Q: I take lessons at a busy stable and ride an older gelding. While he’s being groomed and tacked up he tries to bite whenever his girth area is touched. My instructor says to yell at him or smack his neck. Is there a less aggressive way to handle his behavior?
If you want to develop a better rapport with this school horse—or any other horse that bites while being tacked up—here are a few suggestions. First, make sure that the tack fits correctly and that the horse’s back and withers are not sore. Physical pain can elicit biting for obvious reasons. Next, try de-sensitizing the horse to the girth area by firmly rubbing the area with an open palm, almost like a massage. Keep an eye on the horse. Until he learns that your actions aren’t going to cause him pain or annoyance, he could still bite. Then, as you tack up the horse, tighten the girth in increments. Allow the horse to take several steps out of the cross-ties or away from the hitching post before you tighten it again and mount. All along, however, discipline the horse if he attempts to bite. After all, you aren’t doing anything to harm him and he could seriously injure you with a nasty bite. Smacking him may not be necessary, though. Yelling, “Wrong!” or merely tugging on the reins to gain his attention could be enough of a distraction.
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