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Bad Habits/Vices and Bad Behaviors

 

Bad Habits/Vices?

Animal behavior experts often refer to vices (bad habits) as stereotypes because they are often rooted in the behavioral nature of the animal. Understanding that vices are behaviorally based may assist in preventing and/or treating these problems. Vices are negative activities that occur due to various causes, including stress, boredom, fear, excess energy, and nervousness. Horses naturally graze for 12 to 16 hours a day. When kept in stalls we prevent them from engaging in many natural activities such as grazing, walking, or playing with other horses. Not enough natural stimuli will cause a horse to invent its own stimuli. Once these habits start they are difficult to eliminate. 


What sort of problems can I help with?

As the work I do is based on the application of Equine Behavior Science that encourages us to understand a horse’s behavior through the eyes of the horse, adapting the horse’s environment and handling through investigating the equines natural survival instincts by assessing past and present experiences!   The next step is the development and the application of a horse specific training strategy.   I can generally help whenever behavior change or improvement is required. Whenever an owner needs help and learning how to change equine behavior or about creating new behaviors I can help. However, in order to proceed, pain, medical conditions, tack and environmental conditions must all be ruled out as a cause of behavior change, before beginning any training.


How long does it take to solve a problem like biting or loading?

The inevitable answer is it depends. During a home visit I can usually assess the situation and give a guide to how long it might take to change a behavior depending on each individual situation. Simple behaviors may only take a few hours, others longer both provided the owner is able to participate and prepared to keep up with new training practices. Many riding problems or established behaviors can take three to six months to truly change, depending on the owner's skill, ability and commitment. The real work comes in maintaining the behavior and the practice which the owner does after the problem is resolved.


What sort of problems can you help with?

Simple behaviors may only take a few hours, others longer please know that both are provided the owner is able to participate and prepared to keep up with new training practices.


Fixing Vices, bad habits and bad behavior are best approached in a step-by-step manner:

Correcting a bad behavior is like treating an illness, one can either address the symptoms directly or one can try to first correct the underlying cause. Many horse trainers take the former approach as it is often the easier, quicker and cheaper solution. However, the ideal case is to determine the underlying cause of the problem and to address the underlying cause as well as the behavior itself.

 

  • Understand horse behavior and needs
  • Identify and describe the vice or bad habit
  • Do not treat the symptoms
  • Identify the cause[s] by having a professional do a Behavioral Assessment/Evaluation
  • Develop and implement a proper training plan to treat and correct the bad behavior
  • Make management changes (facilities, exercise, nutrition, conditioning, grooming)
  • Implement appropriate training practices
  • Consider remedial training practices
  • Consider medical and surgical solutions.

Most Vices/bad habits and bad behaviors are preventable, that is, with forethought, proper management and solid Foundations of Ground and Mounted training, most of them can be avoided.  Prevention is the desirable route because once certain habits and/or behaviors are established; they can be extremely difficult to change.  Some habits are manageable, that is, certain techniques and equipment can be used to diminish the negative effects of the habit, but the underlying habit is still there.  If the equipment is not used, the habit resurfaces. A few habits are curable. With carefully planned, diligent efforts, some habits can be permanently changed. Some vices/bad habits and bad behaviors are incurable. Read the Vices/Bad Habits and Bad Behavior Charts below:


Bad Habits/Vices Equine Chart 

VICE

DESCRIPTION

CAUSES

TREATMENT

Cribbing

Colic, poor keeper (prefers mind drugs over food).
Anchoring of incisors on edge (post, stall ledge), arching neck, gulping air.

Theory: endorphins are released during the behavior; horse is addicted to endorphins which stimulate pleasure center of brain.

Incurable.
Cribbing strap prevents contraction of neck muscles; also available with clamps, spikes, electric shock.
Possible future pharmacological treatment.
Surgery or a Muzzle can be used in some situations.

Pawing

Digs holes; tips over feeders & waterers; gets leg caught in fence; wears hooves away, loses shoes; most often young horses.

