Dr. Emanuela Dalla Costa, DVM, PhD., of the University of Milan, Italy, states in the publication The Horse that many behavioral problems in horses are likely due to their domestication. Cribbing, weaving, and other behaviors in horses are related to environmental changes, causing frustration because their biological needs are not being met. These repetitive vices are useless behaviors that develop in horses in domestic environments and do not occur in free-ranging feral horses. This is due to structural changes in the brain and is more involved than just stable vices or bad habits. Dr. Dalla Costa says horses get blamed for these behaviors and it is not their fault.
Stable vices cause problems for the horse caretakers, and we need to realize horses with these behaviors are unhappy. Horses are not the only animals that develop unwanted behaviors. All animals have one thing in common, and that is vice-like behaviors only occur in captive animals. Horses do not develop these types of behaviors because of boredom, nor do they pick them up from other horses. Vices occur because they do not like their environment or the stress of the situation. Horses in stalls have limited ability to move, spend less time eating, and can’t express a flight response when they feel threatened.
These horses are frustrated. They perceive they are constantly stopped from doing what they want or need to do, leading to negative emotions such as anger, annoyance, and disappointment. Rather than try to change their behaviors by using restraints or cribbing straps, changing the environment to help your horse feel more comfortable is the best treatment option.
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