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Help!  I have a wonderful 5 yr old QH mare that started stall kicking before feeding time and now pins her ears and bites at the stall wall while eating her grain or hay.  She is destroying the stall bit by bit.  We tried kicking chains to no avail.  Now we are using a horseshoe around her heel  and it seems to be working. However, she is still bodyslamming into the wall and pinning and biting the wall while eating.  We have no idea why she is doing this or what is causing her to be so nervous.  We purchased her in May and this didn’t begin until mid July, while we were away on vacation.  She has been treated for a capped hock numerous times and I don’t want this to get worse.  I had my trainer take her for a week and the kicking stopped.  Now that she is back in our barn it has begun again.  I have also talked with my farrier.  I need help as we love her dearly and don’t want her lame.  Unfortunately, we are stuck using our neighborhood barn and can’t really change her schedule.
She goes out at 7:30 am after feeding, to her paddock.  we bring her in at dinnertime and she stays in her stall at night. She is ridden by my 10 year old daughter and myself.  She gets 2 days off a week as be both take a lesson as well.  I would appreciate any guidance you could give.  Sincerely, Kim

Dear Kim,

Behavior such as you describe can have a variety of causes. Some are physical factors which you should discuss with your veterinarian. Others could be more psychological which can be modified with management and training. Observation and figuring out the cause is the first step.

Physical causes could include hormones and eating discomfort.

Mares can be “nervous” as you say, but usually only during certain times of their estrous cycle, so if this happens all the time year round, then hormones are probably not part of the cause.

If a horse is uncomfortable when eating, anywhere along the digestive tract from the teeth to the esophagus to the stomach to the intestines, the horse might exhibit odd body movements.

The most likely psychological explanation would be that it is an exhibition of “pecking order” behavior. At your “neighborhood” barn, if there is a horse in the next stall, your mare could be reacting to that horse’s presence. When eating, she might exhibit aggressive behavior on the stall wall with biting and body slamming to communicate to her next door neighbor – stay away, this feed is mine.

When at the trainer’s the behavior might have disappeared because there was no horse in the next stall or the horse next door was not a threat.

When working on changing a horse’s behavior, always start with the obvious things first:

Check to be sure the feed ration is appropriate

Make sure the horse is receiving adequate exercise and turnout time

Make sure the horse has no health issues such as dental problems, intestinal discomfort and the like.

Change the horse’s companions and neighbors to see if that is changes the behavior.


Best of luck and let me know what you observe and determine!

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Hi Cherry,

My old guys (Teddy is 22 and Brighty is “not yet 25” according to my vet) are getting up there in years and I want to be sure I’m doing everything I can to keep them feeling good as long as possible. Any general tips?

Briana

Hello Briana,

You’ve got a couple oldies but goodies ! Well here is some general information about older horses and some guidelines for their care. Let me know if you have more specific questions.

Cherry

Senior Horse Care

©  2011 Cherry Hill

Time flies and soon that good horse is a little gray around the muzzle. Even if your horse is over 20, you still can continue using and enjoying him or her. You just need to give some special attention to his care.

Value of a Seasoned Senior

Many folks say old horses make good teachers. Old is not necessarily synonymous with good. But if a senior horse had thorough training and a wide range of experience, he can be a valuable mentor. Seasoned seniors are usually calm and stable. They’ve been there and done that…and then some. There’s nothing like an old timer to take a kid for her first lope or to give confidence to a novice adult rider.

Seniors are valuable role models for young horses too. A good pony horse makes the tag-along yearling obedient and confident. When trailering, a senior can exude “What’s the big deal?” and soon the colt in the next stall relaxes and starts munching. On the trail, an unflappable veteran shows the way past rock monsters and through creeks. And for just plain osmosis, there’s nothing better than having a good old horse around to show junior the ropes. It’s just too bad our good horses can’t last forever, but at least today, they are lasting longer.

Many of today’s horses get high quality care and, like humans, they are living to ripe old ages. In the past a horse in its late teens was approaching the end of his life but now the average lifespan is the mid-twenties with many ponies and Arabians in their thirties.

Signs of Aging

A 20-year-old horse is the approximate equivalent of a 60-year-old person but when and how a horse ages is extremely variable. Some senior horses are raring to go while others prefer to vegetate. Horses can reproduce later in life than humans can. Healthy mares kept on a regular breeding program can foal well into their twenties and semen can be viable in stallions as old as 30.

Seniors often grow thicker, longer winter coats and might hold onto them past spring. Just as we gray around the temples at varying ages and degrees, some horses gray around the muzzle, lower jaw and eye sockets. Other cosmetic changes include hollow depressions above the eyes, a hanging lower lip and loss of skin and muscle tone. Common problems of aging are arthritis, colic, heaves, laminitis, lameness, general stiffness, poor digestion, decreased kidney function, and an overall lack of energy.

