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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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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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