Stable Vices & Bad Habits In Horses

Learn about horse and pony stable vices and bad habits, the difference between the two, how to identify them, why horses have them, why they are bad, and what to do about it.

Please note: This information is designed to help kids learn to identify the different vices and bad habits based on the information provided by the US Pony Club. It is not intended to be training advice or professional instruction.

STABLE VICES

What is a STABLE VICE? Why do horses have them?

A stable vice is an abnormal behavior by a horse or pony. Vices are considered unhealthy behaviors and are usually caused by boredom, unhappiness, or nervousness.

What kind of horses have stable vices?

Horses that are kept in small or confined spaces such as stalls or pens are more likely to have stable vices.

How to keep a horse from developing stable vices

Keep your horse happy and occupied with plenty of time outside in a pasture with other horses, ponies or even other animals such as donkeys or goats. Horses should have lots of time grazing and get plenty of exercise. When a horse is kept in a barn, pen or stall, you can provide him with horse toys to occupy him, and have a stall gate instead of a closed door so he can put his head out to see what is going on. Horses are herd animals and are happiest when they can see and be with other horses.

Example Stable Vices Explained

BAD HABITS

What is a BAD HABIT and why do horses have them?

Bad habits in horses are considered undesirable or unwanted behaviors.

What kind of horses have bad habits?

Any horse who has had mistakes made in their training can develop bad habits.

How to keep a horse from developing bad habits

Learn about the proper retraining techniques to manage and correct bad habits from a reputable trainer. The — USEF has a trainer database where you can search for riding instructors within the — USEF Safe Sports Directory. The results show instructors that have successfully completed a criminal background screening and/or the Safe Sport training for equestrian sports. Be sure to check out the horse trainer rankings in a Google search and ask any friends familiar with horses who they would recommend.

Examples of Bad Habits Explained

Types of Stable Vices

Click On the Vice Names Below to Learn More

Cribbing

What is it?

Cribbing is when a horse or pony grabs a solid object such as a fence or stall door with his teeth, arches his neck and swallows in a gulp of air.

Why is it bad?

Sucking in a lot of air can cause colic (severe stomach discomfort) and cribbing is destructive to property.

Why do horses do it?

Most people believe endorphins are released during this behavior. These endorphins give the horse a feeling of pleasure. Horse can become addicted to this good feeling and will keep doing it whenever they are bored. Some people believe digestive issues may also cause a horse to crib because cribbing produces extra saliva (spit) which can help with an upset stomach.

What to do about it

Cribbing is not a curable behavior, although you can help to stop a horse from cribbing with with a crib strap. A crib strap goes around a horse’s throat and keeps them from being able to suck in a big gulp of air. The strap should be taken off the horse for at least an hour a day in order to air out the neck.

Tail Rubbing

What is it?

When horses rub their tails and rumps back and forth against a wall or fence.

Why do horses do it?

Horses may rub their tails due to a dirty udder, sheath, or tail. They may also rub because they are shedding, have pinworms or ticks, or out of habit.

Why is it bad?

Tail rubbing will rub off the tail hair.

What to do about it

Tail rubbing is manageable with regular grooming, sheath/udder cleaning, and deworming. If a horse rubs it’s tail out of habit, an electric fence can discourage it.

Pawing

What is it?

Pawing is when a horse digs holes in stall floor or tips over buckets with a front foot.

Why do horses do it?

Horses may paw due to too much stall time. Boredom, too much time in a stall or pen, and anxiety about being fed may cause horses to paw. Pawing is mostly seen in young horses.

Why is it bad?

Pawing can create holes in the stall floor, wear down the hooves and even loosen a horse’s shoes.

What to do about it

Provide more pasture time and don’t use ground feeders (buckets on the ground). Rubber stall matts can prevent the horse from digging holes in the floor.

Weaving

What is it?

Weaving is when a horse sways from side to side over and over, swinging his head, and shifting from foot to foot.

Why do horses do it?

Horses may weave due to spending too much time confined in a stall or pen. It is mostly seen in nervous, stressed out, or high-strung horses. Boredom can also lead to weaving.

Why is it bad?

Weaving in horses can cause holes in the stall floor. It can also wear down the horse’s hooves and loosen their shoes.

What to do about it

Weaving is a manageable vice that can be cured by providing more pasture time with other horses. Also, installing a U shaped stall gate can help.

Stall Kicking

What is it?

Stall kicking is when a horse kicks the stall walls and doors with the hind hoofs.

Why do horses do it?

Horses may start to kick when they are in a stall too much of the time. They may kick the barn when they don’t like the neighboring horse. Kicking also may be an attention seeking activity. Horses may kick the stable walls and doors because they are anxious to be fed.

Why is it bad?

Stall kicking can not only casue damage to the stable, it can also cause injury to the horse’s hooves and legs.

What to do about it

Stall kicking is a manageable vice that can be helped by increasing the amount of exercise the horse gets and by changing the neighboring horses in the stable. Padding the stall walls can help to minimize the damage to the barn and the horse’s legs. You can discourage this behavior by not rewarding the horse with food when it kicks the stall.

