|A stall vice is an annoying habit that a horse can develop if he spends too much time in his stall and becomes bored. These habits can range from annoying to deadly, and are often a source of great frustration for owners.
Vices are normally caused by one of four factors:
If the vice is caused by boredom, the simplest solution is to give your horse something to entertain himself with. This could be any of a number of toys (you can find these at your local tack store), a rope or towel tied near his stall where he can play with it, or even hay for him to chew on throughout the day.
- Digging/Pawing: The horse paws at the floor, often in anticipation of food or turn out. This can create large holes in the stall floor as well as serious leg damage.
- Tail Rubbing: The horse rubs his tail on the stall. This can initially be caused by parasites but can be continued by habit.
- Stall Walking: The horse shifts back and forth or paces around the stall; this is often caused by nervousness or boredom.
- Stall Kicking: Horse kicks the stall, often because of lack of exercise or boredom. This can be serious because it can cause damage to both horse and barn.
If the vice is caused by aggression, the first and foremost thing to do is try to discover and immediately eliminate the source of the aggression. Horses can become aggressive if they feel threatened, if another horse is introduced into the barn setting, or if he is the dominant horse and he feels that his place in the herd is in jeopardy. Identifying the cause may take some work, but an aggressive horse can be very dangerous if not dealt with promptly.
- Biting: Horse nips at people while being handled or as they pass.
- Charging: The horse lunges at or attacks passer-bys and handlers. This is especially dangerous if there are small children and visitors in the barn.
- Crowding: The horse sqeezes the handler against the wall.
- Striking: The horse attacks handler with one or both front feet.
A vice caused by lack of proper nutrition can be cured by analysing the horse's eating and exercise habits and determining what nutrients are missing. (If you need help with this, talk to your vet.) Add suppliments, or, if needed, change your feed. Also, check to make sure that salt or mineral blocks are availiable to your horse. Proper nutrition is vital to your horse's well being.
- Cribbing: The horse bites on the wood on the side or door of a stall, flexes, and pulls back, swallowing air. Cribbing can be caused by stress or pain, as it produces endorphins which cause a temporary feeling of euphoria. Cribbing can be very serious as it can lead to weight loss, tooth wear, poor performance, gas colic, extreme barn damage to the stall, and, in rare cases, death.
- Coprophagy or Dirt Eating: The horse eats his manure or dirt in the stall. This is normal in very young foals (2-5 weeks), but can cause problems in older horses. It can be caused by a lack of protein and minerals or parasites.
- Food Bolting: Horse eats his food too fast. This is caused when there is competition for food or when the horse is underfed. It decreases absorbtion of nutrients and can be a cause of choking.
- Wood Chewing: Differs from cribbing in that the horse's intent is to chew the wood, not gain a release of endorphins. It is often caused by boredom and lack of nutrients; the effects are similar to those of cribbing: stall damage, choking, colic, and tooth wear.
Vices caused by fear are among the more difficult to cure because the indicate a lack of trust. These vices are, more often than not, caused by improper handling or abuse while the horse was young. These can be cured by training techniques such as round penning, or repetitive exercises.
- Head tossing: The horse tosses his head out of reach during grooming, haltering, or bridling. This is more an annoyance than a danger, but it can back dealing with the horse impossible if he is very large.
- Avoidance: The horse attempts to avoid the handler and/or an object brought into the stall (clippers, grooming tools, tack). This is very serious and is evidence that the horse may have been abused.
As with all equine-related problems, be sure to do thorough research before attempting to retrain your horse. Be patient, and if your horse's behavior does not improve, discuss the problem with your vet or a competent trainer.