While everyone experienced with horses has at some point been nipped, we rarely get bitten. People generally think of an animal bite (say from a dog or cat) as an act of aggression, but most herd animals (like horses) only bite out of aggression as a last resort. First they flee, then kick and when those two methods of escape fail: if the threat is close enough a horse can bite out of aggression. There are numerous other reasons horses bite. To understand why a horse bites and to prevent it, we have to know about about animal behavior. As the average person today doesn’t have much experience with horse behavior it is easy for a novice or child to fail to recognize cues, correct the issue and get bitten. The failure to adequately understand horse behavior can lead to rulings such as the one from the Connecticut Supreme Court which labeled horses as “naturally vicious”. This changes the liability situation for horse owners. In the ruling “Justices Peter Zarella and Christine Vertefeuille agreed with the majority that the owner or keeper of a domestic animal must prevent injuries that are foreseeable.” This is an important issue for those who own and keep horses.
The responsibility for the prevention of horse bites was shifted from the person bitten to the owner of the horse or facility where the bite takes place. And the horse has moved from the “inherently dangerous” verbiage in most state liability laws to “viscous”. A discussion of reasons that horses bite and how to train a horse not to bite is found on the Injury Prevention page. While horses can be trained, those of us who own or keep horses also have to “train” inform and educate the non-horse knowledgeable about the signs, body language associated with biting. To the informed, the concept of the average horse (or herd animal of any type) being vicious is outlandish. However for those with little or no experience with a grazing animal, anything with teeth may be threatening. The more generations distant from when farm animals were a part of everyone’s experience the greater the need for the horse community to be proactive in educational efforts for those who want to associate with horses.