Stable vices of horses: Weaving
Animals can suffer from several different kinds of stereotypes.
Horses are especially effected by horse cribbing and weaving.
“Body and mind need to be in balance”
Humans and animals work on the same way: if there are psychic problems the organism is also much more delicate to diseases. The only difference is that horses are not able to communicate their problems but instead develop stereotypes. These are certain patterns of behavior which are continuously repeated and do not show any special function. Horses show these behaviors in form of cribbing, weaving or headshaking. The psyche of the horse is dissatisfied and the animal is trying to find a way how to express this to his environment.
What is weaving?
The behavioral disorder weaving mostly can be observed in the box. The horse sways his front and head from his one to the other front leg repetitively. In extreme cases one can even observe that the hind legs make the same swaying movement just in the contrary direction.
Origins of weaving and other stereotypes
All stereotypes are an expression of a psychic dissatisfaction. This indisposition mostly has the same origin: a not species-appropriate husbandry. The horse is forced to live without the things he actually needs. This means:
- No pasture
- Isolation from or not enough contact with other horses
- Lack of movement
- Boredom, mental underload
- Too short periods of feeding.
The horse clearly is dissatisfied with his situation and tries to show this frustration to his environment. Also other animals which do not live under species-appropriate husbandry show similar behaviors. Therefore often it has been observed how elephants, camels or bears weave in their cage or otherwise always run in a circle. If young horses start to wave there can also be further origins for the stereotypes. Young horses can feel stressed and overchallenged if they get separated from their mother or if they start with the first training programs. Indeed every horse once in his life has to challenge this situation. But if the general husbandry is bad this makes it even more difficult for the young soul of the horse to handle the situation. This often ends in behavioral disorders and stereotypes.
Causes of weaving
Generally all forms of stereotypes do not cause any serious problems for the health of the horse. However, we know about horses which weaved for more than twenty years and finally suffered from osteoarthritis or other diseases which attack the bones and joints.
Therapy and possible cure for weaving
Stereotypes are behavioral disorders and the experience showed us that once a horse began with weaving, cribbing or headshaking it is really difficult to make him stop again. Nevertheless there are chances and with creative ideas your horse possible becomes better entertained and stops with the compulsive movements. The crucial point and first step is that the horse owner needs to understand the psychic dissatisfaction of the horse. If you want to change this in most cases you need to change the conditions of the husbandry. The horse needs:
- Enough and free movement (paddock boxes, enough time on the pasture)
- Contact to other horses (also when he is in the box)
- Integration into a herd
- Constantly enough fodder
- Caring affection.
Horse owners should never forget that every horse has a soul and there can only be an effective and harmonious riding and training when this soul is in balance. The worst thing is to behave in a counterproductive way. Horse cribbing, weaving, headshaking- these behaviors always are an expression of interior dissatisfaction. In many cases horses feel a simple lack of care. If horse owners react with screaming the horse gets what it wanted: that someone pays attention to him. However the horse does not get any real help and there will not be any amelioration of his behavior. For this reason horse owners need to avoid such a comportment. Instead horses need a species-appropriate husbandry. In some cases a consequent ignorance of the behavioral disorder can also lead to a success (because does not get the wished attention). However, experience showed that in some cases even a change into the best living conditions could not stop weaving, cribbing or headshaking.
Ideas for some variation in the horses’ life
- A cribbing horse got a rabbit into his box as a new roommate. The relationship between the horse and the rabbit became really unique and in the end for the horse it became much more important to take care of the small animal than to use the time with senseless cribbing. A great, cute and successful idea!
- The right fodder has a great importance in the life of a horse. The animal should always have enough during the whole day so that he can continuously fill his stomach and at the same time he always has something to do. If you want to challenge your horse a bit more you can use haynets instead of simply throwing the hay into the box. It is much more difficult and takes much more time to pull out small portions out of the net. Additionally you can fix a licking stone in the box.
Generally we do not recommend to use any kind of medicine. This is easy to explain: the origin of the stereotypical movements is not a dysfunction of the organism but simply a wrong husbandry. Human behavior and not medicine can change these exterior factors. If you administer antidepressants to your horse you will hinder the possibility that your horse recovers his interior balance.
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