why do horses bite

Why Do Horses Bite And What Can You Do About Horse Bites?

Any human who has experienced a nip from an animal knows that it can be painful. Sometimes, a horse can bite you, too. However, there is always a reason when it comes to horse biting. While this is not done maliciously, it’s important to understand why your horse is biting.

Horses are graceful, powerful, and majestic animals. They are grass-eaters, and most breeds come with beautiful temperaments. For centuries, horses have been tamed and kept as domestic animals. Any horse owner will tell you that a playful nip can be fun in the right context. But a serious snap can take a pound of flesh.

So, from serious chomps to playful nips, we’re going to delve into the reasons why horses bite and what action to take if you have been bitten. We’ll also look at some tips to help prevent biting behaviour in horses.

Why Do Horses Bite?

It’s natural

When your horse is in a mischievous mood, it can playfully nip or nibble to show its affection and bond. Foals, especially, explore with their mouths. A young horse can learn a lot from taste and feeling in its mouth.

An older horse bites a young horse to establish dominance and keep a foal in line. These are just little nips to assert their status and the pecking order, especially within a herd.


If the horse feels that it’s in danger or if it’s in a confined space, it may bite. This may be because of their natural fear of the unfamiliar. Loud noises can scare horses, which could lead to the horse biting out in fear. A cornered animal is a dangerous animal, so always try to keep your horses as calm as possible.


A horse may try to initiate contact with humans by nipping slightly to get their attention. It could also nip to let you know it needs something. This manner of communication is not dangerous but merely a horse reaching out for attention or assistance.

Pain or discomfort

A biting horse may be trying to tell you it’s in pain or experiencing discomfort. For example, if the saddle is not adjusted correctly or the harness fits incorrectly, then the horse could be feeling uncomfortable or experience pinching around the face from the harness or the bit. Always check that the saddle fits correctly and is not causing any pain.


If a horse nips at you and you jerk away, the horse may misunderstand your actions and take them as if you were playing. They could think you are encouraging the behaviour and nip again.

Defensive behaviour

If the equine has been mistreated or handled harshly, it may bite to defend or protect itself. Take note of the horse’s body language. Is it baring its teeth, or are the ears pinned back? These could be signs that the animal feels threatened and is trying to protect itself.

Underlying health problems

Horse biting can be a sign of an underlying health problem. This is not always the first conclusion you draw, but it does warrant consideration. Body language is the quickest way to see if the horse’s biting is due to aggression, pain, playfulness, or illness.

If you suspect your horse is suffering from an illness, consult with a vet immediately. They will be able to provide a diagnosis for any concerns and provide treatment for the problem.

How To Reduce The Chances Of A Horse Biting

You can train a young horse to keep a respectful distance and to wait for treats to prevent biting. Reward them for good behaviour and withhold treats when they bite to show them that the habit is not acceptable. It’s advised to start this training as early as possible.

However, it’s important that you don’t irritate or frustrate the horse. Always be clear in your signals so that the horse understands what you want. Humans sometimes tend to forget that when we talk, we use gestures. It’s possible that a horse mistakenly picks up on these gestures and interprets them as instructions.

Another important point is to always double-check the bridle, bit, and saddle. If they hurt the animal, then it may bite to let you know it’s in pain.

Lastly, never move like blitz lightning when you’re with a horse. Approach the horse calmly and confidently, and avoid any sudden movements.

Horse Bite Wound Treatment

A bite can cause serious injury to a human, and you could be exposed to various horse bite infections.

Here are some simple steps to take to reduce the risk factors associated with horse-related injuries.

  • Check the extent of the bite injuries. How deep is the wound? Is the skin broken?
  • Check if there is any dirt or debris in the wound.
  • Wash the wound under running water or with a wet, clean cloth to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Use an antiseptic ointment and dress the injury with a sterile pad and bandage.

A doctor can treat minor bite wounds, but if there is a serious human injury, go to the emergency room immediately.

It’s important to note that sometimes you are not dealing with only bite wounds. A horse’s bite can sever a finger. In this instance, seal up the wound, add pressure to the bleeding, put the digit on ice, and get to the hospital immediately.

Thankfully, though, biting doesn’t always lead to a trauma case, but even if the skin hasn’t been broken, disinfect the area to avoid infection. An untreated bite wound can lead to infection, which can cause problems down the line.

Tips For Horse Biting

  • Harsh punishment won’t help. It could backfire and cause the horse’s behaviour to worsen.
  • Consistency is key. Be clear and consistent in the signals you give your horse.
  • Seek professional help from a horse trainer or vet if the behaviour continues or worsens.
  • Always pay attention to what is happening when you are around a horse to reduce the risk of a bite.


Do I need a tetanus injection if a horse bites me?

If you have not had a tetanus injection within the last 10 years, it’s advised to get a tetanus shot if you were bitten by a horse. Ensure this happens within 72 hours of the bite.

How do I stop my horse from biting?

The best way to stop a biting habit is to teach the horse to back up. Backing up a horse shows humility, which will stop it from biting.

If your horse bites, react to it with a quick verbal response like “No!” or “Stop!”. Just be clear and consistent in your reactions to this kind of behaviour.

Why do horses bite other horses?

Sometimes, horses playfully bite other horses. This is part of their socialising and interactions. However, if they show any sign of aggression, then it may be best to separate the horses to avoid conflict.

Final Thoughts

While tiny nips can be a display of affection and communication from your horse, it’s imperative to understand the reasons why your horse is biting and what to do about it. It can be as simple as adjusting the saddle or loosening the bit. However, if you suspect a health issue, call in a vet for a proper diagnosis.

Biting behaviour can cause humans harm, so it’s better to be safe and keep your horse happy. Remember to always treat your horse with respect and patience. The bond between a horse and rider is built on mutual trust. By understanding these chomps and nibbles, you will understand why your horse is biting and what your horse is trying to tell you.

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