Mouthy horses are quite common, especially young horses, and especially young geldings. How to handle or correct a mouthy horse is one of the most frequent questions that I am asked.
Biting or “mouthy” behavior can stem from a variety of causes. It can be natural playfulness in a youngster, a warning or display of agression, a sign of frustration, or a learned habit for stopping some activity that the horse does not like (such as tightening a girth).
This past week, as I was spending several days on the island of Molokai, Hawaii, I had the opportunity to work with a young horse named Jelly Bean who was a great example of mouthy behavior.
There are numerous different techniques for correcting mouthy horses, but I feel it mostly boils down to this:
- Avoid getting bit
- Make biting uncomfortable for the horse
- Make it clear to the horse that biting won't get him anywhere – no release of pressure, no opportunities to snatch food or play the “tag, you're it” game
- Stay calm and don't take it personally
In this week's video, you can watch how I actually use several of the above tips while working with Jelly Bean. Enjoy!
Leave a comment with any tips or strategies you use for handling mouthy, biting horses.
See you in the comments,
p.s. Isn't the scenery beautiful! That is the blue pacific ocean in the background…
Thanks for sharing Callie, wow so much to learn! So glad I found your website:)
I would think there is a little of “mind over matter” to work with a horse like that if you’re afraid of being bitten, as I imagine the horse can sense that. Your suggestions should be very useful.
Thanks for the video….very informative!!! Please keep them coming
Thanks Callie. Hope you are able to take time to enjoy and rejuvenate with the Hawaiian sunshine!
Hahaha, I have a horse just like this. I have some great tips now on how to deal with him. I love it that you are gentle and not rough or hard on him. Rather, he’s learning through consequence. Can’t wait to work with my boy tomorrow. Thanks, Callie.
Let me know how it goes!
To watch Callie work first hand was such a treat. She is definitely right about being consistent. That is key. I am happy to say Jelly is progressing nicely. Thanks Callie.
Thanks for allowing Jelly to represent “Mouthy Horses of America” haha!
This was a great video, Callie. Thanks for making it for us. Using these techniques, you got Jelly Bean settled and less mouthy in just a short time! Your easy, consistent manner along with your interpretation of the horse’s actions make so much sense. I’ve learned so much from you already.
Will you add this one to your Training Journals for future viewing? Also, glad to see you “escaping” the frigid cold of this winter in such a spectacular place. Mahalo!
Hi Maureen, yes – I will add it to Training Journals also, thanks for the suggestion! I did spend about 30 min total working with Jelly – just edited it down for the blog.
Enjoyed this video very much as I work with and ride a few horses that are mouthy and nippy. I like the exercises you did and the background scenery was a pleasure to look at over the cold and grey skies we have right now. Thanks for another great post.
Another terrific video. I tried using a tooth pick as was suggested to me, but it’s too difficult to keep holding it and then pricking my horse each time he is mouthy. I like your technique much better. Thanks for all your wonderful information.
I find this fascinating. I don’t have my own horse yet, but for now I am just taking in all in. Very interesting.
Wow Callie I loved this video, thank you so much for sharing. I have a young mouthy horse and watching you work with Jelly Bean will help me be far more consistent with my boy.
Great video. This is my rescue horse Timber in a nutshell! I personally have a hard time walking the line between play and respect – I don’t want to shut down his “joyfulness” but I also need him to be safe. So I think I haven’t been entirely consistent. It is good to have a visual of your working with Jelly that I can conjure up when I work with Timber.
Hi Callie, Scott has become a little ‘playful’ when setting his rug up a at the front – shifting into position – bit of rug-rubbing so obviously a little tender. If no halter on, how to deal with it? He’s also swings around when girthing up…
Hi Linda, from the position you are in when adjusting the rug, I would probably have an elbow ready so that when he comes to nip or bite, he runs into the elbow.
Remember the rule when there is a behavior problem check for a physical cause. Jelly Beans mane goes two direction which suggest to me that the vertebrates in his neck need adjusting by an Equine Chiropractor. Being handled could be causing pain or discomfort. That goes for any horse that has a mane going two direction.
