Unwanted behaviors and vices in horses

Quick facts

  • Unwanted behaviors are repetitive, purposeless behaviors that take up a large portion of a horse's time. Common examples include cribbing, biting and weaving.
  • These behaviors frustrate horse owners. As a result, we often refer to them as vices. A vice is a fault or failing on the part of the horse. Vices usually start when there is something wrong with the horse's environment.
  • Horses sometimes pick up unwanted behaviors from past events and don’t improve their behavior even with an ideal environment, training method and diet.
  • While these behaviors may never stop, we have some tips to manage horses with unwanted behaviors.

How to identify and manage common unwanted behaviors

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How to prevent unwanted behaviors

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Treatment of unwanted behavior

Treating unwanted behaviors can be hard. If the environment stays the same the horse will continue the unwanted behavior. If the owner improves the environment, what may start as an effort to return to natural behavior may release tension for the horse. The tension release may support the unwanted behavior and cause it to occur again.

The longer a horse participates in an unwanted behavior, the harder it is to treat. The behavior makes the horse feel good, which makes it hard to stop. The best measure you can take when considering unwanted behaviors is prevention.

Julie Christie, Rochester Community and Technical College; Margaret Duxbury, doctor of veterinary medicine. Members of University of Minnesota Extension Horse Team.

Reviewed in 2018

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