Stable Vices

This isn’t a blog about whether to buy or not to buy a horse with a known vice. However, we will arm you with important information to enable you make an informed decision about the horse.

Dealing with a horse with a vice can be frustrating for many but to some people it’s not and shouldn’t be a deal breaker. There are many ways to manage the various vices but knowledge and understanding is key. Many say, “what they do in their time is up to them”! Below we will discuss vices, their causes, treatment and prognosis.

All weather paddocks can be a life saver for fields and for owners of horses with vices

Crib biting or cribbing

Description – Is when a horse uses a stationary object like a stable door or fence post to press his teeth into, arches his neck and pulls back on said object while sucking in air. The horse will make a grunting sound. This can be disruptive in a communal/livery yard as fences and doors can be damaged.

Windsucking

Description – Similar to cribbing but windsuckers (name explains it) don’t need a stationary object to conduct this vice.

wood chewing and Crib biting

Cause – Often associated with stress and stressful horses. If you uncharacteristically see your horse doing it contact your vet immediately. The main worry with this is that the horse could have ulcers or gastrointestinal problems, it would be worth talking to your vet regarding scoping for ulcers and gastric ulcers.  There have been cases where foals when weaned, eating high concentrations of feed and low rations of fibre that develop this vice.

Treatment – The treatment would depend on whether ulcers were found via the scope. Increase turnout and ensure the horse has access to an ad-lib high fibre source. Minimise stress, whether with companion horses or calmers. Gut maintenance supplements, probiotics during times of stress.

Prognosis– Very difficult to stop this vice once is becomes a habit. Endorphins are released during the act of windsucking or crib biting (once they gasp in air) making it stimulate the pleasure centre of the brain. There are straps and collars available that prevent the horse from stretching the neck muscles to crib. Cribbox and crib halt may provide a short-term fix to stop the horse cribbing on objects. If this habit is caught early and pro-active steps are made to lessen the cause it is possible to stop the habit before it becomes a vice. 

Result – Horses may suffer from weight loss, poor appetite, excessive neck muscle. Crib bitters usually have very worm top teeth which can become a problem later in life. There is little scientific evidence to say horses learn this off one another but if one develops the habit due to the causes above, it’s possible another one will too. There is no direct link between the vice and colic, however, there is a correlation between gastric ulcers, gastrointestinal problems and colic. Some livery yards will not take on a horse with such a vice. Horses with this vice tend to be more affordable. Do your research before purchasing, seek veterinary advice.

An alternative option to stabelling

Wood chewing

Description – not to be confused with crib biting, wood chewers do not draw in air or arch their neck it is simply a horse who has a habit of crewing wood to occupy their time.

Cause – Boredom, lack of roughage. Its worth talking to a vet or nutritionist to identify if your horse has a mineral deficiency.


Treatment – Treatment depends on the cause. Ensure your horse has enough fibre and roughage. It would be worth offering a mineral or salt lick. Boredom breaker balls and toys may help especially when the horse is stabled. If the horse is stabled you can use a metal strip on the horse door to prevent the wood chewing or use crib halt/stop products. Increase turnout and if wood chewing with been turned out consider using electric tape.

Prognosis – A benign vice, easy to manage. Management is key to controlling this habit. It’s vital to identify the cause in order to stop the habit. Problems can occur when horses ingest splinters which can lead to a blockage in the oesophagus or cause colic, owners also have to mindful of splinters becoming embedded in the horses teeth or gums.

Results – Damage to the stables, fencing or trees. Wear on the horses teeth if the habit isn’t managed properly.

Weaving

Description – Swaying or repeatedly moving balance from left fore to right foreleg, shifting it’s weight be moving its head and neck from side to side. Generally at the at the door.

Box walking

Description – Walking a track, generally the same track and commonly around the perimeter of the stable. Or pacing from the front to the back of the stable.

Cause – Stabled for long periods of time, stress, lack of social contact, boredom or limited turnout.

Treatment – Avoid leaving horses stabled for long periods, increase turnout. Increase social contact with human or horse (even a goat!). Ensure your horse is mentally stimulated. Anti-weaving bars in the stable may help. A companion stable may lessen but the problem but another issue you’ll face is when the companion leaves. Stable/acrylic mirrors.

Prognosis – Difficult to stop this behaviour but as with the above vice’s management/treatment is key. Horses who have stable vices tend to stress more so this can in turn lead to other issues if the cause isn’t addressed.

Result – Horses can cause harm to themselves during the act of weaving, this ranges from banging their head or legs to having uneven muscle tone particularly if the horse box walks and only walks one way. Stress on limbs. Dirty stables, wearing of shoes. Some livery yards will not take on a horse with such a vice. Horses with this vice tend to be more affordable. Do your research before purchasing, seek veterinary/farrier advice.

Pawing

Description – Horses paw using either front limb, most commonly at the stable door or feed pot. Horses can bang the stable door or just hit the ground with their hoof.

Kicking/Wall kicking

Description – Kicking stable walls or horse box/trailer calls with hind legs.

Cause – Impatience, boredom, unsettledness, common with horses stabled for long periods, lack of social interaction or in some cases pain.

Treatment – If the horse bangs the stable door you can use a rope/chain or stable guard. Avoid leaving horses stabled for long periods, increase turnout. Increase social contact with human or horse (even a goat!). Ensure your horse is mentally stimulated. Rubber mats help reduce the concussion on the forelimb and reduce wear of the hoof/shoe. With wall kicking you can add rubber to walls to protect the horse.

Prognosis – Difficult to stop this behaviour but as with the above vice’s management/treatment is key, avoid the cause. Horses who have stable vices tend to stress more so this can in turn lead to other issues.

Result – Can lead to box hooves if mismanaged, can cause wear to hooves and shoes. Can rub or cause harm to the horses knees if banging off a door. Wearing and damage to trailer, stable floor or wall. Stress on limbs as well as hooves. Frustrating for horse owner!

Yard companions can eliminate loneliness and boredom

Separation Anxiety

Description – Horses get unnaturally and uncharastically stressed, anxious and are hard to reason with. The above vices may be present in cases of separation anxiety.

Cause – When bonded horses that are seperated, unable to touch or see each other resulting in the horse getting highly stressed, anxious, nervous, irrational and in some cases dangerous. Can happen between a horse and a human.

Treatment – The easiest may to manage separation anxiety is to avoid separating the bonded animals, keeping horses in groups of at least three is often much more manageable, as you can take one out without leaving one alone. Keep the horses mind busy and focused, if you are separating to exercise don’t allow the horse get over stressed before commencing exercise. Remain and calm and reassuring. Frequency will help, separating for 10 minutes everyday instead of 1 hour once a month. Many calmers available on the market.

Prognosis – Management is key, horses vary in their degree of anxiety. Some don’t allow the horse in a herd to avoid the anxiety when and if seperated. This is a mild vice as long as you have secure stabling or fencing.

Result – With time, patience and understanding from the owner this vice shouldn’t be an issue. However, at shows you may need a stable rather than separating and leaving a horse in a horse box. 

“knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice”

– Anton Chekhov

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