Many times horses that are stalled will develop stable vices. The vices develop from boredom because of lack of exercise, being isolated, excess energy, hunger and it can also be a nutritional imbalance. Horses are grazing animals and therefore are meant to be out in search of food all day.
These vices can be very frustrating and if not taken care of they can lead to health issues such as weight loss, colic, ulcers and more. They can also cause nervousness, anxiety, injuries, hoof damage and lameness.
Some of these behaviors are reinforced at feeding time. For example, a horse that paws or kicks the stall will usually get fed first so they stop that particular behavior. Doing this will inadvertently reinforce the behavior.
Aggressive Behavior: Biting, charging or pinning of the ears and making threats with their head movements. Horses that bite will usually reach out of the stall to bite at those passing by. A biting horse is dangerous to all who pass by the stall whether it be human or another horse. Some will attempt to bite the person entering the stall.
Chewing Wood: This vice can lead to cribbing. When horses crib they grab a solid object with their teeth then, they arch their neck and suck in air. Horses can mess up their teeth by doing this and it can also lead too colic.
Pacing or Circling: Walking around in a circle which can cause weight loss, abnormal hoof wear, lameness and damage to the flooring.
Weaving: This is when a horse sways back and forth with their head and forequarters. It can cause uneven hoof wear, weight loss, is stressful on their legs and in some cases can cause lameness.
Kicking: Some horses will start kicking the walls which can cause serious damage to themselves or the barn. This is one of those vices that is easily picked up by other horses.
Bolting Feed: If they eat their food to fast it can cause the horse to choke and can also cause problems with colic.
Pawing: This can cause uneven hoof wear. Horses that paw can dig a hole fast and cause damage to the stall floor.
Other signs of boredom include destruction of buckets, feed tubs, blankets, dumping water buckets or nodding their head up and down.
If you notice any of these vices try one of the following: increase the exercise, slow feeder haynet, cut back on grain, place a toy in their stall (jolly ball, hang a ball or empty milk jug), longer turnout time or give them a companion like a goat.
Recent studies have shown that installing stall mirrors in with the horse it significantly reduced weaving and other loco-motor vices. If you think it is a nutritional imbalance consult with an equine nutritionists.