Horses biting or chewing on tack is a common issue, and can be very frustrating and costly. We are going to discuss just a couple of reasons that cause this and what can be done about it.
Many times a young horse will develop this tendency when they have a preference for checking out their world through the sense of taste. Horses also get a feel of things with their nose and lips and this can lead to the “lipping” and then nipping. Too often this behavior is labelled as “cute” when the horse is young, but if it is not addressed at an early stage it can turn into a real monster of a habit later on!
Most often, horses find the end of the lead rope that they’re tied with and this is what we find a few minutes later, covered in green slobber. As with any habit, the sooner you can address it, the easier it will be to break. It can be especially destructive if they turn the chompers to their blanket/rug, or your bridle reins or saddle. A horse, for whom this activity has become a habit, where you can’t even walk away for a few minutes without them starting to munch something, can take some time and consistency in re-training.
Be aware that it’s possible for a horse to develop this habit out of nervousness or a mental avoidance of your work with him. There could be aspects of your approach to horsemanship that may have inadvertently helped cause this behavior.
One way to help them break this practice, is to apply a few drops of Cayenne pepper oil to the object, in the area they habitually chew (note: for leather items, test in a hidden area to avoid staining; note 2: don’t rub your eyes after tying your horse up!). Most often, it will not take long at all for them to discover that they don’t really like the taste.
If it is a habit that seems to die hard, you can try getting an old length of rope that you don’t need any more and use a variety of distasteful flavors (vinegar, lemon, chili powder, specially-formulated deterrent available in some horse retail stores, etc) to alter their persuasion. You can place the rope in their stall or pasture where they can get accustomed to the idea of not chewing on rope!
Make sure you correct the destructive behavior whenever you observe it and are in a position to address it quickly (i.e. while grooming or saddling up, etc) and consistently. Setting up a scenario for training, while you are tacking up, can help provide consistency in breaking them of the habit. Watch them as you are grooming and brushing and use a specific verbal cue when you catch them reaching for the lead rope. Then when you’re at a distance, not able to correct it directly, at least you have a verbal cue that they’re familiar with.
You can give them a ball or toy in the pasture that they are allowed to destroy and this can help expend some of the playful energy that this personality often is known for. They can eventually start to distinguish between the items they are allowed to chew on and the rest that they are not!
Remember, a horse seeks its own comfort. Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult!