Abnormal Behaviors in Horses

Abnormal Behaviors in Horses

Whinny’s Wisdoms

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Hi, everyone! It’s Whinny, your favorite field mouse blogger. Today let’s talk about what makes horses happy. Horses are such majestic creatures. They are so big and strong, yet so gentle and graceful. They can run faster than any animal I know, and they can jump over obstacles like they are nothing. They are also very smart and loyal, and they have a special bond with humans. But do you know what makes horses happy? How do they live in the wild and in captivity? What do they eat and how do they play? What are some of the problems they face and how can we help them?

Abnormal Behaviors in Horses

First of all, let’s talk about what abnormal behaviors are. They are behaviors that horses do not normally do in the wild or in natural conditions. They are usually caused by stress, frustration, boredom, or pain. They can also affect the health and welfare of horses.

Some examples of abnormal behaviors are:

Stereotypies: These are repetitive and meaningless movements that horses do over and over again, such as biting on wood or metal, weaving (swaying from side to side), stall-walking, head-shaking, or wind-sucking (sucking air into the mouth, also called cribbing).

Redirected behaviors: These are behaviors that horses do to other objects or animals instead of their normal targets, such as wood-chewing, self-mutilation, aggression, or pica (eating dirt or other non-food items).

Feeding disorders: These are behaviors that affect the way horses eat or drink, such as coprophagy (eating feces), polydipsia (drinking too much water), or anorexia (not eating enough food).

These behaviors are not good for horses. They can cause physical injuries, dental problems, digestive issues, infections, weight loss, or even death. They can also make horses unhappy, anxious, depressed, or aggressive.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

What Causes Abnormal Behaviors in Horses?

Now that you know what abnormal behaviors are, let me tell you what causes them. According to my research, there are many factors that can influence the development and prevalence of abnormal behaviors in horses. Some of them are:

Type of housing: This is how horses are kept in captivity. Some horses live in stables with small individual stalls, where they have limited space and no contact with other horses. Other horses live in pastures or paddocks with larger areas and more social interactions.

Diet: This is what horses eat and drink. Some horses have access to fresh grass and hay all day long, which is good for their digestion and teeth. Other horses get fed concentrated meals rich in grains and sugars twice or three times a day, which can cause stomach ulcers and colic.

Social interactions: This is how horses communicate and relate with other horses and humans. Some horses have a lot of friends and family members that they can groom and play with. Other horses are isolated or separated from their herd mates or companions.

Exercise: This is how much physical activity horses get. Some horses have plenty of opportunities to run, jump, explore, or compete. Other horses have little or no exercise at all.

Climatic conditions: This is how the weather affects horses. Some horses live in regions with mild temperatures and seasons. Other horses live in areas with extreme heat or cold, rain or snow, wind or drought.

Biological factors: This is how the genes and hormones affect horses. Some horses are born with a higher or lower tendency to develop abnormal behaviors. Other horses are influenced by their age, sex, breed, or reproductive status.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

How can we Prevent or Treat Abnormal Behaviors in Horses?

Let’s talk about how we can prevent or treat abnormal behaviors in horses. My research pointed to some ways that we can improve the welfare and happiness of horses. Some of them are:

Providing more space and freedom: Giving horses more room to move around and express their natural behaviors. For example, we can use larger stalls, paddocks, or pastures, or allow horses to roam freely in natural environments.

Offering more roughage: Giving horses more fiber to keep their digestive system healthy and prevent boredom. For example, we can use hay nets, slow feeders, or always provide fresh grass and hay.

Increasing social contact: This means allowing horses to interact with other horses and humans in a positive way. For example, we can use group housing, mixed-sex herds, or companion animals, or provide regular grooming, training, or play sessions. This one is often missing from the lives of show horses.

Enhancing exercise and enrichment: Providing horses with more physical and mental stimulation to keep them fit and happy. For example, we can use different types of riding, driving, or groundwork exercises, or provide toys, puzzles, or music.

Adjusting climatic conditions: Protect horses from harsh weather conditions and providing them with comfort and safety. For example, we can use shelters, blankets, fans, or heaters, or avoid exposing horses to extreme temperatures or humidity.

Considering biological factors: Taking into account the individual characteristics and needs of each horse. For example, we can use genetic testing, hormonal therapy, or behavioral therapy, or avoid breeding or using horses that are prone to abnormal behaviors.

Wow! That was a lot of information! I hope you learned something new and interesting about horses and their behaviors. I know I did! Horses are amazing animals that deserve our respect and care. They have complex emotions and needs that we should try to understand and fulfill. They also have unique personalities and preferences that we should appreciate and respect.

If we want to have happy and healthy horses, we need to provide them with a suitable environment, a balanced diet, a social life, an active lifestyle, a comfortable climate, and a personalized approach. If you want help designing a program that meets all these needs, talk to my amazing docs. They will factor in your horse, your farm, and your horse’s lifestyle to maximize happiness.

That’s it for now! Until next week,


P.S. There are a ton of great videos over on my YouTube Channel. Have you checked them out? Between the videos and the podcast the humans around here do, Straight from the Horse Doctor’s Mouth (which is the biggest horse podcast in the world, if I may toot their horn!) you can get a free graduate degree in horse care just by watching and listening to my docs while you ride or clean stalls. So make sure you’re taking advantage of all these resources!

Whinny’s Wisdoms is the official blog of Whinny the Clinic Mouse at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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More Adventures of the Horse Doctor's Husband
Ground Manners Matter!

Ground Manners Matter!

Tuesdays with Tony

Ground Manners Matter!

Cats are the perfect killing machine. Look at my sleek physique, my taut muscles, and my powers of concentration. My reflexes are a thing of legend. They aren’t cat-like, they’re Original Cat. Being a predator animal means I take a surprise well, unlike a horse. Despite many, many conversations with the horses that come through the Clinic here at Springhill Equine, I still don’t understand how a falling leaf can be confused with a fire-breathing dragon. Yet every horse explains to me that it could happen, and they need to be prepared! Being prepared for the sudden appearance of dragons can make veterinary care difficult. Read on to learn how to ward off dragons! Spoiler Alert, I have included some graphic pictures of what happens when horses confuse humans for horse-eating tigers.

Save the Toes

Ground mannersToes are perfectly positioned on the end of the human foot to make an excellent target for the equine foot. Add to that the unique ability of the horse to leap up into the air and land with a hoof wherever a human foot happens to be. This ability is compounded by a unique choice in human footwear known as a flip-flop. I’m not sure why you humans even wear these things. You may as well go barefoot. Needless to say, the flip-flop offers no protection to those toes, and shouldn’t be worn around horses. You can also help keep your toes alive by ensuring your horse is respectful on the ground. Training your horse to do the basic showmanship maneuvers will teach them to move away from you, rather than onto you. Pro-tip: your veterinarian will also appreciate it if your horse happily walks and jogs on a lead, and has decent ground manners!

I have included this picture of a toe to reinforce your showmanship work, and proper shoe selection.

A Sedated Horse Can Still Kick

Ground mannersMy Docs often have to do things to horses which said horse doesn’t appreciate very much. The Docs will often use powerful sedatives to help your horse agree that this is something they can do. You will notice that even when your horse is sedated, my Docs still act like they could get kicked. Sedated horses are still very able to kick. They’re less likely to, but they certainly still can, and with surprising speed. Super fun part about sedated horses: they don’t give you any warning before they kick. This means for some procedures, in some locations (especially lower legs, and back legs) my Docs may elect to fully anesthetize your horse. Most of the time the anesthesia lasts for about 20-30 minutes, and then they slowly wake up. This gives the Docs time to fully evaluate and repair a laceration, for example.

How can you help? Always be aware of where you are in relation to the feet. If you’re helping hold for one of my Docs, pay very close attention to how your horse is standing. If you notice anything to indicate a kick is coming, feel free to speak up loudly and quickly!

For this one, I included a lovely kick to a thigh by a very sedated horse during a sheath cleaning.

Needles are your friend

I’m going to start with this lovely picture here:

This was done by a horse who overreacted a wee bit to a needle. I mean seriously, it was a little tiny needle. For the record, this isn’t one of my Docs, but it is a veterinarian. This is why we take needle shyness very, very seriously. When giving shots in the neck, or drawing blood, my Docs are standing in the perfect place to get pawed (that’s what happened in the picture). This is why we bribe horses.