Wood Chewing

What is it?

Horses chew on the wood of fences and barns, but do not suck in air like cribbing.

Why do horses do it?

Horse may chew wood for a number of reasons. They could be lacking roughage in their diets that helps them to digest their food. A vitamin or mineral deficiency can cause a horse to chew wood, as well as boredom. Teething in young horses is another reason why horses may chew on wood.

Why is it bad?

Chewing wood damages stalls and fences.

What to do about it

Chewing wood is a manageable problem. Increasing hay and exercise will help as well as more time outside in a pasture. You can paint wood with a bad tasting coating to discourage horses from chewing wood

What is the difference between a STABLE VICE and a BAD HABIT?

A stable vice is an ABNORMAL behavior in horses, and a bad habit is an UNDESIRABLE behavior in horses.

Bad Habits In Horses

Click On the Bad Habit Names Below to Learn More

Balking

What is it?

Balking is when a horse refuses to go forward and reacts negatively when the rider asks him to move forward.

Why do horses do it?

Horses may balk or refuse to go forward due to a rider’s heavy use of their hands on the reins, fear, stubbornness, or due to exhaustion.

Why is it bad?

Horses that balk can create dangerous situations for the rider, such as rearing, and can lead to injury to the horse.

What to do about it

Curable although some cases require professional help. Review forward work with in-hand training & longeing. Turn horse’s head to the left or right while driving him to move forward again without pulling back on the bit. Do not try to force a horse to go forward by pulling him.

Barn Sour / Herd Bound

What is it?

If a horse is barn sour or herd bound, he may balk, rear, swing around, and neigh loudly for his friends when he is asked to work or go away from the direction of his home. He may rush when heading back to the barn or toward his herd.

Why do horses do it?

When horses don’t want to be separated from the herd, the comfort of his barn, or his food.

Why is it bad?

It is distracting and rude.

What to do about it

Curable although some cases require professional help. Have a capable trainer that insists the horse leave the barn or herd, and then positively reinforces the horse’s good behavior.

Biting & Aggression

What is it?

When horses have a habit of biting people.

Why do horses do it?

Horse occassionaly may bite when they are groomed roughly, if their girth is too tight, or if they are being harassed by other horses or people.

Why is it bad?

Horses that bite can cause serious injuries.

What to do about it

If possible remove the cause of the biting behavior. If a horse attempts to bite, give him a short slap and say a loud NO!

Bolting

What is it?

Bolting is when a horse gallops off at a high speed.

Why do horses do it?

Horses may bolt due to fear, past abuse, a painful bit or poor fitting saddle.

Why is it bad?

Bolting can make the rider lose control of the horse, is very dangerous and can lead to serious injury.

What to do about it

Manageable with professional help, horses that bolt can be retrained. Check your tack to make sure it fits properly and avoid riding in large, open spaces. If a horse does bolt with you, pull him into a circle and spiral it smaller each time around so that he has to slow down.

Can't Catch

What is it?

Horses that can’t be caught avoid people with a halter and lead rope and often run off each time someone gets close to them.

Why do horses do it?

Horses may avoid being caught due to fear, resentment, disrespect, or it has become a bad habit.

Why is it bad?

It makes catching the horse difficult and time consuming.

What to do about it

Horses that avoid being caught can be cured of the habit with proper training. Remove the other horses from the pasture, provide treats to coax him over, and never punish a horse once it has been caught.

Can't Handle Feet

What is it?

When horses lean, sway, rear, jerk their foot away, kick, or strike when you try to handle their feet.

Why do horses do it?

Insufficient or improper training can lead a horse to have feet and hooves that are difficult to handle. Horse that haven’t learned to cooperate, balance on three legs, or become accustomed to farrier work can make them difficult to handle.

Why is it bad?

If you can’t handle the horse’s hooves and he reacts in a negative way, it can injure the people nearby. Proper hoof care is important to keeping a horse healthy and if you can’t handle his feet, it can lead to health problems and improper farrier care.

What to do about it

Curable but persistent cases require professional help. Thorough retraining with picking up the hoof is possible by practicing holding each hoof in a flexed & extended positions for several minutes while grooming, and rubbing the horse’s leg and around his hoof.

Halter Pulling

What is it?

Halter pulling can involve rearing or pulling back when tied, often until something breaks or horse falls down and/or hangs by his halter.

Why do horses do it?

Rushed or incorrect halter training can lead horses to become halter pullers, as well as using weak equipment or unsafe surroundings that allow the horse to get free by breaking something.

Why is it bad?

Horses can injure themselves or those around them when the pull back on their halter hard enough to break it. This can also lead to damaging equipment and the surroundings. Once a horse breaks free, they can injure themselves when they get loose if they bolt or panic.

What to do about it

Never tie a horse by the bridle or reins. Halter pulling can be a curable habit, but very dangerous. Some horse may not be curable even with professional help. If the horse pulls back, you can use stiff bristled broom on the rump or a wither rope with the help of a professional.

Head Shy

What is it?

