Hitting horses as a response to lipping, nibbling, nipping, biting etc. is quite a hotly debated topic.
Unfortunately, it’s still a very commonly used approach, even if it shouldn’t be.
People are worried that if they don’t “correct” their horses immediately, it means that their horses will become more aggressive and will resort to biting in the future. And in some cases this may indeed be true! For example if the horse is trying to communicate something, and the person isn’t responding, it’s natural for the horse to resort to ‘louder’ communication. If you tried to tap someone’s shoulder to get their attention about something, and they wouldn’t respond, and even if you say “hey!” They still didn’t respond, you probably would start yelling too. This is often why horses start to nip, or bite.
Horses nibble or nip as a way to play, due to fear, or discomfort& pain, or because they simply don’t know any better. Remember, they don’t have hands, so their lips and teeth are one of the few ways they can communicate.
Sadly hitting them is the most common approach people are taught on how to deal with these issues.
“They need to learn respect”
“It doesn’t hurt them”
“It’s what another horse would do”
“He’s fine, it won’t kill him”
“Some horses just need a good smack”
“You just can’t let them get away with the little stuff or they will learn to dominate you”
Are all responses I hear on a regular basis as to why we’re supposed to be hitting horses, instead of looking at alternative solutions.
So what if I said that hitting, smacking, wacking (or any of the various types of forcefully making contact with a horses face) is actually NOT necessary to solve any of the issues above?
And that you can have a calm, and safe horse without needing to resort to force or violence?
Whether you have a horse that’s already displaying a biting issue, or even aggression, or is simply wanting to engage in some playful behaviour, you can deal with all of those in a manner that doesn’t require hitting or scaring your horse.
Instead of hitting, first figure out WHY your horse is displaying the behaviour. If they are trying to communicate something, what is it they’re trying to communicate? What’s the purpose of the behaviour? And use that information to figure out a approach to solve the issue.
George in the video here is a great example of a very mouthy horse. From the very beginning, he was very explorative with his lips and teeth (playing with his lips was the first thing he allowed me to do, even before I could touch him)
When he was a foal, he’d often want to use teeth on you. He wasn’t being malicious, he just wanted attention, interaction, and stimulation.
Instead of smacking him for it, I showed him gently that biting was not going to get him the attention he craved, and that if he wanted to interact and play, he could tell me with a gentle nuzzle.
This is how wonderful he’s being about it now. Instead of shutting down all interactions, this allows me to fulfill his need of interaction, without needing to worry about him using his mouth or teeth in a manner that I am not comfortable with🙌🏻
A side note: not everyone is comfortable with this type of play, and that’s ok! This is what I am comfortable with and such, allow. For someone else they may allow less. But no matter how much you’re ok with, you can teach your horse without hitting them, so let’s stop doing it!