Weaving is a locomotive stereotypic behaviour typically seen in stabled horses. It is estimated that between 3 to 10% of horses kept in stables weave. [1]

The expression of this behaviour involves repetitive shifting of body weight from one front leg to the other, combined with a sideways swaying of the head. [2] Occasionally, this repetitive swaying motion involves the hindquarters. [3]

Stall weaving serves no function or purpose. This stereotypy may develop when a horse is prevented from walking toward a desired goal, such as a feed or other horses. [4]

Horses may begin weaving as a result of stress, frustration, their environment, or an inability to express natural equine behaviours. Over time, weaving can cause hoof and joint problems or lead to weight loss if it interferes with eating behaviour.

It is important to understand why your horse is weaving to address the behaviour and avoid long-term effects on health and welfare. If your horse repeatedly exhibits bouts of weaving, discuss potential treatment options with your veterinarian or equine behaviourist.

Stereotypies in Horses

Stereotypies are repetitive patterns of behaviour that seem to have no goal or function. [5] An estimated 19.5 – 32.5% of domesticated horses develop stereotypies. [2]

Stereotypies can be broken down into oral or locomotive behaviours. Oral stereotypies are more common than locomotor stereotypies and include cribbing, wind-sucking, wood chewing, licking dirt, tongue flicking and teeth grinding.

Locomotor stereotypies include weaving, stall circling or box walking, fence pacing, head shaking, stall kicking and more.

These behaviours are thought to be automated responses or coping mechanisms in response to stress or inadequate management conditions. [5] A horse may develop a stereotypy if they are prevented from expressing species-appropriate behaviour.

These behaviours were previously referred to as stall or stable vices. However, this term is now considered inaccurate because it suggests the behaviour represents a moral problem with the horse.

Equine welfare continues to be an important area of research to reduce the prevalence of stereotypies and optimize the well-being of horses kept under human management.

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What Causes Weaving in Horses?

Weaving is an equine behaviour in which the horse remains stationary but repeatedly shifts its weight between forelimbs while laterally swaying its head.

The horse may perform this movement 30 to 90 times per minute, lasting for a few minutes up to several hours per day. [6]

Several different factors can contribute to stall weaving in horses. Some identified risk factors include:

  • Stress and frustration
  • Lack of exercise or turnout
  • Social isolation and housing
  • Lack of forage in the diet
  • Anticipation of reward
  • Genetics
  • Nervous, reactive personality

Stress and Frustration

Horses can experience stress or frustration in response to many different physical or psychological stressors, including injury, illness, heavy exercise, or sub-optimal environmental conditions.

Horses experiencing high levels of stress may begin to show signs of depression. Your horse may become lethargic or withdrawn, expressing little interest in their environment. [7]

To cope with frustrating environments and states of stress, horses may develop stereotypies such as weaving to try and satisfy a specific drive.

Lack of Exercise or Turnout

Horses that do not get enough exercise or turnout are more likely to demonstrate repetitive locomotive behaviours. Confinement for more than 4 hours per day is also associated with higher rates of repetitive behaviour. [8]

Exercise deprivation can lead to compensatory locomotor