When a horse is head shy, he moves his head away and out of reach during grooming, bridling, clipping, or vet work.

Why do horses do it?

Horses may be head shy due to rough handling or previous bad experiences. Pain in the ears or mouth may also cause a horse to be head shy.

Why is it bad?

Being head shy is a curable condition that can make grooming, tacking up, and having the horse checked by the vet difficult or impossible.

What to do about it

First eliminate medical reasons such as ear, tongue, lip or dental problems. Start from square one with handling the horse’s head gently and more often to build trust. After the horse allows you to touch it’s head, then encourage him to put his head down.

Jigging

What is it?

Jigging is a cross between a walk and a trot with short and tense steps.

Why do horses do it?

Anxiety, nervousness, a sore back, or misunderstanding of the rider’s cues can cause a horse to jig.

Why is it bad?

Jigging is a bad habit that is uncomfortable to the rider and a sign of problems with the horse.

What to do about it

Jigging is a curable and can be fixed by trying a few different things. First, having an experienced grown up check to make sure your tack fits the horse correctly. Make sure you are using your cues to the horse correctly and you are clearly asking for either a walk or a trot. Horses are very sensitive to tension so try to relax your body and be clear about what you are asking the horse to do.

Kicking

What is it?

Lashing out backwards or sideways with the hind legs.

Why do horses do it?

Horses may kick out as a reflex to having their legs touched, from fear of rough handling, or to get rid of a threat or annoyance.

Why is it bad?

Kicking can be very dangerous and can lead to serious injury.

What to do about it?

Some horses with the habit of kicking may be curable with professional help.

Rearing

What is it?

Rearing is when a horse stands on it’s hind legs when it is led or ridden, sometimes falling over backwards.

Why do horses do it?

Horses may rear due to fear, rough handling, or if he is afraid to go forward. Rearing is associated with balking or refusing to go forward.

Why is it bad?

Can be curable but is a very dangerous habit that might be impossible to fix even by professional.

What to do about it

Check to make sure the horse has no mouth or back problems. With the help of an adult, review going forward in-hand (walking next to the horse) with a whip to encourage the horse to move forward.

Shying

What is it?

Spooking or getting scared at real or imagined sights, sounds, smells, or events in the horses’ surroundings.

Why do horses do it?

Fear causes horses to shy, as well as poor vision, or it can become a playful bad habit.

Why is it bad?

Shying is a generally curable habit that can unseat the rider and scare other horses.

What to do about it

Keep the horse’s attention while guiding and controlling his movement.

Striking

What is it?

Striking is when a horse takes a swipe at a person with a front leg.

Why do horses do it?

Horses may strike out in reaction to clipping, the first use of a chain or a twitch, due to restraint of their head, or during dental work.

Why is it bad?

Curable behavior, but very dangerous, as a person’s body could be struck by a fast moving front hoof or leg.

What to do about it

Practice handling the horse’s head and body, including the mouth, nostrils, and ears to make him comfortable being touched.

Stumbling

What is it?

Just like when you stumble, horses can lose their balance or catch a toe on the ground and trip or fall.

Why do horses do it?

Horses may stumble due to weakness, lack of coordination, lack of conditioning (out of shape), laziness, poor shoeing, poor footing, or by horses ridden with too much of their weight on their front feet (on the forehand).

Why is it bad?

Stumbling is a curable habit that can cause the rider and/or horse to fall.

What to do about it

Have a farrier look at the horse’s hooves to make sure they are balanced and have break-over area of hoof checked. The break-over is the part of the hoof that is in contact with the ground just as the horse’s heel comes off the ground. Also, ride the horse with more weight on the hindquarters (collected) and keep the horse conditioned (in shape).

Tail Wringing

What is it?

Switching and/or rotating tail in an irritated or angry fashion.

Why do horses do it?

Horses may wring their tails due to a sore back from poor fitting tack, in reaction to a poorly balanced rider, injury, or rushed training.

Why is it bad?

Tail wringing may not be curable once it is established.

What to do about it

Make sure your saddle fits correctly and the rider has the guidance of a competent riding instructor. Massage and other therapies may help, as well as a proper warm-up & providing the horse with achievable training goals.

Play the Stable Vices Matching Game

Match the Vice Name With the Correct Image

Play the Bad Habits Drag & Drop Game

Drag the name of the horse bad habits onto the correct pictures

Check your answers below

Horse & Pony Vices & Bad Habits Quiz

Take the Horse & Pony Vices & Bad Habits Quiz

Welcome to the Stable Vices & Bad Habits Quiz! Enter your name and answer the questions below.

Name
What is the difference between a Stable Vice and a Bad Habit?
How can you prevent a horse from developing stable vices?
What kind of horses have bad habits?
What is cribbing?
What is the name the bad habit when a horse stands on it's hind legs?

Rearing pony illustration
Is wood chewing considered a stable vice or a bad habit?
What is pawing?Illustration of an horse pawing
What is the name of the bad habit when horses balk, rear, swing around, and neigh loudly for his herd when he is asked to work or go away from the direction of his home?

barn sour herd bound horse illustration

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