‘Vices’ are abnormal behaviours. Movement vices are any abnormal behaviors that involve movement, including box (or stall) walking, kicking and weaving. Why does the horse do it? All horses have some basic needs/instincts. These include moving around freely and being able to interact fully with other horses. Wild horses can cover 20 miles (32 km) a day and almost always have herd mates nearby. If these needs to move and interact with each other are not met, the horse becomes frustrated and stressed. Studies have shown that the time spent in a stable (stall) is correlated with an increased risk of abnormal behavior.
Investigate to find the cause because each horse is different. Generally vices related to movement (weaving, box walking, kicking) are caused by a lack of space. Watch the horse. Where does he/she perform the behaviour? In the field, in the stable (stall)? When does he/she perform it and what happens at, before, or after that time? Is it when other horses are taken away or brought in?
Once you have found the cause (or thought you have), try gradually giving the horse more pasture and/or herd time. A healthy herd consists of males and females of varying ages, and has at least 7 members. However, simply having two or three herd mates to interact with is infinitely better than none.
Turn the horse out as much as possible with other horses. You can use pasture, a school (arena), a large barn or even a fenced yard if it’s safe.
Give ad-lib forage in small-mesh hay nets and put it in more than one place to imitate foraging. The small mesh requires the horse work harder to get the hay out, which increases the amount of time they spend eating without increasing the amount of food, which is good for the gut and for horses that finish hay quickly and then get bored. (It also cuts down on hay waste and stall cleaning time because the horse doesn’t have the opportunity to spread it around and step on it while eating). Give different types of forage for variation and hide or hang fruits and vegetables in the stable.
If the horse must be stabled, make sure the horse has sight of other horses and preferably have a grill so the horse can touch noses with their neighbours. If you know the horses get on well you can stable them together in a suitable, safe barn.
If the horse continues his/her abnormal behaviour, it may have turned into a habit. If you think this has happened, try creating a more pleasant environment for the horse. Pay attention to the things he/she likes, and what he/she does not like. Add interesting things to their space if they must be kept separate for any length of time, such as brushes to rub against on the wall, interactive toys to play with, and/or classical music playing in the background.
Try an edible distraction. Putting water, hay, a salt block or anything else the horse would like to eat at the place he normally performs the vice may or may not help.
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