You may have noticed my Docs and their amazing techs feeding your horse treats, and using a clicker. This is to help desensitize them to the stick of a needle. You can definitely help your horse be prepared for needles with a little training! Any one of my minions can show you how to start the process, but basically it involves teaching your horse to tolerate the feeling of the “stick.” This is usually done by gently pinching the skin in the area where the shot will be given, and offering a food reward when they relax. The pressure of the pinch is increased until your horse is pretty sure it’s no big deal.

It’s important to remember that horses are really big, move really fast, and can hurt humans (and cats) really badly. I know what you’re thinking: My horse would never do that! Maybe, and maybe not, but a little bit of training before an accident happens, and a whole lot of paying very close attention to them can go a long way. At the end of the day, it’s all about getting the horses taken care, and getting the humans home safe!

Have you subscribed to my blog? If you say no, that’s the wrong answer. You can easily fix this wrong answer by scrolling down a little farther to the subscribe button.  So easy, even a human can do it. HAHAHA!!!!

Until next week ~


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Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Office Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

Horse Behavior

Horse Behavior

Tuesdays with Tony

 In case you missed my fabulous See Tony event last week, I will generously give you a recap. Dr. Wickens did a wonderful job summarizing all things Behavior for you horse-crazy humans. Also, I learned that horses like banana flavor 😳.

Biology: Horses are prey animals

Horses have a keen fight-or-flight instinct. That’s because they had to escape predators in order to survive, and only the ones that got away lived to reproduce! Everything from the position of horses eyes on their face to their tendency to fling their head in the air when anything comes toward them is all intended to enhance this fight-or-flight thing. Horse eyes are pretty weird if you ask me. Their pupils are the wrong shape and go the wrong direction. My pupils are vertically oriented, while horses pupils sit horizontal. Supposedly this allows them to scan the horizon while eating. I can see where that would be useful. Sometimes Teannie tries for the sneak attack while I’m eating and it would be nice to be able to see her! Speaking of which, those horizontal, bug eyes on the side of their head mean they can see nearly all the way around their body. Dr. Wickens also talked about the myth that horses can’t see color. Turns out they can see color, but it’s more like a red-green colorblind person sees color. I can attest to the extreme usefulness of ears that move. I don’t know how you humans survive without swiveling ears. Both horses and cats can move their ears to hear waaay better than humans. That’s why you think we freak out about nothing. It’s not nothing, you just can’t see or hear it! Dr. Wickens also talked about the importance of smell and touch to horses understanding of their environment. I will say cats and horses share the desire to get more information about something with all their senses. Dr. Wickens said horses will often change their body position to try to see better what they can hear, touch what they can see and hear, and taste what they touch. When that information conflicts or they don’t understand it they can go to flight status VERY quickly!!!

Science: Horses have brains

Anyone who has tried to teach a horse something will realize that they are thinkers. Like us, they learn by positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, or negative punishment. Positive reinforcement is like giving a treat when your horse touches a jolly ball. Negative reinforcement is like taking your leg pressure off when your horse moves forward (the most common type of training used in horses). True positive punishment would be like hitting your horse with a crop continuously until he stops bucking. Negative punishment would be like taking away his dinner when he pins his ears at other horses. Each of these has a place in the training of horses (and I use them regularly to train humans). Dr. Wickens said reinforcement-based training is generally the most effective. Punishment-based training can easily be done incorrectly! She talked about the example of the bucking horse. Seems you humans often experience a scenario like this: your horse bucks, you give him a whack with a crop to let him know that was wrong, except you do this after the buck has happened, another buck occurs, and another whack happens afterwards. You end up punishing the wrong behavior! I learned I need to be very careful to reward or punish at the correct moment to teach the humans around here more effectively.

Training: Horses are smart

To help all of us see the proper way to do all this positive/negative stuff we moved on to my favorite part of Dr. Wickens’ presentation: she clicker-trained Dr. Lacher’s horse to touch a jolly ball! It was incredible how quickly Gigi learned to associate the click with a treat. Of course, it helps when you have an extremely food-motivated horse like Gigi! You can use clicker training, and target training (like with the jolly ball) to teach your horse to do (or not do) just about anything. Dr. Wickens showed us versions of these training principles that got horses to accept clippers, needles, and stop bad behaviors. Want to see more of the amazing Dr. Wickens? Watch the Facebook Live of this fantastic seminar!!
Until next week,

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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