Dear Pat, Linda, and/or Parelli Pros,
I am writing in ask a question about a horse that bites. She has only bitten during feeding time (maybe once while I was mounted she tried to bite my foot) but it can be quite a nasty bite during the feeding incidents. She also makes ugly faces as you pass by her when she is eating and she is defensive about food towards other horses (but not all of the time). The time I'd say it is worse is if I give them food in their buckets. I don't typically feed grain but will give alfalfa pellets and stuff like that so to her, it may as well be grain. When I first got her (two years ago), she used to also kick during feeding time. Initially, I haltered her during feeding time and every time she would make an ugly face, kick or act nasty, I'd back her, pause, then ask her forward again and allowed to eat. I repeated this exercise many times and eventually stopped as she seemed much better. She no longer kicked, bit, nor did she make an ugly face all of the time.
She is back to biting and I mean she will reach out and grab you (particularly if you have things in your hands/arms). I can walk with grain in my hands and she will follow me and not be nasty (this is when I am walking through with chicken feed). I've been bitten twice in the last several months and it hurt quite badly when I am either feeding her or getting ready to. Although I know I am not to take it personally, it is hard to as I am trying to connect with her and we seem to on many levels but there is still this disrespect thing going on. She has however, accepted my leadership in other areas (usually) but I have to say that this is a constant challenge balancing our leadership where I am on top. She can be a challenge and I like that. The horse I refer to is Lola and you have her horsenality report on file.
I've unfortunately found myself chasing her out of the barn when this happens (our set-up is that the horses can come and go as they please from the rear section of the barn), I've found myself throwing the buckets at her (that were in my arms when she nailed me), and even whacking her on the butt with the carrot stick in retaliation. I know this must be terribly wrong and an emotional response on my part and it makes me very upset and I because I am trying really hard to totally connect with this mare, I love my horses, but it seems to me, a partner wouldn't bite you like this. Just yesterday we had a lovely session and I trimmed her feet with no issues (in the past, she'd be a total jerk). I've looked into her history and all accounts show that her previous owner was a real carrot person and I can see where she'd perhaps be able to walk all over her. I was told by a Parelli instructor and other endorsed person that she was glad to hear I had this mare and that I'd do well with her and for her, that we should be a good match. But right now, I feel like I am failing somehow and that my response is not the sign of a good horsewoman, and I need your help, please. Would you have any other suggestions? Should I just go back to the exercises? Am I missing something?
Just a follow-up. I went to feed tonight. My mare Lola was a perfect, respectful angel, no ugly faces, light responses when asked to move her feet, she wanted to be with me, all was really good. I guess I did something right.
Update: (5/3/12) Parelli posted this article on biting, "Horse Biting Problems -a Horse Training Article by Pat Parelli." I thought I'd share it here should you want to read it.