What is Weaving?
Weaving in horses will typically occur in the horse’s stall, though weaving can happen in other places as well, like a barren environment. Weaving is when the horse will walk in place, alternating steps with his front feet and bobbing his head and neck from side to side. When weaving, the horse may appear to be in a trance and over time the behavior can cause strain or injury to the horse’s joints, tendons, ligaments or hooves. Should a horse be allowed to weave for an extended period of time, it can lead to his being tired due to the ongoing exertion along with weight loss, particularly if the behavior gets in the way of his eating and drinking.
Weaving is when a horse sways in place, typically involving the side-to-side movement of his head and neck, while his weight shifts between his front feet.
Symptoms of Weaving in Horses
Should your horse develop this behavior, you may witness the following:
- Walking in place, bobbing his head and neck in a rhythmic fashion
- May appear to be in a trance
- Damage to his hoofs if the behavior is ongoing
- Possible weight loss
Weaving in horses is typically a behavioral condition, often resulting from a separation anxiety and a lack of companionship. As behaviors like weaving can be a result of a physical condition, it is important that your horse be examined to make sure he is not experiencing an underlying physical issue that is leading to his behavior.
Similar to weaving is stall walking. Stall walking involves your horse continually circling the length of his stall. The speed at which he does this will correlate to his level of stress. Should he be walking slowly, he is expressing his distaste for his environment or circumstances. Should he move at a faster pace, he is demonstrating significant anxiety.
Causes of Weaving in Horses
It is thought that weaving may be the result of your horse being bored, though most people that work with horses feel that the behavior is more complex. Horses are social and like to be a part of the herd. It has been shown in studies that horses that reside with other horses, even if they are each in their own stall, will rarely engage in the behavior of weaving. Many believe that weaving occurs in part as a result of separation anxiety, where the horse is isolated from social interaction. Other causes may be:
- The stress your horse feels as the result of a sudden change in his routine or when he gets a new owner; weaving is an attempt to reduce the stress
- Not enough time to graze, leading to him lacking in activity as well as visual stimulation.
- Your horse not having the opportunity to walk, eat and socialize
- A lack of companionship
Diagnosis of Weaving in Horses
Should you notice weaving in your horse, you will want to have him examined by your veterinarian, as different behaviors may be due to a medical condition. Upon conducting a complete physical examination of your horse, your veterinarian can determine if there are any health conditions that may be causing him to weave, or if weaving a strictly a behavioral issue for him. Should be a behavioral issue, your veterinarian can work with you on understanding what is leading to the behavior.
Treatment of Weaving in Horses
Once your veterinarian has confirmed that there is no physical reason for your horse’s weaving, he may be able to provide insight on how to work with your horse to change his behavior. While being able to change the behavior is not guaranteed, there are multiple things that you can do to help encourage your horse to stop weaving, to include:
- Increase his opportunity for exercise to ensure that he is able to let out extra energy
- Provide enough time for him to graze, particularly while other horses are present
- Natural feed should be provided several times a day to help break up the monotony of your horse’s day; use feeding stations around the stall for variety
- Make changes to your horse’s environment if possible to better replicate life in a herd
- Provide companions; this can include other horses, as well as goats or other animals
- Install a plastic mirror at your horse’s eye level so that he may be visually stimulated and not feel isolated; there are mirrors made specifically to aid weaving horses
- Provide as much visual stimulation as possible in your horse’s stall
- Make sure the stall is well-ventilated
Recovery of Weaving in Horses
For weaving behavior in horses, it is important that the changes that you make to their living environment and lifestyle are long term. As it is thought that lacking in companionship is the most common reason for weaving, studies have shown that eliminating that issue can be very effective in stopping the horse from weaving.