Stable Vices

crib bitingBoredom and Stable Vices

Stereotypies,Abnormal behaviour or Stress- Coping Mechanisms

Horses and ponies suffer from boredom and loneliness when stabled for any length of time. The boredom can lead to stable vices developing such as weaving. These stable vices are a displacement behaviour and can be highly addictive; not to surrounding horses as was feared in the past but to the horse or pony itself.

This is known as stereotypical behaviour, that is behaviour which is repeated by the horse or pony and becomes stereotyped upon it.


Often sheer boredom can be at the root of these problems but actual pain as in indigestion and general anxiety or  mineral imbalance can also be causes.  Most often seen in high performance horses on a very high level of hard feed it is observed that this regime can be the prime cause.  The level of work and lack of time at peace in the paddock  can give rise to the symptoms

Instead of calling these aberrant activities stable vices we should consider them clever coping strategies. (If we were imprisoned in a small room we would soon resort to rocking, hair twisting or thumb sucking) Kindness, an understanding of their basic need (ready grazing/ plentiful hay, clean water, freedom and company of their own kind) these make for happy horses. We can compensate for some unnatural conditions (stabling and rugging).

some recommend Aromatherapy

others stable mirrors

Common equine stall vices include weaving, cribbing, wind sucking, head bobbing, pawing and self mutilation. Horses are not unique in the animal kingdom at performing repetitive and "purposeless" behaviours. Stereotypies have been reported in most zoo animals, all of our domestic livestock, and companion animals. Without exception, stereotypies are seen when animals are placed in restrictive environments, deprived of social contact or on restricted diets. As a result, stereotypies are generally considered indicators of poor welfare.

Studies from Ontario and the United Kingdom estimate that between 15 and 30% of horses show these behaviours. The expression of any behaviour is dependent on a combination of genetics and environmental influences. There are individual differences in how a horse will react to a given husbandry system. Consequently, horses under identical conditions will show different types of stereotypies or not express them at all. Likewise, some individual horses will not develop stereotypies even though a close relative may have, especially if they are kept under different conditions.

How do stereotypies develop? One theory is that animals are motivated to perform a naturally occurring behaviour and if that behaviour is prevented or thwarted, it results in a chronic state of arousal. Once a critical level is reached, the animal performs an abnormal behaviour, such as a stable vice, in an attempt to decrease that arousal. Another theory is that most sequences of behaviour include two distinct phases: an appetitive phase, where the animal is motivated to perform a behaviour and a consummatory phase where the animal completes the behaviour to reduce the initial drive (ie. courtship is an appetitive behaviour terminated by mating). If the animal is unable to reach the second phase, it returns to the original sequence and begins again. Eventually the initial behavioural act becomes a fixed pattern which is refined until it barely resembles a normal behaviour. from

From Horse and Hound

Tricks of the trade: stable vices
Carolyn Henderson

17 December, 2004

Horses spend most of their days in the stable during winter, so Horse & Hound finds out how to prevent stereotypic behaviour

At this time of year, many horses spend longer periods stabled, so stereotypic behaviour such as weaving and crib biting becomes more prevalent. Researchers now say that traditional deterrents such as anti-weave grilles and cribbing collars can cause more harm than they prevent, so many owners look for alternatives.

Turning horses out as much as possible is recommended, and larger paddocks may be more beneficial. Professor Daniel Mills, a vet and specialist in animal behaviour at the University of Lincoln, says that reduced exercise may be linked to weaving and box walking, and that horses kept in paddocks of less than 1.5 hectares do not show the full range of equine social behaviour.

Ad lib forage is often recommended for stabled horses. Prof Mills also suggests putting "feeding stations" around the box instead of feeding in one place every day. Food balls encourage the horse to spend more time foraging and stable mirrors can help when it is not possible to provide grilles, allowing contact between horses in adjacent stables.

"Mirrors seem to be more effective with box walking than weaving," says Dr Mills.

Experiments at the university have also shown that large posters of horses can also have a calming effect.

Although we don't know what causes crib biting, there may be a link to acids in the stomach, and antacid supplements are now available. Tolerance may also pay dividends: Cheryl Gilson, who describes her crib biting Thoroughbred as "a typical neurotic ex-flat racehorse," found a sympathetic livery yard owner who did not insist on isolating her horse or stipulating that he wore a collar.

"Cutting a section from an old tyre and fastening it across the door prevents damage to it and his teeth," she says. "When he isn't physically prevented from cribbing, he actually does it less."

Weavers and box walkers can put strain on their limbs.

"Put an opening at the back of the stable to give the horse a wider view and use rubber matting," advises Jane Doughty, who buys horses out of training to reschool and sell.

Rubber matting on the floor and coconut matting on the door are Jane's tips for horses that paw the ground and bang the door.

"If banging and scraping doesn't make a noise, they'll often stop," she finds.

Kelly Watts bought a six-year-old warmblood as a potential show jumper and was told that he weaved badly. She decided that because he did the job she wanted she thought she could put up with what he did in his spare time. However, she found the answer by accident.

"We bought a few chickens and let them wander round the yard in the daytime," she says. "He seems to enjoy watching them scratching about and now only weaves when he sees you bringing his food."

The Equine

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