Weaving is a common problem found in horses that are stabled for prolonged periods of time without any stimulation or social contact. Dealing with weaving is simple and common sense management will help to manage weaving in the majority of cases.
Weaving involves your horse swinging the head, neck and anterior parts of the body from side to side so that weight rests alternately on each forelimb; the hind limbs also move in walking cadence.
Weaving is considered an unsoundness that may reduce the value of the horse, especially leisure horses, although there is no scientific evidence of weaving affecting performance. Because weaving is technically an unsoundness, it must be declared when a horse is being sold; if undeclared, it could result in the return of the animal to the vendor under UK law.
Weaving usually precedes an arousing event such as feeding or turning out, but with time the behaviour may be expressed at other times of the day as well. An arousing event or prediction of an arousing event increases motivation for locomotion, which is frustrated by the barrier of the stable.
Horses that are most susceptible are those stabled for long periods of time or who have a lack of social interaction with other horses, lack of turn out and exercise. A predictable routine/stable management can also cause weaving. Weaving is also triggered by a lack of opportunity to engage in other activities, which leads to perseverance of the behaviour.
The problem usually starts in young horses under a year old but also in adults who are kept primarily stabled.
- Weaving may cause excessive wear of shoes or hooves, particularly if the stable floor is concreted.
- Weavers may also be more likely to show ‘impulsive’ aggression over the stable door to passers by. This may be indicative of the frustration of these animals.
- Stepping may occur due to pain in the front feet or unevenness of the stable floor, which could lead to forelimb lameness, although this is rare.
- Contrary to common belief, there is no evidence that horses copy the behaviour, but widespread belief that this may occur causes owners to isolate these animals, which can only worsen the problem.
- It has been suggested that weaving horses may be more prone to tendon injuries, but there is no scientific evidence to substantiate this. By contrast the activity may improve circulation to the lower limbs and feet.
If your horse has to be stabled, provide it with some stimulation such as a companion or an unbreakable mirror. Mirrors have been found to be highly effective for the control of weaving, even in established cases. Increase your horse’s ‘visual horizons’, i.e. increase the number of openings around the stable that the horse can use for looking out of.
Slow release feeders may help to remove some of the cues to feeding and provide an alternative behaviour which will compete for expression with the weaving, but it is important that interest in the toy is maintained.
Avoid stabling your horse for long periods and increase turnout. Turn out to grass frequently, but at varying times each day, preferably with other horses for company and in large square (not long thin) pastures, to allow the full range of locomotor gaits to be expressed.
Placing a V-shaped grille over the stable door aperture when stabled is generally not recommended as this increases frustration and reduces the welfare of the horse.
Change your horse’s routine frequently, this will help to reduce predictability and may help to reduce the behaviour prior to such trigger stimuli.
Punishment and hobbling is definitely not recommended. It is better to allow the behaviour to be expressed rather than prevent it physically as this will increase frustration.