We asked horse training expert Rhett Russell.
More on Rhett.
I have recently acquired my first horse who is a 3-year-old paint/quarter horse. She was hand raised and seems to be well adjusted to people. It has been many years since I have worked with horses so both my horse and I are in a learning mode. I have been searching for any type of information that can help both her and I learn together. Most of the time she seems ready to respond to what I ask of her (with a little encouragement now and again.) The problem I am having is she will often try to nip at me when I am leading her from the pasture as well as when I am putting the saddle on her. She is not at all aggressive toward me other wise. I realize that she is just showing me her dislike for both the saddle and leaving her friends but I would like to teach her this is not appropriate behavior. The only input I have had from friends is to smack her in the nose – I’m just not sure that hitting a horse is the best way to train.
What would be your suggestion on how to handle her when this happens?
A mouthy horse could be curious. A curious horse is usually a brave horse – this is a good thing. The bad thing is that nipping behavior often turns into biting. You need to correct this before it gets to that point. Smacking a horse in the nose is one way of approaching this – it’s just not what I would do. The roots of this are much deeper than just nipping at you.
Since we can’t talk to the horse, there’s no way of knowing if this is a dislike for the saddle – that’s only an assumption. But, if the horse is acting out because you took her away from her herd, then you do have something concrete to work from. That means that the horse does not respect you as the leader.
You need to correct the behavior by letting the horse know who is the herd leader in your horse/human herd. A subordinate horse doesn’t do this type of thing to the herd leader or a horse that is higher up in the food chain. You establish this over time by teaching the horse to yield, building trust, reading posture, respecting personal space, and correcting inappropriate behavior.
You can find many articles on “gaining respect” from your horse within the “Article Library” section of www.TodaysHorse.com. Just search through the articles in the “Riding & Training section.”
If you are looking for a quick fix to just this problem – you might try getting big with your posture when the horse attempts to nip. Send a clear message to the horse that this is not tolerated. But, you really should address this as a package through complete and thorough foundation training.
Good Luck and keep me posted on your success,