Once it is determined that a physical problem isn’t causing the nipping or biting there are two methods that could be uses. For nipping make a BUZZER sound when his head comes in your direction with the intention of nipping. The sound lets him know further action will be taken if he doesn’t stop. If he continues in your direction PINCH his cheek. His behavior may not change over night. Just continue until he gets the idea that nipping you isn’t in his best interest.
Biting involves teeth and is not to be tolerated, It is an aggressive act. You must know your horse. Are his ears back? Does he have a bad attitude when handled? Have you ruled out physical problem? If there is a possibility that his teeth will land on you make a fist and when is head comes around and before he makes contact sock him at the corner of his lips. Have nothing on your hand that could injure he horse. There are times when one good smack is better than a hundred little taps. Chances are he will think twice before trying it again.
I hope this never becomes necessary. It’s better to stop the nipping in the bud.
I have never heard that when the mane grows in different directions that there may be an adjustment needed. My horses mane does that at times n he has had chiropractor adjustments. I was never told that.. What is the details?
Joy nipping in a young horse ca actually be natural play behaviour, I agree that it needs to be stopped, but it doesn’t always mean that the horse is mean. I personally will be using Callies method as it teaches the horse what is and isn’t acceptable. I have found that nipping back or popping with a whip can lead a youngster into thinking it is a game of ‘nip and nip back’ which is what he would do with his field mates. Better to set clear boundaries
I so appreciate your training blog! We have a 7 year old that has always been a little mouthy, although he has gotten much better this past year. The biggest take away from this video for me is consistency and patience. I think a lot of our actions are inadvertently reinforcing his bad behaviors, like pulling away which is such a reflex, and allowing too much time to pass before reprimanding him. After all this time he still catches me off guard. I will practice your suggestions more as exercises and try to minimize the surprises.
This same horse has a tendency to bite the other horses. This is most annoying when I’m bringing one horse out of the pasture on a lead and leaving him behind. He acts like a jealous little kid! He’ll try to bite coming through the pasture and he’ll usually get kicked. But when my horse is distracted coming through the gate he makes sure he gets a good bite in. At this point he will even bite the old alpha horse. Do you have any suggestions for this behavior? I feel like I’m in an awkward position to correct him since I’m at the head of my horse and he’s biting him on the rump. I know I make him sound like a monster, but he’s really a sweet, very personable horse who unfortunately is at the bottom of the pecking order.
I have a horse like this at my farm too – he is good about not biting people now, but still pesters the other horses. Because I feel this is a safety issue, especially around the gate, I would carry a long whip with you when you go out to the field. A few stern words followed up by chasing him off the whip should curb this behavior. Of course, I’m not talking about lighting into him with the whip, but using it clearly to get the message across of “stay away from horses I am with.”
This is what I did with Phoenix a few times and now just a stern “no” if I see him coming serves as the “cue” for stay away. I hope this helps!
My comment is about NIPPING, not biting. My 7 month old weanling just began exploratory nipping this past week. I found some good solutions online and tried one. It stopped the nipping in one session. He hasn’t tried nipping me again, so far. (I keep my toothpick in my pocket in case he needs a refresher lesson. ) The advice I used was to hold a toothpick, or similar prickly thing concealed in my hand, with just about 1/8″ of the tip exposed between my fingers. Not sticking way up, just barely above my fingers. When he begins nibbling on my hand, I let him discover the “sting, or prickly” sensation and he stops immediately. I am sure to not push my hand toward his mouth, I just let him happen upon the prickly thing. This is a kind way of teaching him. As in nature, he would feel the same thing amongst stickers, weeds, twigs, insect stings or bites. He is the one who moves his head toward the prickly thing and learns not to do it in the future. Thanks for the video about a very persistent mouthy, biting horse, Callie. It was very informative. I have loved every one of your posts and videos since joining CRK Training.
Thank you so very much for this video! I recently aquired a paint/draft gelding that was a bottle fed orphan. He is 7 years old now but retained his mouthy behaviors. I want to use positive reinforcement but was leary of trying food rewards for obvious reasons. I especially like that you showed how to use food safely and that your methods are kind to the horse. I am excited to try these exercises with him!
Love your videos!
Keep them coming!
Wow thanks you ! Reading this has been so helpful , thanks again !.
