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Vices in Horses – Description, Causes and Treatment

Horses are some of the kindest, most generous and trainable animal partners you can find.  That’s why when a horse does something ”bad”, it’s usually due to poor management or training.  In order to deal with vices and bad habits, we need to understand what causes them.  THEN we can design our horse care and training to PREVENT them.

How to Think Like a Horse by Cherry HillHow to Think Like a Horse by Cherry Hill

A vice is an abnormal behavior that usually shows up in the barn or stable environment that results from confinement, improper management, or lack of exercise.  A vice can affect a horse’s usefulness, dependability, and health.  Examples are cribbing, weaving, and self-mutilation.

A bad habit is an undesirable behavior that occurs during training or handling and is usually a result of poor techniques and a lack of understanding of horse behavior.  Examples are rearing, halter pulling, striking and kicking. (See previous posts on Bad Habits)

Horse for Sale, How to Buy a Horse or Sell the One You Have by Cherry Hill

Horse for Sale, How to Buy a Horse or Sell the One You Have by Cherry Hill

Vices in Horses
This chart is an excerpt from

Horse For Sale ©  2006 Cherry Hill

VICE

DESCRIPTION

CAUSES

TREATMENT

Cribbing Colic, poor keeper (prefers mind drugs over food).
Anchoring of incisors on edge (post, stall ledge), arching neck, gulping air.
Theory: endorphins are released during the behavior; horse is addicted to endorphins which stimulate pleasure center of brain. Incurable.
Cribbing strap prevents contraction of neck muscles; also available with clamps, spikes, electric shock.
Possible future pharmacological treatment.
Surgery possibleMuzzle can be used in some situations.
Pawing Digs holes; tips over feeders & waterers; gets leg caught in fence; wears hooves away, loses shoes; most often young horses. Confinement, boredom, excess feed. Curable.
Provide exercise, diversion, don’t use ground feeders and waterers, use rubber mats, don’t reinforce by feeding.
Formal restraint lessons.
Self Mutilation Bite flanks, front legs, chest, scrotal area with squealing, pawing, and kicking out. Onset 2 yrs, primarily stallions.
Can be endorphin addiction similar to cribbing; can be triggered by confinement, lack of exercise, or sexual frustration.
Manageable/might be curable.
Geld non-breeding stallions; increase exercise, reduce confinement, stall companion or toy, neck cradle, muzzle, possible future pharmacological treatment
Stall Kicking Smashing stall walls & doors with hind hooves resulting in facilities damage and hoof and leg injuries. Confinement; doesn’t like neighbor; gets attention. Can be curable depending on how long-standing the habit.
Increase exercise, change neighbors, pad stall walls or hooves, use kicking chains or kicking shoe, don’t reinforce by feeding.
Tail Rubbing Rhythmically swaying the rear against a fence or stall wall. Initially dirty udder, sheath or tail; shedding HQ, pinworms, ticks & other external parasites or skin conditions. Later, just habit. Manageable with grooming, cleaning sheath and udder, deworming, other medical treatments. For chronic habit, use electric fence.
Weaving/Pacing Swaying back and forth often by stall door or pen gate/Repeatedly walking a path back and forth. Confinement, boredom, excess feed, high strung or stressed horse. Manageable.
Turn out where he can see other horses.
Use specially fitted stall door for weaver.
Wood Chewing Gnawing of wood fences, feeders, stall walls, up to three pounds of wood per day. Lack of course roughage in diet, boredom, teething. Manageable.
Increase roughage in diet.
Decrease palatability of wood.
Increase exercise & activity.
More time out on pasture.

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