When an older horse starts slowing down, you can call it lazy, laid-back or just plain exhausted – but the fact is, time does take its toll. Fortunately you can increase a senior’s energy level and prevent many ailments through proper management and exercise.

Shelter

Provide the veteran with comfortable accommodations. On our place, the Luxury Senior Suite is a 12′ x 50′ south facing pen with a 32-foot long wrap around wind wall. The barn roof extends over 1/3 of the pen and half of the covered area is rubber-matted for feeding. It’s an ideal combination of indoor/outdoor living which suits most horses to a T. The pen is adjacent to an indoor stall for bitter cold weather and it’s ten steps away from a 10-acre turnout pasture.

In my estimation, life in a stall takes its toll on any horse, but especially a senior. The small space and lack of regular exercise just spells STIFFNESS! If a senior horse must live indoors, he needs regular exercise. In addition, dust and ammonia in the barn must be eliminated. Dusty bedding, moldy feed, dust raised from aisle sweepers and other airborne debris can contribute to the respiratory disorder heaves (COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). Ammonia fumes, which are generated from decomposing manure, urine and bedding, are caustic to the respiratory tract of both horses and humans. Keep stalls clean and be sure the barn is well ventilated.

Many horses are happiest living on pasture. For free-minded old timers, choose a pasture that has enough room to roam but not so much lush grazing that it leads to an unhealthy weight gain. No matter where a senior lives, provide a soft place for him to lie down for at least a portion of the day.

As horses get older, they have less tolerance for temperature extremes so your horsekeeping practices might need to be re-evaluated year round. For protection from winter wind and snow, an in-and-out shed is ideal. But oddly, many horses choose to stand out in a blizzard so you may need to provide a stall or storm blanket. A waterproof-breathable winter blanket with long sides, tail flap, and neck protection can function as a mobile horse house and keep your senior toasty.

During the summer, provide shade, ventilation and fly protection. A roof strategically located where it takes advantage of natural breezes is ideal. Add a PVC mesh fly sheet and a pasture horse will have UV and fly protection. Large barn fans can be used to cool stalled horses and chase flies.

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Hi Cherry,

I have 8 year old Appaloosa mare which I owned for 4 years. She is a willing, easy going mare but a little on the spooky side though. I have just moved her from the farm she has lived on since birth (paid to board her there) to my place. I also have my friend’s horse stabled with her who was also from the same farm and was stalled beside her.

My problem is she is kicking her stall. I’m at a lost at the cause. I thought the cause is out of frustration but not sure. She did kick her stall some at the farm too but not at this degree. I’m afraid she is going to hurt herself if I don’t figure out the cause. I can watch her go right into it. She will pin her ears back and tuck in her chin, back up to the stall wall then kick repeatedly. It can progressive get worse if left on her own vice until she’s satisifed.

I’ve had to do repairs to her stall I know. I can prevent her from kicking if I catch her at the right moment. It takes several corrections but she will stop except I can’t be there everytime. If she allowed do it, she will kick up to 5ft to 6ft up the stall wall.

I thought the cause was from frustration at being stalled at night but she does it when she allow to run in/out of her stall too. I haven’t been feeding her very much grain about 1/2lb a day but has free access to hay. I haven’t been working her too much to allow her to settle in. She has a acre paddock that she and the other horse to run in which she out in it at least 1/2 the day.

Have any suggestions what I can do?

KC

Dear KC,

A behavior like this is a stall vice since it is occurs in the horse’s living environment irrespective of the presence of people or handling. It is usually a response to management or confinement. With all such vices, you need to eliminate all potential causes some of which you have already mentioned and it sounds like you are aware of, but for sake of completeness, here is a checklist:

Be sure the horse is getting ample exercise in the form of purposeful work.

Be sure the horse is getting ample turnout time alone and with other horses if compatible and safe.

Make sure the horse’s ration is appropriate for the level of work.

Check to see if there is an issue with neighboring horses, that is, if the kicking occurs when a particular horse is nearby.

Since this is a mare, observe the occurrence of stall kicking in relation to her estrous cycle.

Once you’ve evaluated the above and taken necessary measures, I’d suggest getting the mare back into her normal work schedule.

I’ve posted an article on stall kicking on my website that might give you some more insight and ideas, but most of these repetitive behaviors disappear once a horse is given enough exercise and something else to occupy them.

Best of luck. I’d like to hear how things progress with your mare and I welcome comments and suggestions from readers – just click on Leave a Comment at the end of this post.

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Dear Cherry,


What is the best kind of flooring to have in a stall? We are building a new horse barn and want to know about the stall floor to make it as easy to keep clean as possible. The stalls will be 10ft. by 16ft. the stalls will be used to feed and hold a horse for foaling.

Thanks for your time.
Debbie

Hi Debbie,
I prefer interlocking rubber mats over decomposed granite or another well-draining, well packed base. I bed with shavings normally but use bright oat straw for foaling.
Cherry Hill

Stablekeeping, A Visual Guide to Safe and Healthy Horsekeeping by Cherry Hill


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