My gelding tries to put everything in his mouth. How can I stop this bad habit?

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Why your horse may like to have things in his or her mouthReader’s Question: My gelding tries to put everything in his mouth. When I put on his halter or bridle, he usually grabs it with his mouth and doesn’t like to let go. How can I stop this bad habit?

Parellis’ Answer:
This is the sign of a playful, curious horse that’s probably really bored! So everything becomes a game, even putting on the halter. The key to this horse is not punishment, but to play with him. Pretend to put the halter on his leg, rub him all over with the halter, play with his lips, give him treats, teach him to back away from you and to stand on things, even put the halter and the ropes into his mouth!

Think about how to become more interesting to him, to engage his mind with other things, so it’s not just the halter that looks like a toy. Horses with this much play drive often have an especially hard time being confined or isolated from other horses, so they really look to you to fulfill those needs. If you watch horses that live together, you’ll see that they spend a lot of time nuzzling, scratching, nipping, playing and moving around. The rest of the time they are eating or dozing. Our approach is heavily based on understanding a horse’s needs and what kind of “Horsenality” and energy level he has. Through understanding our horses in these manners, we can interact with them in meaningful and highly productive ways that are fulfilling for the horse.

One last important thought: Rather than seeing this behavior as a bad habit, think of it as a talent your horse has. One of our students actually taught her biting, mouthy, playful and curious horse to do things like pick up items off the ground, such as her cap, brushes, saddle pad, et cetera, and to give them to her! Much nicer than slapping him! With this kind of approach you get a horse that wants to be with you, even more than with other horses. More about Pat and Linda >>

35 COMMENTS

  1. Hi,
    I think that Pat and Linda Parelli have the best answers and understanding of horse behavior n the industry. Please give us MORE of there information. Thanks!!!!

  2. Pat and Linda’s solutions (or viewpoint) to a mouthy young horse are excellent. They are so amazing at inspiring us to listen and learn from our horses. They have so much to teach us, our horses that is!

  3. THANKS FOR THE GREAT ARTICLE, LOVE THE WAY THE PARELLI’S TEACH AND FEEL ABOUT HORSES. GREAT HEARING ABOUT HORSEANALITIES. GIVE US MORE!

  4. I love Pat and Linda Parelli’s response to this question! How to turn a “perceived” negative habit into a positive! I think if we can consider the horses point of view in everything we do, it is the first step in having the kind of relationship most of us want with our horses and making it fun for horse and human along the way 🙂
    Please give us more Parelli!

  5. WOW!! Pat and Linda Parelli are always right on. I can never get enough of their teachings. Sometimes you have to hear something over and over until it just hits home. It is like the light bulb came on. Another Ahhhh moment.

  6. I have a 11 yo tb stud grandson from seattle slew his like a big kids very gentle but like to play with things as well I hang thing from a double tie so my horse has things to do to me if they are not being bad give them somthing to do
    pat I watched your clinic on rfdtv yesterday I love it wish I could get more

  7. My gelding has a similar habit. I’ve found that keeping his mind engaged while I work with him (grooming, etc) helps tremendously. I also clicker trained him so that he doesn’t use his lips on me. With the clicker training he found that the more still he held his lips, the more quickly he got treats. If he was nibbling on everything in sight there was no click, therefore no treat. When he was still he’d hear the click and get the treat. He now stands with his head down (a clicker trained habit) while I groom/etc so that I’ll click & treat him. It really works!

  8. This sounds exactly like my mare, I too began to play back with her and our bond is stronger than the bond she has with any of the other horses. She’s sooo playful, and now i am too!

  9. My foal is mouthy, and I have taken Pat & Linda’s advice, now I let Chiron play with his brushes, put the lead in his mouth. As long as I am responsible to watch him with these items its ok and one day maybe I can teach him to pick up my hat. I have learned (especially with a foal) don’t let everything bother you, enjoy that he is curious.

  10. My filly is a mouther, and these tips really help! She loves playing games and is really curious, so that sort of advice is ideal for her.
    Thanks Pat!

  11. I have a 4 yr old that has to play with everything. He likes to come up behind me and tug on my hair to let me know he’s there. Nothing harmful ,if it was I wouldn’t let him do it. He is very smart.

  12. I love the parelli’s cure it works! Go out for hacks on trails in new places. find a trainer to help you teach your horse new and challenging (for him) tricks. perform skitts for different people. play horse soccer. in horse soccer a horse pushes a ball twards your goal any way he wants too (nose, front legs, ect)! i definatly suggest doing more things with your horse! most importantly remember too have FUN! this is not a boring school assignment!

  13. I am beginning to understand this playfulness; however, I recently purchased a four-year-old gelding and it comes to the point that when I tie him up to groom him (cross-ties or single rope to a post) he will not allow me to groom him. He constantly swings his head or body around to mouth me, the brush, etc. I love grooming and would like him to relax and enjoy it too. The first few times were somewhat fine but he seems to reverting backwards. I don’t know what to do.

  14. I love that the answer is not “discipline”, rather, it is to “engage”. Today, people spend thousands of dollars on their horses and I believe that we all want a good relationship with them. Sometimes the lines get blurred of when we should discipline and when we should just simply engage!!

  15. i taught a mouthy horse to pick up and carry my light weight mounting block . and he is learning to pick up on comand other things as well as to hold the lead shank as we walk

  16. Ok? I can see how that would great and all if you wanted to teach horse a cool new trick or something, but what if you have very expensive halters (orshow clothes) and you do not want your chewing and biting on specific items. What do you do to actually discourage them completely from getting too annoying? I don’t think you fully answers the readers question (and mine for that matter).

  17. We have a horse Vegas at the barn that does this, everything is in his mouth, we have nicknamed him the 2 year old. Now I know how to deal with his annoying mouthing.

  18. Thank you so much! Our soon to be 2-year-old horse Daveed is very mouthy and our trainer onl suggested a (gentle) pop on the nose to stop him. The problem is he isn’t getting it, and since he is a Gypsy the approach really scares him! I never want him to bite anyone, but he likes to put things in his mouth like a human baby and is just curious. Thank you for this idea. Since Daveed learns fast I am sure he will be handing us the brushes in no time!

  19. Hi. I have a yearling mini colt. He has that biting thing going on. I have been told everything from “beat him” to “twist his nose”. I just read your article and took your advice about let him explore the things he wants to bite. It took less than 15 minutes and he stood still to have his halter put on!
    I knew there was something other than punishment to cure this!I am glad to come across your article!

  20. I have the opposite problem.My horse hates his bit and is 25 years old.I don’t if it is a good thing or a bad thing.There is also another problemmy horse acts like there is a boundary where he can’t like there is an electric fence.What should I do???
    PLEASE HELP!!!!!!!

  21. Really good article, it exactly describes our horse. He chews on anything he can get his mouth on, and he chews the leadrope when I lead him.

  22. My 4 year old appaloosa who is just like this now fetches on command. She picks up things and hands them to me. If I throw it 10 feet away she will walk over and get it.

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