Sorry also to hear about Dior
Thank you Charlotte! It was very sad and unexpected…
No bother I hope you and Julia are feeling better soon.x
Hi. Really glad I have discovered your videos.Some great tips for my mouthy 4 year old gelding. Anymore tips o haltering him? Getting the rope halter on is a challenge as it ends up in his mouth every time! 🙂 Thanks.
Two great videos. My horse kinda falls in the middle of both. He isn’t overly food mouthy & he is more of the playful mouthy. He needs to play with everything whether i’m grooming or bathing or picking his hooves. He picks items up from the ground or off the racks just to play with them. (He does have toys in his paddock which he loves). I did like the stick as one method to try especially when picking hooves. Being less in control when bending over I could keep short stick or crop etc in hand holding hoof & could just wiggle & would probably make him stop. He does get a treat if he behaves after all hooves are picked – & i do not usually keep treats in pockets for him to smell & encourage the pocket nibbles. You also mentioned while holding halter keep a finger pointed, I use a knuckle as I find it has more strength but no fingernails to poke & less of a chance to jamb my finger with the movement of his head.
I truly love your videos & they have helped me so much, I still think my 12 year old gelding thinks he is a year old yellow lab 🙂
I really enjoyed watching the way you approached the situation, and I learnt a lot. I have a very mouthy horse when it comes to doing up the girth. I will definitely put your tips to use.
My new guy is very mouthy, he will hold the bit in his mouth when taking the bridle off, he will nip, he will chew on my car if close enough, like Jelly Bean become mouthy if you take hold of his halter, desperately tries to grab reins when being led or the lead rope.. I do know that when he feels too much pressure or concern he becomes very mouthy. He has issues around the mounting block so I am just taking time, rewarding him for good behavior and trying to make it a positive experience. Apparently, he has negative memories from his past. He is good in the round pen, hooks on, follows my cues and does not get mouthy. Undersaddle he is also very good. I do know on the ground he has been smacked for nipping as he will try to nip and quickly raise his head. Any additional exercises would be truly appreciated!! Thank you, Cindy
I have a mini horse who is always really nippy and dominant. When he nips me I will push his head away and try to keep my distance but he usually will turn around and kick me. I will make him turn back around and keep pushing his head but he is only halter trained and he is not handled that much. He is usually just in his paddocks. He is a young gelding who was gelded about a year ago and is still pushy and dominant. I he is a very food motivated mini. He will unzip my zippers to go into my pockets and try to eat my pocket, my zippers and my sweaters. How would you suggest I handle him because i am not sure if training a mini is the same as trainig a horse. He is also INCREDIBLY sassy.
Jusy so you know he is only 2yo and his name is Turner
Quick question – is it more difficult to train an older horse out of being nippy and biting? I am thinking of buying an eleven year old who I have been told ‘fake bites’, which I assume means nippy, but wont be able to put up with it and would want to train him out of it – any answers out there?
Hi Tania, yes, it can take longer. Generally the more reinforcement a horse has had for a behavior, basically the longer he’s been doing it, the longer it can take to untrain. With older horses especially I recommend looking closely at the context of the biting to make sure it’s not occurring out of discomfort or pain
I have this 4 year old halter bred QH mare I recently got and I am 14 years old. She has had no previous training in her life and I am now working with her on ground work thus far. She seems like a more pushy, dominant, I don’t know why I have to do this kind of horse, who is also brave around new objects and could care less if I took a tarp or something she has never been around and desensitize her to it. I have been getting to know her better as the days go by when I work with her as she does me, and I found out that when I go to push her to the side away from me at the rib cage she bites, or when I go to move aside her butt so I can get around her, she lifts her leg to kick. I am very new at this and would rather not get pushed around, kicked, or bitten by a strong and fit horse. So I was hoping, if you ever get to reading this, if you could give me some advice on how to let her know I just want her to move over, and not have her kick or bite me in the process. One last thing, when I go to back her up, she does not mind it, does not bite or kick, but pushes all her weight into me and anytime I go to move her around and go to backing her again, she repeats pushing her weight into me. Again I am new at this, please do not judge me, I think your methods are amazing and would work, if I am doing absolutely everything wrong, PLEASE CORRECT ME. Thank you so much!
Thank you for your comment! It’s a great question to ask! There could be many different things going on here, but I often get to work with horses that have “irritated” or sometimes “aggressive” responses to requests. I find that the right way to handle it is to stay firm and assertive in both manuerism and the acutal pressure, but also asking for things in small enough steps that you can use rewards.
