Weaving Horses

I spent some time today going through my old laptop to see if there are any old files that I should transfer over to my new computer. I ended up finding all of my old assignments from back when I studied Equine Business Management and Equine studies at the University of Guelph. (If you'd like to learn more about my online learning experience, you can click here.)

After scrolling through some of my papers, I thought that it might be worth sharing them with you. I did put quite a bit of time and research into some of these assignments, but I thought I would start with posting a simple fact sheet. I’ve kept the references in this post so that you can continue to research into weaving and other stereotypies if you like. It’s also only fair to acknowledge the places where I had found the information as they too have put in a lot of work into their studies.

So, let’s get into the paper!


Horses are used to wide open spaces where they graze and socialise. Since the domestication of the horse, they have been asked to live in conditions that are more convenient for humans. This animal that was once used to unlimited grazing time and fenceless fields is now kept in a small stall with scheduled feeding times. The horse has had to find ways to adapt to his non-instinctual environment.

Some horses adapt better to their routines than others. Some can find their confinement, scheduled meals, scheduled workouts and lack of socialisation difficult to handle. These horses will often develop different habits in order to relieve stress, kill time or to release some excess energy. These habits are commonly known as stable vices or stereotypies and are not a welcomed behaviour at the barn.

Stereotypies can be categorised in different groups such as oral, locomotor and self-mutilation (McDonnell, 2002). Weaving falls under the locomotor stereotypy category. The average percentage of horses who practice this behaviour is 3.25% (Sarrafchi, 2012).

Horse Hooves

Weaving often takes place facing a stall front, a wall or a fence. The horse will shift his weight from one forehand to the other. Often, he will follow the motion through his head and neck as well. This gesture looks almost as if the horse is swaying along to the music.

There could be many reasons why a horse might decide to make weaving a habit. Weaving can be used to help a horse cope with different circumstances. Some of the causes for developing this habit are listed below: Weaving can calm down an anxious or claustrophobic horse. For this reason, stressful environments can actually aggravate the problem (Merck Veterinary Manuals, 2014) Weaving will release a lot of built-up energy since the horse is unable to run it off Weaving can be used to combat boredom or loneliness Weaving can be a conditioned response. For example, if a horse is always given food in hopes to keep him occupied and prevent the weaving, he will quickly learn to weave for food (Sarrafchi, 2012). Weaving, along with being a bad habit, can have some negative physical side effects to a horse. Being a locomotor stereotypy, weaving can put strain on their ligaments and reduce their conditioning. “It is also believed, by some owners to be the cause of weight loss, uneven muscular development of the neck, and fatigue that may affect a horse’s performance” (Sarrafchi, 2012).

Along with these issues, weaving can also cause ringbone and knee problems. “They tend to get ringbone on the inside edge of cannon bones, and the toes of their shoes wear out sooner” (Strickland, 1997). If a horse does not wear shoes, this stable vice can cause their hooves to wear unevenly and can sometimes alter the natural growth of the hoof wall (Hill, Behavior, 2005).

The treatment solutions will differ depending on what the initial cause for the weaving was. For the horses who have too much energy, giving them more opportunities to exercise through rides or turnouts will help. For horses who are lonely, turning them out with other horses and being able to see them when they are stalled will reduce their feeling of isolation. For horses that are bored, putting toys in their stalls or placing their hay in a double hay net will help keep them occupied (Hill, Vices and Prevention, 2000).

Of course, there are physical treatments such as the v-shaped anti-weaving stall door fronts. However, most horses will then either choose to weave further back in their stalls or they will redirect their energy into another vice such as head tossing. Since preventing a horse from moving at all is impractical, placing a mirror in the stall can be a better way of redirecting a horse’s weaving energy into something that will keep him curious and occupied (Sarrafchi, 2012).

Weaving can be caused by many different things. A horse owner’s job is to identify what the root cause of the stereotypy is. From there, they can alter their horse’s routine to ensure that all of his needs are properly met.


References


I hope you found this fact sheet informative. I have some other papers that are more in depth that I’d also like to share. I’d love to know if you enjoy reading posts that are more informative and research based. Let me know in the comments.

Until next time, happy riding!