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Preventing Stable Vices

“Vice” is the term used to describe stereotypical, undesirable behaviour displayed by horses. These behaviours are mostly seen when horses are stabled, but can also be seen when the horse is in the field. Typically vices are caused by boredom, stress, hunger, excess energy or isolation, and once started can become an unbreakable habit.

Commonly seen vices include:

Weaving Box walking Wood chewing Crib-biting Wind-sucking Kicking

It’s better to prevent stable vices before they start than discourage them once established. They are prevented by managing the horse as naturally as possible and satisfying its basic needs of eating little and often, socialising with other horses and having the freedom to move around at will. By satisfying these basic needs you are lowering the chance of the horse becoming bored or stressed.

Many horses – particularly competition horses or those with dietary restrictions – have to be carefully managed to keep them fit and healthy, but their welfare and basic needs should never be overlooked. If horses cannot be turned out together, they should still be able to see and, if possible, touch each other to ensure they are able to interact enough. As herd animals, horses have evolved to live in a group, so isolation is likely to cause stress leading to vices, lack of rest and stomach ulcers or other stress-induced conditions. Similarly, when stabled horses should still be able to see and hear other horses. A stable mirror might be a good option for calming horses that aren’t able to see others easily.

The stable should be of an adequate size for the horse – it should be able to comfortably turn around, lie down and have plenty of head room. Good ventilation is important, and the more doors and windows the stable has the less confined the horse will feel. It’s worth considering the location of the stable too; some horses prefer busier areas of the yard with lots going on while others settle best where it’s quiet.

Horses cope best when they have a set daily routine. Any changes to a horse’s routine should be made gradually – for example, when a horse has been on 24/7 turnout and it now needs to be stabled overnight it should be stabled at first for shorter periods, with time spent inside steadily increased. If horses know that they are fed, turned out or brought in at the same time every day this tends to decrease their stress levels.

Having toys in the stable is a great way of preventing boredom and keeping the horse entertained. There are many stable toys on the market – treat balls and licks both tend to keep horses busy for a long time. You can also make toys at home that will keep the horse busy – stringing up swedes and hiding carrots in hay nets are simple ways to keep the horse busy.


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