Weaving is mostly just an annoying habit, but many people wonder if the repetitive action will cause damage. As far as I’ve been able to tell, the jury is out on this. Some people report that the action puts excess stress on their leg joints that can lead to ring bone and knee problems or even founder. Other “experts” say that there’s no evidence. My take? Unless you have a horse that weaves continuously for hours at a time I wouldn’t sweat it.
So, how can you reduce the behavior once it’s been established? Cribbing is a behavior that develops later than other stereotypic behaviors so to a certain extent prevention is the key.
Weaving seems to be caused when horses are deprived of social contact — horses that can see, and even more importantly, touch other horses are far less likely to start to weave.
People try lots of things to make their horses stop weaving. However, many of the tactics either don’t work or can cause harm by increasing the horse’s level of frustration.
- Don’t put “weaving bars” up in the stall to discourage the horse from weaving
- Don’t hang an object in the stall for the horse to crash into.
- Don’t shock the horse with an electronic collar.
Instead, you can try some techniques to help reduce your horse’s stress and anxiety.
- If your horse needs to be stalled, try to put him near another horse so that they can see each other and, if possible touch noses. Stalls with bars in between the stalls are ideal. Research on weaving has shown that when nose to nose contact is allowed, weaving almost completely disappears.
- Make sure your horse has other horses near him or, even a companion animal. Some people find that goats work quite well.
- Maximize turn out, especially if it’s in a herd environment. If your horse can live out 24/7 with shelter, that often helps tremendously.
- Give your stalled horse things to keep him busy — hay, toys, likits, etc.
- Put up a stall mirror. Research done by scientists at the Lincolnshire School of Agriculture in England did a study on weaving behavior of stalled horses. They placed a shatterproof mirror in some stalls. Within 24 hours weaving had either completely stopped or had been significantly reduced. The horses in the study spent about 25% of their time facing the mirrors and a normal percentage of time eating and looking out their stall door.
With Freedom, I believe that his weaving may have been rooted in the fact that racehorses are rarely alone. They are stalled together, trained together and race together. When he was transitioned from being a race horse he had few equine social skills and was hugely anxious about being on his own.
Several years of living with 24/7 turnout and in a herd environment has reduced his weaving significantly. He now chooses to stand in his stall during parts of the day and as long as he’s not shut in, he doesn’t weave. For a long time he would weave if left alone in the pasture or when his buddy was being worked in the field. Or he’d weave in his stall while waiting for his meal.
It’s taken a few years but even this behavior has mostly stopped. I will say that even now if I know he’s going to be left alone — say his two pasture mates are being ridden off property — I will give him some ACE to help him through their departure. ACE has anti anxiety properties and it really seems to do the trick for him. By the time it wears off he’s calmed himself enough so that he no longer weaves.
So there is hope. With proper management, it seems like weaving is not inevitable. And I didn’t punish him at all.