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What happens when a horse bites you?

Being bitten by a horse can be a scary and potentially dangerous experience. Horses have very large, strong teeth that can easily break skin and cause injury. While not all horse bites result in serious harm, they do require first aid and medical evaluation to reduce the risk of complications. Understanding what to expect and how to respond can help minimize the impacts if you are ever bitten by a horse.

Why do horses bite?

Horses may bite for a variety of reasons:

  • Fear or self-defense – If a horse feels threatened, they may bite as a fearful reaction or as self-defense.
  • Irritation or annoyance – Biting can be a response to irritation, such as flies, repeated handling of sensitive areas, or even boredom.
  • Herd behavior – Horses may bite other horses in the herd to establish dominance and rank.
  • Maternal protection – Broodmares may become protective and bite to defend their foals.
  • Food aggression – Some horses bite to protect food sources or show dominance over food.
  • Playfulness – Young horses especially may bite in the context of play.
  • Medical causes – Dental problems, pain, or neurological issues could trigger a horse to bite.

Knowing the potential causes of biting can help prevent and properly handle bite incidents when they occur. Paying attention to the horse’s body language, avoiding irritation, and addressing any underlying medical issues can reduce biting behavior.

Signs a horse may bite

Horses typically give clear physical warnings before resorting to biting. Being able to recognize these signs can help you avoid a bite or react appropriately:

  • Pinning ears back – This demonstrates irritation, anxiety, or aggression.
  • Tossing or shaking head – This often indicates the horse is thinking about biting.
  • Baring teeth – Obvious threatening body language precedes biting.
  • Snaking head – The horse stretches its head and neck out to prepare to bite.
  • Nipping – A nip or snap without making full contact often precedes a bite.
  • Invasion of space – A horse that crowds your space and gets “in your face” may bite.
  • Rapid swinging of head – Quick head motions toward you signal an imminent bite.

Paying close attention and reacting quickly to these types of behaviors can help you prevent a bite. If a horse is displaying aggravated body language, avoid the situation that is triggering them, back away to a safe distance, and speak calmly to help them relax.

What does it feel like to be bitten by a horse?

The feeling of a horse bite depends on factors like where you are bitten, the force of the bite, and whether the skin is broken. Here are some sensations you may experience:

  • Sharp pressure – Their incisor and molar teeth applying force can feel extremely pinpointed.
  • Intense crushing pain – A strong bite with molars can painfully crush tissue and bone.
  • Cutting or piercing – Incisors and canine teeth can lacerate and puncture skin.
  • Aching throb – Even without broken skin, bite impact can leave a throbbing ache.
  • Instant bruising – Broken capillaries under the skin often cause rapid bruises.
  • Numbness – Powerful bites can temporarily numb the area.
  • Bleeding – Breaks in the skin cause anything from light bleeding to heavy blood flow.
  • Torn flesh – Bites can rip flesh deeply, even removing chunks.

The amount of pain and damage varies based on factors like bite location, horse age (younger have sharper teeth that cut more easily), and intensity of the bite. Even playful nips can hurt, while full aggressive bites can be severely damaging and traumatic.

Potential complications and injuries

Horse bites can potentially lead to a variety of medical complications that need emergency care:

  • Infection – Bacteria from a horse’s mouth enters cuts and punctures, causing redness, swelling, oozing, fever.
  • Abscess – Infections under the skin resulting in painful pocket of pus.
  • Necrotizing fasciitis – Rare “flesh eating” infection destroying deep tissues.
  • Tetanus – Bacteria entering a wound can cause rigid paralysis.
  • Bone fractures – Bites with extreme pressure can break facial bones, fingers, etc.
  • Tendon/ligament damage – Bites on the hand or arm may damage these tissues.
  • Nerve injury – Deep bites can damage nerves, causing numbness or impaired function.
  • Permanent scars – Lacerations may heal but leave lasting scar tissue.
  • Disfigurement – In severe cases, bites can remove parts or disfigure features.

Other possible issues are blood loss from major vascular injuries, loss of function or mobility from joint/tendon damage, and psychological trauma. Seeking prompt medical help reduces the likelihood and severity of complications.

First aid for horse bites

If you or someone else suffers a horse bite, quick first aid can minimize harms:

  • Get to safety – Move out of biting range to avoid further injury.
  • Control bleeding – Apply direct pressure with a clean cloth to stop blood flow.
  • Wash the wound – Use soap and water to flush dirt from injuries.
  • Apply antibiotic ointment – This helps prevent bacterial infection.
  • Cover with sterile bandage – Wrap bite sites with a clean dressing.
  • Immobilize injured area – Splint any fractures to prevent further damage.
  • Take over-the-counter pain medication – Pain relief helps make the victim more comfortable.
  • Give tetanus shot if needed – Tetanus boosters prevent this disease when wounds are dirty.

First aid can help until you receive full medical assessment and care. Serious bites require emergency medical services.

Seeking medical treatment

It is crucial to promptly seek medical attention after any horse bite to check for complications and get treatment. Here’s what to expect with medical care:

  • Cleaning/debridement – Doctors thoroughly wash the wound to remove debris and damaged tissue.
  • Anesthetic – Local numbing medication helps anesthetize wound cleaning and repair.
  • Antibiotics – Prescribed antibiotics fight wound infection and prevent tetanus.
  • Stitches – Deep punctures or lacerations often need suturing closed.
  • Imaging – X-rays or CT scans check for fractures or retained foreign bodies.
  • Surgery – Some complex wounds require surgery for proper treatment.
  • Medications – Doctors often prescribe stronger pain and antibiotic pills.
  • Physical therapy – This helps regain mobility and function after tendon/nerve damage.

Follow all doctor’s discharge instructions closely, including completing prescribed antibiotics and pain medications as directed. Prompt medical help gives you the best chance of avoiding lasting impacts from a horse bite.

Preventing horse bites

While horse bites cannot always be avoided, the following tips can help lower your risk:

  • Approach horses calmly – Move deliberately without quick motions to avoid startling them.
  • Watch the horse’s body language – Note signs they may bite so you can react.
  • Avoid standing right in front – Stand near the shoulder so you can see their head.
  • Pet horses gently – Avoid touching sensitive spots like the face until you know the horse well.
  • Do not hand feed – Feeding by hand can encourage nipping behavior.
  • Allow personal space – step back rather than crowding if they seem irritated.
  • Correct biting gently – You can flick their nose with a finger to discourage bites without aggression.
  • Use fences as barriers – Feed or interact across a fence to create a physical barrier if needed.

Knowing the horse, moving calmly, allowing space, correcting gently, and using fences as buffers can all make bites less likely during interactions.


Being bitten by a horse can be a painful and dangerous experience resulting in bleeding, tissue trauma, broken bones, infection, and other complications. While serious bites require emergency medical care, quick first aid on site can help stabilize the injury, control bleeding, and reduce infection risk until treatment is obtained. Understanding horse body language, acting calmly around them, and taking proper precautions can help prevent bite incidents. If bitten, remain as calm as possible, administer first aid, and seek medical help right away for the best outcome. With proper care and handling, the risk of being bitten by these large animals can be substantially reduced.