The equine industry has a poor opinion on horses with vices, also known as stereotypic behaviours. They are viewed as more difficult to manage and typically worth less money. There is also lots of advice and gadgets available to stop your horse have these vices. But a lot of us overlook that these are actually coping mechanisms to help a horse deal with stress.
What are vices?
Vices are behaviours a horse develops when they can’t cope with a situation and often develop due to poor management. For whatever the reason, the horse finds a situation, such as being stabled, stressful. They develop new behaviours to help them cope with the stress.
Common behaviours include:
- Box Walking
- Cribbing or Windsucking
Can you stop stable vices in horses?
It can be really hard to stop stable vices in horses once they have developed. The most effective way to stop a horse from showing these behaviours is to remove the trigger of the stress. For example, a horse who dislikes being stabled might stop weaving if they have more time in the field or is able to be stabled in a large barn with another horse instead. But even if you manage to identify and remove what is causing the horse stress, these behaviours can become a habit, which makes them harder to break.
The most effective way to stop stereotypical behaviour is to prevent them from developing. This can be done to looking at your horses management, this is especially important in young horses. Making sure you are meeting your horses fundamental needs; free movement, forage, companionship and social contact, is a great way to keep your horses stress levels low.
What about preventative gadgets?
Yes, there are gadgets available to stop horses with vices such as grills and collars. But when we go back to the fact that these behaviours stem from stress and are a coping mechanism for the stress, stopping horses from being able to do their coping mechanisms can actually make them more stressed. I once knew a horse who cribbed a lot. If they were in a stable where they had nothing to crib on, they would box walk and sometimes colic. A stressed horse isn’t a happy horse. A horse with vices can be a happier horse than one who can’t show their vices.
Are vices bad?
Vices can be annoying to deal with. They can damage fences and stables. They can be sad or distressing to watch. Horses with them tend to be more prone to things such as weight loss and colic, due to their higher stress levels. But the behaviour isn’t necessarily bad. Horses who display these behaviours are thought to be quick learners and more trainable than other horses. So they could actually be a sign of a good horse who might not be in the right environment.
Should you buy a horse with a vice?
If the vice doesn’t bother you, there is no reason you shouldn’t buy a horse with a vice. Having vices quite often lowers the value of the horse, so you could potentially get a better horse for your money if they have a vice. But you might need to give them more time to settle into their new routine and you might need to think about their management more carefully than another horse.
Last Updated on 20/01/2023