Horses who crib-bite, weave and so on are often frowned upon in the equestrian world. But do some behaviours have greater effects on health than others? Professor Debra Archer FRCVS investigates
Many owners want to know how to stop cribbing and other undesirable equine behaviours such as wind-sucking, box-walking, weaving and other traits typically described as stable vices. But as these stereotypic behaviours develop to help some individuals cope with a life where they cannot forage, move around or interact with other horses as nature has designed them to do, is preventing a horse from expressing the behaviours that help it cope the best action to take?
Why it shouldn’t be described as a vice
A “vice” is a behaviour, habit or other negative trait that a person has. But animals don’t have that level of thinking; they aren’t doing these behaviours deliberately.
One study estimated that around 2.7 million horses worldwide display some form of stereotypic behaviour. These horses don’t need punishment, just a better understanding of why they are doing this and, ideally, methods for preventing these behaviours from developing in the first place.
Stereotypic behaviours include crib-biting, wind-sucking, weaving and box-walking. These are common, developing in around one-fifth to one-third of all horses. Their cause is complex and considered to be a combination of genetics and management.
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