Bad Habits You (and Your Horse) Can Live Without!
By Cindy Morehead, instructor, The University of Findlay Western Farm
As much as you may love your horse, you have to dispense some discipline to keep him from developing or continuing bad habits. Poor equine behavior can be more than just annoying; it can be dangerous in some cases. Some of the most common undesirable habits include:
(1) Biting – Yes, some horses just seem to be “born to bite.” Stallions tend to be nippy and some high-strung breeds may have more of a tendency to chomp on you than others. Sometimes, too much interaction can encourage biting. It’s best not to play “kissy face” with your horse as it just gives him more opportunity to become aggressive. Hand-fed treats can also inspire biting in some horses, so drop treats into your feed bucket instead.
Make sure you tie your horse when grooming, again to give him less opportunity to grab you! Horses have personalities just like people. Some “bullies” will charge at you, scraping their teeth on the front of the stall. You can break them of biting if you really get after them. Putting a chain on your halter and rattling it when your horse tries to bite is effective. Avoid slapping, as some horses see it as some kind of game.
(2) Cribbing – Cribbing is compulsive behavior that causes the horse to brace his front teeth on a hard object (like a board, fence or stall door) pull back; arch his neck and suck in air. There are a lot of theories on what causes cribbing, including boredom, stress, indigestion, and anxiety. It was thought that cribbing could contribute to colic, but now it seems that both cribbing and colic may come from the same origin, like poor nutrition or a stressful environment. We do know that cribbing occurs more often in horses kept in their stalls for long periods of time, so it’s always better to provide pasture time when possible. I also recommend more numerous feedings, so your horse has something to do in the middle of the day. Cribbing straps or muzzles can also work in extreme cases.
(3) Wood Chewing – Unlike cribbing, the horse doesn’t suck in air, but actually eats the wood of his stall, pasture fence, etc. Again, horses with plenty of exercise and pasture time don’t usually develop this habit. Owners of “chewers” can paint a special bitter-tasting liquid on the wood, or cover boards with metal.
(4) Pawing – We’re not sure any horse has dug his way to China, but some have been able to put pretty big holes in their stalls and pastures! Pawing, again, is usually the result of boredom and/or impatience. Rubber mats can help and some horse owners have even put motorcycle tires on surfaces to block the pawing behavior. If your horse starts pawing while waiting for his feed. . . feed him first so he doesn’t have time to show his impatience.
If your horse has one or more bad habits, or if you have managed to correct a few, let us know!