Abnormal behaviors in horses refer to habits called Stereotypies. Stereotypies are repetitive movements often caused by unmet needs.
These movements have no function and no purpose. While they are generally perceived as harmless, stereotypies could eventually lead to health problems and destruction of property.
What are the symptoms of stereotypies in horses and what can you do to address this behavioral problem?
- Cribbing. Also known as crib-biting, this obsessive-compulsive behavior is when a horse bites its fence or any part of its stall, then pulling it back using its upper teeth while creating a belching sound. They also swallow air during cribbing, making them prone to having colic.
- Weaving. Weaving is a movement in which a horse sways or rocks side to side using its two front feet while switching his weight between one front leg and the other.
- Wood chewing. This is partly due to inadequate fiber in their diet, as most horses are fed with only high protein foods and very few fiber-rich foods like grass and hay. Boredom can also be a factor.
- Stall Kicking. Stall kicking usually happens in anticipation of feeding time, but it can also happen at any given time. The horse repeatedly kicks or pushes any surface of its stall as an expression of excitement or anxiety.
- Box Walking. A horse that is box walking will walk around the area of its stable despite its narrow space. This is often triggered by sudden changes such as a new horse keeper, moving to a new stable, or noise coming from unfamiliar people.
- Tail and Mane Chewing. The main cause of this behavior is boredom. When horses have nothing else to do in their stable they will turn on each other’s tails.
- Lack of Turnout. Horses need freedom from time to time. Being confined in a stall for a long period of time could trigger loneliness, boredom, and frustration. They need to feel less of a prisoner and more of a normal and loved creature.
- Genetics. Horses whose parents exhibited signs of stereotypies are more predisposed to it. Although stereotypies are not inborn, it can be triggered by unpleasant circumstances and poor environment.
- Inconsistent Feeding Time. Just like other domesticated animals, horses tend to anticipate when they are going to eat. If there is inconsistency with the time they are fed, it may result in prolonged excitement and heightened emotions, which could also trigger stereotypies.
- Lack of socialization. Horses need to freely interact with fellow horses. Lack of social interaction could lead to improper behavior and give way to bad habits.
Ideally, prevention is the most effective way of dealing with stereotypies.
If a bad habit is beginning to manifest, it is important to act upon it immediately by identifying the cause and making some necessary changes.
A balanced diet, proper exercise, and regular socialization will make a huge difference. Make sure that all of your horse’s needs are met to ensure proper mental and physical health.