What is Stall Walking?
Horses can stall walk due to isolation, anxiety, need to exercise or any other number of things. There is not one specific thing associated with the cause of stall walking. Some horses begin the behavior due to isolation, boredom, and need of extra mental stimulation. In some cases, stall walking can cause physical abnormalities in your horse such as abnormal hoof wearing or limb abnormality. Offering your horse variations in his normal day to day routine to stop the walking is ideal. A new grazing area during turnout, equine companionship in the same or nearby paddock, and mental stimulation while in the stall are changes an equine behavior specialist may recommend.
Stall walking in horses is characterized by your horse walking in a constant path around his stall or in frantic patterns. Trying to determine the cause of this behavior will allow you to offer the stimulation he clearly needs.
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Symptoms of Stall Walking in Horses
Symptoms of stall walking may include:
- Frantic pacing
- Slow pacing
- Walking in place
- Weaving in front of the stall bars
- Abnormal hoof wearing
- Limb abnormality (rare)
There are two main types of stall walking seen in horses: frantic and stereotypic. Frantic stall walking is where the horse is walking around quickly and possibly defecating. This can be indicative of him being extremely upset. If your horse is also neighing, it can mean your horse is suffering from separation anxiety.
The stereotypical stall walking behavior is generally in response to a poor or boring environment. Some horses can cope just fine, but others cannot which leads to the stall walking. In this situation, you see the horse walking around his stall slowly and consistently enough to leave a worn-down trail.
Causes of Stall Walking in Horses
There are multiple causes associated with stall walking in horses but none of them are definite. Many veterinarians believe it is a result of boredom, confinement, and lack of grazing. Over the years, research has shown how important it is for horses to interact with other horses and the importance of the act of grazing. Stall walking and stall weaving appear as a result of not having these things it his life.
Diagnosis of Stall Walking in Horses
Your horse’s behavior alone is enough to diagnose him with stall walking. As stated earlier, he may walk frantically around his stall or may walk in consistent circles around his stall. While this does not necessarily harm your horse, the behaviors can lead to abnormal wearing of his shoes or hooves. In rare cases, limb abnormalities can develop which may lead to other secondary issues.
In some cases, your veterinarian may feel the need to run other diagnostic tests if he is displaying any atypical symptoms associated with stall walking. She may want to check for a brain infection, tumor, or some other neurological issue that may be causing his behaviors and symptoms. Blood tests and a urinalysis will be the starting point to rule out underlying health conditions. After testing and discussion, your veterinarian will make suggestions as to treatment for the stall walking, or may refer you to a professional who specializes in equine behavior.
Treatment of Stall Walking in Horses
There are several suggestions the veterinarian or specialist may propose you try to offer your horse as a change, and do for him in order to stop his stall walking. A highly recommended option you can do for your horse is put him out to pasture. This will increase the time he spends with other horses as well as increase his eating time. If you are unable to do this, try offering him several types of roughage instead of just one. Also, feeding him multiple times a day instead of just once will keep him occupied.
In addition, keep your horse in a stall where he is able to see other horses. Statistically, offering the horse a companion has been shown to decrease the stall walking behavior or to completely stop it. If putting him in the sight of other horses is not enough to help him, you may want to consider trying the old trick of getting him a pony or goat companion for the paddock. While in the stall, safe, interactive toys for horses (such as a large ball on a rope) can be beneficial.
Some horses only stall weave as a result of anxiety. For example, some show horses have been known to stall walk only after their manes have been braided; they associate this with the anxiety of performing. One way to help with this is desensitization. Braid his mane at times where he will not be performing a show and therefore, he will slowly learn that braiding does not necessarily mean performing.
In severe cases of stall walking, a medication to calm your horse may be suggested short term, but in most instances, therapy with an equine behavior specialist is preferred and advised as the first form of treatment.
Recovery of Stall Walking in Horses
If the stall walking is not causing your horse any harm, you can consider leaving him to continue it. There is no proof that this behavior is learned, but it is thought to run in families due to genetic predisposition. If the stall walking is causing your horse harm or damaging your floor, consider trying the treatment options listed above. Finding what stimulates your horse enough to prevent the stall walking may require some inventive thinking but it will be better for him in the long run. Consistently following the recommendations of the veterinarian or specialist will be key to combatting the behavior.