Reward based training does wonders to change that attitude of an oppositional horse without having to fight with them or get aggressive back.
Here is a link to a video of a horse named Fiona. Fiona was also a biter and she was a big mare, and extremely intelligent so I knew I would never a battle of strength with her. All my exercises I tried to structure so that she could get rewarded, in various ways, for what I actually wanted her to do. In this video, I was working on getting her to step over with her front legs, or yield her shoulders, so an exercise not very different from what you are working on with your horse. https://crktrainingblog.com/horse-training/fiona-learns-to-move-her-shoulders/
Actually, here is another link for more of Fiona’s videos: she had a foal, and I got to work with him too 🙂 https://crktrainingblog.com/?s=fiona
I hope seeing this example with Fiona helps! Thanks again for your comment, Callie
It is good to know that one should correct mouthy horses to avoid getting bit. I like what was said about how one should make biting uncomfortable for the horse. Our horse bit my dad once and it went through three layers of thick clothing. Training your horse not to bite would benefit you in preventing possible injury and lasting scars.
Hi Callie, thank you for this video. At the barn there are a lot of horses that are hard to lead. I’m not the strongest 11 year old. I love grooming and horses, but there isn’t always someone to help me bring them in. My dad and I go to the barn and sometimes we can barely get them to the barn.
Lily, I’m glad this video was helpful!
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
Hi Callie! I love this video, it is extremely helpful. I had a really quick question that maybe you would have some advive or tips for me? I am currently (trying) to train a 7 year old stallion. He is VERY mouthy. He nips all the time and is pretty pushy. He is always reaching for any part of me he can bite, any form of food or anything that is touching him he bites and holds in his mouth. They aren’t aggressive bites, but they are not playful. I think that maybe that is hia way of trying to keep me in my place? He has been owned by an older couple for a few years and is very spoiled. I partly think that his biting could just be a result of always getting lots of treats, but he almost never gets treats anymore, and I have owned him for almost a year. (I have been working on the issue for this whole time and nothing seems to be working.) I was just wondering what your thoughts or advice would be? I habe1 never had to handle a horse like him and I know once this problem is resolved he will be an amazing horse! But it is a constant issue and I am out of ideas on how to fix the issue. He isn’t rideable almost at all, we do a very small amount of under saddle work at the walk, but the whole time he bites at my ankles and doesn’t respond to cues. Thoughts? Hopefully you have some tips for me if you ever get to reading this comment. Thanks, have a wonderful day!
Shanea, that behavior is very common in stallions. Especially if in his past he was not taught to have clear boundaries. My advice would be to set those boundaries for him – and not giving him the opportunity to be really mouthy. For example, we had a horse here at Callie’s farm in training who was an orphaned foal and was extremely mouthy so one thing we found that helped him is not holding to close to the halter on the lead rope, a hand being there was a distraction and temptation!
Best of luck with him, be very careful as stallions can be very dangerous especially if he didn’t have the best handling while he matured!
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
Really interesting, thank you – I’m working with my youngster on just this issue, so will try this with him to help him understand. He’s not nasty with it at all, but definitely enjoys the reaction when he makes contact!! I’m hoping to watch the in hand videos too, but can’t make anything other than the first one work at the moment.
Hi Tracy, we have only released video 1 as of yet – keep an eye out for video 2 tomorrow 🙂
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
My horse is mouthy and curious and bites infrequently. I find it is his way of engaging with me most of the time and as I mentioned less frequently showing annoyance with something by nipping.
I decided to let him engage with me. I rub my hands all around his nose and under his chin (in a gentle manner) until he decides he’ s had enough. Every time he would turn his head towards me I would stop grooming or saddling or just coming into the paddock and do the same thing until he indicated he’d had enough. After a little time he stopped turning toward me or mouthing. Now the behavior seems to have stopped , at the very least, much become much reduced.
Just remember if you try this, be quick enough with your hands to avoid being bitten or if the horse is more aggressive than mine perhaps this is not the way to go.
Michele, that is awesome! Thank you for sharing how you worked through this with your horse! Is he a young gelding? That mouthy behavior is pretty common for them!
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager