How to Stop a Horse From Biting & Ear Pinning

Attitude is okay during turnout, but not when you are handling your horse.
Attitude is okay during turnout, but not when you are handling your horse. (Image: trelin, from stock.xchng)

Biting and ear pinning are methods that horses use to communicate with each other. When they bite or pin their ears back, they are saying "back off." This behavior is acceptable when the horse is in his pasture, but not while being ridden, and not when it is directed at humans. Patience and firmness are important when curing the horse that insists on pinning back its ears or biting while being worked with.

Things You'll Need

  • Treats
  • Halter
  • Lead rope

Determine why your horse is pinning its ears or biting. Some horses act much like 'fear biters' in dogs, and pin back their ears and bare their teeth because they are uncomfortable around other horses. This type of behavior is much easier to remedy than that of a horse that is naturally aggressive. The naturally aggressive horse is often the leader of the pack in the pasture, and may also be pushy with you. The timid horse that is reacting out of fear is often low on the totem pole in the pasture, and subdued when working with humans.

Do not tolerate this behavior toward humans. Regardless of why your horse acts the way that he does, do not tolerate ear pinning or biting when it is directed toward humans. A horse that bites should not be hand fed treats, and any aggressive behavior should be met with a sharp growl. If you are leading your horse when they become aggressive, promptly force them to back up rapidly. If they are tied, growl and walk away, leaving them tied for several minutes while you are out of sight.

Expose your horse to experiences that cause this behavior. If your horse pins his ears at others in the riding ring, do most of your riding in the ring when there are other horses there. If your horse bites at other horses on trail rides, arrange for others to trail ride with you as often as possible. It is important to let others know about your horses issues, however, and only ride with those that are competent riders, not beginners.

Make bad behavior difficult. Your horse needs to learn that bad behavior is more difficult than good behavior. If he pins back his ears in the riding ring, immediately send him forward into a series of trotting circles. If he bites at a passing horse on the trail, make him stand at the halt while the other horses move down the trail. Most horses will quickly associate bad behavior with unpleasant work. It is, however, important to remain consistent. If you do not force your horse to work harder each time they misbehave, this training is not as effective.

Reward good behavior. As your horse's behavior improves, reward his relaxed attitude with pats, treats and verbal praise. Toss treats on the ground in front of his nose if he has a tendency to bite, otherwise the occasional hand fed treat is harmless. Some horses will always be more aggressive than others, but you can greatly improve your horse's attitude with some time and attention.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you are intimidated by your horse's aggressive behavior, seek professional help.
  • While you are working to improve your horse's behavior, warn others around you that your horse may bite or act aggressively toward their horse.
  • If bad behavior escalates, rather than decreases, you should seek help from a professional trainer.
  • As your horse's behavior improves, it is tempting to let your guard down. Until your horse is totally reformed, continue to expect ear pinning and biting, and remain alert, particularly at shows and other unfamiliar locations.

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