behaviours come up, I try really hard to stop people from reacting like a human. Instead, stop, think and ask why is a horse doing this. After all, horses do things for a reason. They just want a quiet life, to be left alone to be a horse. So what causes them to behave in this way? Of course, the answer is humans.


Biting always seems to originally from a place of anxiety, even if the habit develops into something more aggressive. Replace aggressive with the word defensive and it makes more sense. Head-butting often seems to happen when the horse’s adrenaline comes up. Pawing can be a scaled-down version of flight. Again, rather than scold these behaviours, it would be better to ask why the horse was acting like this.


So what is my response to these behaviours? I engage with the horse in a positive way and try to let the horse know that I understand that they are not okay. Wouldn’t this be what we would do with a family member if they were showing signs of stress or anxiety?


Of course no one wants to be bitten or struck by a horse but that’s where training and rewarding appropriate behaviours comes in, rather than just showing anger, frustration or aggression at a horse. The problem with showing negative emotions to a horse is that you disintegrate trust and build fear and stress.

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