Monday, 9 March 2015

Vices or Stereotypies in Horses

So last week I wrote a blog 'Do horses get bored?' where I mentioned 'vices', 'bad habits' and 'stereotypies' .  These behaviours seem to be more about the horse being stressed - although we (the horse community) have historically said these develop because a horse is bored!

So what is a vice?
Whatever you like to call them, they are annoying or damaging habits/behaviours that horses develop, often when they are stabled for long periods, isolated from their friends or even given an inappropriate diet.  

The horse swings his head and neck (and sometimes body) from side to side.  

  Difficult to see in a picture - but have a look on You Tube!

Weaving can cause stress or strain to a horse's legs and joints.
There are weaving bars available which prevent a horse from being able to do this whilst their head is over the door (some will just do it inside instead).

It is better to get the horse out of the stressful situation, turn out as much as possible, regular exercise and ad-lib hay if in the stable.

These are similar.  In wind-sucking the horse arches his neck and swallows air making a loud grunting noise.  Whilst in crib-biting the horse does the same but grabs hold of something with his teeth eg: stable door, fence post etc.

This behaviour can cause the upper teeth to become unnaturally worn, can cause indigestion and can make it difficult to keep the weight on a horse. Also, it can exacerbate gastric ulcers.

There are special collars available which are supposed to prevent horses from wind-sucking and/or crib-biting.  Basil is a crib-biter and the collar made no difference!  As I mentioned last week I believe this developed when he was a racehorse and was stabled much of the time with limited hay or food.  

The best treatment is to keep them turned out somewhere with no available places to grab hold of (use temporary electric fence to keep them away from posts!)  Creosote woodwork, regular exercise and ad-lib hay when in the stable so that they are trickle feeding as in nature.

Box walking
As the name suggest the horse walks around the stable, he may be distressed too.  This can put strain and stress on a horses limbs as they are continually going around in circles.

Placing  grills between the stables so that horses can see each other can help.  If this is not possible then mirrors can have the same effect.   Turnout as much as possible, regular exercise and trying to keep the horse occupied with hay or toys!

Again - it is in the name - the horse tears his rugs by biting and tearing at them with his teeth.  Although, the horse will probably do little damage to himself the cost of replacing rugs can be huge!

Bibs are available to ensure the horse can't actually get his teeth close to the rug, these still allow the horse to eat.  However, allowing the horse to trickle feed with plenty of hay or preferably turnout is a better solution.

 Door/wall kicking or pawing
This often develops around feed time!  The horses start pawing as they would in the field and when this is followed by food they quickly learn that when they paw or kick the door food follows - so they continue to do it! 

The horse can cause injury to the legs or joints (especially knees) which can be difficult to treat.  Some horses seem to enjoy the noise so lining the doors and/or walls with rubber can reduce the problem.  Otherwise turnout and ad lib hay again!

This is when a horse bites its own chest, flanks or legs and is more often seen in stallions.  Obviously the horse can do considerable damage to themselves.  Reducing confinement by increasing turnout and exercise.

Wood chewing
Horses chew at wood surfaces, breaking off pieces of wood.  This may not be a 'vice' as it may be satisfying a horses need to supplement their diet but it may be a learned behaviour from a mother or friend.

It can cause excessive tooth wear and occasionally splinters in the gums!  Turnout with access to different types of roughage, creosote wood surfaces or use electric fencing instead.

You will notice that all of the treatments I have mentioned above involve getting the horse back to nature.  You need to satisfy their natural instincts to eat little and often, socialise and roam.  If you can't feed ad lib hay eg: because they may get fat, then try using a haylage net which has smaller holes or putting one haynet inside another.  You could also use one of the trickle feeding toys available to keep the horse occupied for longer.

Some horses seem to develop a vice in certain situations and others don't - each horse is an individual and it has been suggested that genetics probably play a part.  Some horses are predisposed to develop vices if triggered.  This trigger would usually be stress.  Keeping a horse in an unnatural environment where they are unable to exhibit their natural behaviours is likely to trigger a 'bad habit'.  Have a look back at my  Horse Psychology and Horse Ancestry blogs to find out more about a horses natural environment!

Have you seen last weeks vlog 'What's In My First Aid Kit' ?  Look out on Wednesday for my next 'How to...'   
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Until next time!

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