Why do horses weave?

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.

5 thoughts on “Why do horses weave?

  1. My stallion Storm was a bigtime weaver, and had been for years before I got him. It was painful to watch. When turned out, he was content to graze and flirt for a while. But he would always begin to run the fenceline sooner or later, and we’d have to take him back to the stall so he could hole up and start weaving again. Poor baby.

  2. Right now I have develope a two step program that solves the cribbing problem with out anti-cribbing devices. Next I will go into weaving, stall walking, and running up and down the fence line. I have already solved this problem in a few horses, but not like the cribbing problem which we have done in over 50 horses. The weaving along with the other problem will begin in July.
    For the cribbing problem go to http://www.crib-free.com

    Thanks Mike

  3. I had always heard the stereotypes about weaving but in 40 years of horses I had never come across one until I rescued a TB mare who had just turned 3 and came to me with a fractured cannon bone. The vet said 6 month’s stall rest- I very quickly realized that she could not handle stall rest, so I ended up sticking her in a field for 6 months after learning this is what the Amish do ( infact they turn theirs out in ploughed fields) . She healed much faster and since then my vet has changed his protocol. I have now had her for 3 years. Contrary to what you say about turn out and being able to touch another horse NOTHING helps this mare. It is lessened but as I write she is in a corner of her paddock weaving despite the fact that she has access to the run in where her field mate is who is also the Alpha mare and she has a pile of hay. I have learn’t to try to ignore her that is all I seem to be able to do. I have tried all the other methods you mention if anyone has ANYTHING that might help this mare I would love to know.

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