Weaving is a stereotypical behavior like cribbing. Although it is usually considered a “vice” it’s a behavior that horses don’t choose — its another obsessive compulsive behavior — but for which they are often punished. Just like some humans who have OCD behaviors, some horses are prone to stereotypies. Although researchers have not found a link to specific breeds, according to Katherine Houpt, VMD, PhD, Diplomate ACVB, Cornell University, there is a genetic predisposition to show stereotypic behavior and if you look at a horse’s relatives you can get a good indication of whether you horse will develop that habit.
One thing that is clear cribbing, weaving and stall walking are not seen among horses that are never stalled, so in a very real way, it is a problem created by the way we keep our horses.
I didn’t know much about weaving until Freedom came into my life. The first night I had him, I put him in a stall with a dutch door. He could see two other horses but not touch one. The next morning he had rubbed a bloody spot on his neck from weaving over the door. That was four years ago and it was the last night that he stayed in a stall.
Weaving is a profoundly irritating spectacle to watch. When a horse weaves it sways from side to side, shifting its weight from one front leg to the other, sometimes lifting its hooves off the ground. Horses also often swing their head and neck as they sway. They go into an almost trance like state and it’s tempting to smack them to make them stop.
But don’t do that. It’s not their fault and forcing them to stop by tying them, putting up bars, hanging objects from the ceiling to disrupt the weaving or shocking them with a vice collar does not address the underlying issues that cause weaving. In addition, by stopping one behavior you can sometimes cause another stereotypic behavior to start or, the horse will resume its behavior with a vengeance once the restriction is removed.
So why do horses weave? There are plenty of misconceptions about it.
- Horses do not weave because they are bored.
- Horses do not learn or copy this behavior from other horse.
- Horses do not do this to get your attention.
However, factors that predispose horses to weaving include:
- A genetic predisposition to weaving.
- Horses that are stalled for significant hours (horses with more turn out are less likely to weave).
- Horses that are have limited visual, physical and social contact with other horses.
- Horses with a light build, and
- Older horses.
Tune in tomorrow to find out how to reduce weaving behavior in a horse.