Go to FastAd#:

How can I teach my mare not to bite the hand that feeds her — mine!

By RAY ARISS / Horsetrader columnist - February 17th, 2010 - Q&A Hey Ray!

HEY RAY!: I have a mare, a PMU baby now 9 years old with a good disposition in hand and under saddle, too. At feeding, she has a bad attitude – biting, throwing her head, threatening me. Help! I have tried several approaches — from ignoring her to backing her up and away. I have two other horses whom she respects and gives way to. At liberty, she is not “people-friendly.”
–Kathy Camuso, Corona, Calif.

HEY KATHY: This issue is more common than you might imagine. I appreciate the great insight you’ve shared and the things you have tried in order to resolve this challenge with your horse. What is truly reassuring about this whole picture is the fact that your mare has shown the ability to S.W.A.P. (be sweet, willing, and predictable) in any and all situations — including this problem area. In other words, your mare will do the right thing (1) with you while in hand and under saddle and (2) while turned out with other horses. This tells me that she is willing to curb her behavior in a way that won’t be too difficult for you, if you use the right approach.

Because she gives way to your other horses, having to deal with an ALPHA mare likely isn’t the issue. Even if it were, the approach would be the same – the process just might have taken a little longer.

Feeding all the horses together in an open pen at the same time would be very enlightening to your mare because the other two horses would simply (and clearly) teach her the lesson. The problem with this approach is the possibility of injury during the process, but it’s an option, nonetheless. The advantage of experiencing this, Kathy, is that you would not only recognize the timing and duration needed for this to work, but you’d also witness the moment of breakthrough and the change in your horse’s behavior. It’s definitely something to see someday, but perhaps not with your horses.

Because you are satisfied with your mare’s attitude in other areas of your relationship, it’s important that while you work on this weak link, there’s no association to any negative feelings or resentment back to you. We can accomplish this by doing the following:

  • Remember your mare is just trying to express herself in a way that has always worked for her until now.
  • When she is trying to express herself, simply misunderstand what she means. As a human, this should be very easy for you to do because we are so good at it.
  • Always look for the excuse to reward, not for the excuse to punish.
  • Our “reward-able” exercise will be chasing around the stall or ring. (Practice before feeding and reward by petting her after you see that look of regret in her eye.)
  • When feeding, the moment you see the behavior you cannot reward, perceive it as your mare saying: “Kathy! Can you please put down my feed immediately and run over to my stall and play that chase-me-around game for a while, so you can tell me how great I am at it? I hope you don’t mind since it’s also one of your favorite games until I work up an appetite. (Of course what she is really thinking is: “Hey lady… hurry up — me first, I’m starving!”)
  • It won’t be long before your mare recognizes that her behavior is not only all right with you , but you actually welcome it because of what it means to you.
  • Projecting the right body language is crucial, which is why it is important to believe the scenario. (This is what keeps you from being reactive and justifying her behavior.)
  • Once your mare realizes that her behavior is what is postponing her meal, she will figure out where change needs to happen. Not because you said so (in the eyes of the horse, you’re not even aware there’s a problem), but because she sees value in it.
  • Continue this process until she shows no signs of the old behavior.

There are many systems that work well. I choose this approach because you don’t have to be tough, just consistent. Also, it sets up an environment to S.W.A.P. that allows freedom of choice to change, as well as good feelings from making that choice. It also promotes feeling good “about me” while changing. That is important.

Kathy, I’m confident that you will have fun watching the transformation of your horse through this experience.

Always trust your instincts and think safe,


Horsetrader columnist Ray Ariss, husband to Pippa Ariss and father of six, shares his insight into the relationship of horseand human twice each month, in print and on www.horsetrader.com. He lives and trains in “Horsetown USA”, Norco, Calif., at his bustling Starbrite Riding Academy, where he currently has 50 horses in various stages of training, including Andalusians, Friesians, Quarter Horses, Paints, Thoroughbreds, Arabs, Mustangs and more. Ray attributes his training success to the support of his wife and partner, Pippa, and a system he calls S.W.A.P., to which he credits his multiple championships in several disciplines. His passionate understanding of the “human-horse” relationship was evident when he took on the challenge of training a wild Mustang and — in just 100 days — produced the highest-priced adopted Mustang ever — $50,000. Does your “horse-human relationship” leave you with a question for Ray? Click here to submit one!

Leave a Comment

All fields must be filled in to leave a message.