Confinement, boredom, excess feed.

Curable. 
Provide exercise, diversion, don't use ground feeders and waterers, use rubber mats, don't reinforce by feeding.
Formal restraint lessons.

Self Mutilation

Bite flanks, front legs, chest, scrotal area with squealing, pawing, and kicking out.

Onset 2 yrs, primarily stallions.
Can be endorphin addiction similar to cribbing; can be triggered by confinement, lack of exercise, or sexual frustration.

Manageable/might be curable.
Geld non-breeding stallions; increase exercise, reduce confinement, stall companion or toy, neck cradle, muzzle, possible future pharmacological treatment

Stall Kicking

Smashing stall walls & doors with hind hooves resulting in facilities damage and hoof and leg injuries.

Confinement; doesn't like neighbor; gets attention.

Can be curable depending on how long-standing the habit. 
Increase exercise, change neighbors, pad stall walls or hooves, use kicking chains or kicking shoe, don't reinforce by feeding.

Tail Rubbing

Rhythmically swaying the rear against a fence or stall wall.

Initially dirty udder, sheath or tail; shedding HQ, pinworms, ticks & other external parasites or skin conditions. Later, just habit.

Manageable with grooming, cleaning sheath and udder, deworming, other medical treatments. For chronic habit, use electric fence.

Weaving/Pacing

Swaying back and forth often by stall door or pen gate/Repeatedly walking a path back and forth.

Confinement, boredom, excess feed, high strung or stressed horse.

Manageable. 
Turn out where he can see other horses.
Use specially fitted stall door for weaver.

Wood Chewing

Gnawing of wood fences, feeders, stall walls, up to three pounds of wood per day.

Lack of course roughage in diet, boredom, teething.

Manageable. 
Increase roughage in diet. 
Decrease palatability of wood. 
Increase exercise & activity. 
More time out on pasture.



Bad Behavior Equine Chart 

HABIT

DESCRIPTION

CAUSES

TREATMENT

Balking

Refusal to go forward often followed by violent temper if rider insists.

Fear, heavy hands, stubbornness, extreme fatigue.

 

Curable. 
Review forward work with in-hand & lunging. 
Turn horse's head to untrack left or right. 
Strong driving aids with no conflicting restraining aids (no pull on bit). 
Do not try to force horse forward by pulling - you'll lose.

Barn Sour
Herd Bound

Balking, rearing, swinging around, screaming and then rushing back to the barn or herd.

Separation from buddies or barn (food, comfort).

 

Poor or lack of handling and training

Curable but stubborn cases require professional. 
A confident, capable trainer that insists the horse leave the barn (herd) and then positively reinforces the horse's good behavior so horse develops confidence. 
The lessons GO and WHOA must both be reviewed.

Biting

Nibbling with lips or grabbing with teeth especially young horses.

Greed (treats), playfulness (curiosity) or resentment (irritated or sore). Investigate things with mouth. Often from hand-feeding treats.

Curable. Handle lips, muzzle, & nostrils regularly in a business-like way; when horse nips, tug on nose chain, then resume as if nothing happened. 
Can also use thumb tack on sleeve; hold wire brush toward lips; use muzzle.

Bolting When Turned Loose

Wheels away suddenly before halter is fully removed.

Poor handling and/or training, anxious to exercise or join other horses.

Curable but dangerous as horse often kicks as he wheels away. 
Use treats on ground before you remove halter; use rope around the neck.

Bucking

Arching the back, lowering the head, kicking with hind or leaping.

Poor handling and/or training, High spirits, get rid of rider or tack, sensitive or sore back, reaction to legs or spurs.  .

Curable but will be difficult if it has become a habit. 

Monitor feed and exercise; proper progressive training; check tack fit.

 

Training rushed; too fast and too hard.

Hard to Catch

Avoids humans with halter and lead.

Fear, resentment, disrespect, Lacks trust, leadership.  Poor handling and/or holes in the Foundation training

Curable. Take the time to properly train, use walk-down method in small area first, progress to larger. Remove other horses from pasture; treats on ground, never punish horse once caught.

Can't Handle Feet

Swaying, leaning, rearing, jerking foot away, kicking, striking.

Insufficient or improper training. Horse hasn't learned to cooperate, balance on 3 legs, take pressure and movement of farrier work.

Curable but persistent cases require professional. 
Thorough, systematic conditioning and restraint lessons: pick up foot, hold in both flexed & extended positions for several minutes while cleaning, grooming, rubbing leg, coronary band, bulbs etc.

Halter Pulling

Rearing or setting back when tied, often until something breaks or horse falls and/or hangs by halter.

Rushed, poor halter training, using weak equipment or unsafe facilities so horse gets free by breaking something.
Often horse was tied by bridle reins and broke free.

Can be curable but very dangerous and incurable in some chronic cases which require professional. 
Might use stiff bristled broom on the rump or wither rope on advice of professional.

Head Shy

Moves head away during grooming, bridling, clipping, vet work.

Initially rough handling or insufficient conditioning, painful ears or mouth problems. Poor training.

Curable. First eliminate medical reasons such as ear, tongue, lip or dental problems. 
Start from square one with handling; after horse allows touching, then teach him to put head down.

Jigging

Short, stilted walk/jog with hollow back and high head.

Poor training attempt at collection, horse not trained to aids, too strong bridle aids, sore back.

Curable. Check tack fit, use aids properly including use of pressure/release (half halt) to bring horse to walk or use strong driving aids to push horse into active trot.

Kicking

Lashing back at a person with one or both hind legs, also "cow kicking" which is lashing out to the side.

Initially reflex to touching legs, then fear (defense) of rough handling or to get rid of a threat or unwanted nuisance.  Lacks trusting.

Might be curable but serious cases are very dangerous and require professional to use remedial restraint methods.
Unlikely to ever completely cure.

Rearing

Standing on hind legs when led or ridden, sometimes falling over backwards.

Fear, rough handling, doesn't think he must go forward or is afraid to go forward into contact with bit; associated with balking; a response to collected work.  Poor training.

Can be curable but is a very dangerous habit that might be impossible to cure even by professional. 
Check to be sure no mouth or back problems. 
Review going forward in-hand with a whip and review longeing.

Running Away;
Bolting

Galloping out of control.

Fear, panic, (flight response), lack of training to the aids, overfeeding, under exercise, pain from poor fitting tack.  Lacks confidence, trust and leadership.

Might be curable but very dangerous as when horse panics, can run into traffic, over cliff, through fence, etc.; remedy is to pull (with pressure and release) the horse into a large circle, gradually decreasing the size.

Shying

Spooking at real or imagined sights, sounds, smells, or occurrences.

Fear (of object or of trainer's reaction to horse's behavior), poor vision, head being forcibly held so horse can't see, playful habit.

Generally curable.
Put horse on aids and guide and control his movement with driving and restraining aids

Striking

Taking a swipe at a person with a front leg.

Reaction to clipping, first use of chain or twitch, restraint of head, dental work.  Poor handling and/or training.

Curable but very dangerous especially if coupled with rearing as person's head could be struck.
Review head handling (mouth, nostrils, ears); head down lesson; and thorough body handling and sacking out.

Stumbling

Losing balance or catching the toe on the ground and missing a beat or falling.

Weakness, lack of coordination, lack of condition, young, lazy, long toe/low heel, delayed break over of hooves, horse ridden on forehand, poor footing.

Curable. 
Have hoof balance assessed, check breakover, ride horse with more weight on the hindquarters (collect), conditioning horse properly.

Tail Wringing

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

Sore back from poor fitting tack, poorly balanced rider, injury, rushed training.

May not be curable once established. 
Proper saddle fit, rider lessons, massage and other medical therapy, proper warm-up & progressive, achievable training demands.