Stall Weaving in Horses

Updated January 11, 2024 | By: Jamie Whittenburg, DVM
Horse in stall with anti weaving guards

Weaving is a common issue that’s most often seen in horses kept in stalls but can happen in the pasture as well.

When a horse weaves, he displays a stereotypical pattern of behavior where he sways back and forth by shifting his weight from one front leg to the other. While swaying, most horses also move their head from side to side. As his weight shifts, the horse might take a small step with the foot that the weight has shifted off.

Some horses will stall walk, meaning they pace up and down one side of the stall or paddock, or repetitively walk in circles within the stall. All these behaviors are called stable vices.

Reasons Why Your Horse May be Weaving

Veterinarians and animal behaviorists are fairly confident that boredom and stress are the main underlying causes of weaving and stall walking in horses. It is also believed that some horses are more prone to develop this behavior due to genetics.

Lifestyle Factors

It is not natural for horses to be confined to small spaces. In the wild, horses spend their days slowly roaming and grazing across large areas while living within a herd, almost constantly interacting with other horses. When horses are domesticated, they are often kept in small pens or stalls and only fed a few times per day. In turn, many horses struggle with a lack of enrichment, solitude, and boredom.

While it can happen to any horse, weaving behavior tends to occur in horses that lack mental and physical stimulation and those that’re naturally more anxious.

Understanding the Chain of Events

Two horses peeking their heads out of their stall windows.

It can be very helpful to pay attention to the time of day that a horse exhibits weaving. You can try keeping notes in a journal or calendar to help track his behavior.

If the vice occurs only prior to feeding or turnout time, it may indicate that your horse needs to be fed more often or allowed more outdoor time.

If the behavior is very short-lived, it may not be problematic. If the presence of certain factors, such as traveling to a show or having a certain stablemate housed nearby, induces the weaving, stress is a likely cause. Horses that weave only on days that they’re not worked or not turned out may mean they need more exercise.

Role of Genes

For many years, it has been believed that stall weaving was a behavior that horses developed when bored, stressed, or watching other horses exhibit the behavior. However, it has been theorized more recently by scientists and animal behaviorists that stall weaving may have a genetic predisposition. The science is far from settled, but it’s possible that both things hold some truth. Genetics may make a certain horse more likely to exhibit the behavior when they are bored, stressed, or they see a stablemate stall weaving [1].

Strategies to Stop or Prevent Weaving and Stall Walking

Three horses grazing in pasture

The best strategy to both prevent and stop stall weaving and walking is to try to make your horse’s lifestyle more closely resemble one he would have in the wild. This includes daily turnout in a large pasture or paddock, enjoying the company of other horses (if possible), feed to graze on throughout the day, and reducing stress.

Have a Herd or Stablemate

It is ideal to allow a stall weaving horse to interact freely with other horses that they get along with. However, that may not always be possible for many different reasons.

Still, some horses will weave less if they can simply see other horses. Placing stablemates in and around the weaver, easily in sight, may calm his anxiety. Additionally, companionship in the form of another small animal in their stall, such as a chicken or goat, might be an option worth considering.

Banish Boredom

jolly hay ball

Dealing with boredom and providing mental enrichment can also be very important. During times when your horse cannot be outside, you could provide toys and reasonable amounts of free choice forage. Hanging a mirror in a horse's stall has also been shown to effectively reduce the incidence of stall weaving [2].

Reduce Stall Time and Increase Turnout

Allowing your horse more turnout time on pasture and limiting the amount of time he’s confined to his stall may help. More time spent grazing and walking in pasture will not only benefit him mentally, but also increase circulation in the hooves and assist in healthy digestion.

Increase Exercise and Training

If your horse does not have access to long periods of time outdoors in pasture, it may be helpful to increase his exercise through work. This can include groundwork, lunging, and undersaddle training. These activities serve not only as physical exercise, but also to stimulate him mentally.

Feeding Time and Making it Last

Your horse looks forward to feeding time, and the stress of anticipating his next meal can result in stall weaving. Always feed at the same time each day and make every attempt not to feed your horse later than usual as this will dramatically increase his stress.

A horse eating out of a hay bag in the stall.

Slow feeding methods, such as hay nets and specially designed grain buckets, can slow your horse down to prolong eating time. Many horse owners will also spread moderate amounts of hay all over their horse's stall at different foraging stations to increase eating time and give their horse something to do.

Remember to give it time and try to have patience as stall weaving can be a very hard habit to break.

Supplements That May Support Normal Nervous System Function

Horses that aren’t getting the proper amount of key nutrients necessary for nervous system function may be anxious, edgy, or reactive. Nutrient-based calming supplements are designed to bring your horse’s levels into the optimal range with ingredients like magnesium, B vitamins, and the amino acid tryptophan to support proper nervous system function. Another option is herbal-based calming supplements that may soothe the nervous system while potentially promoting an even temperament with ingredients such as valerian, chamomile, and ashwagandha.

Horse Owner FAQ on Weaving and Stall Walking

horse with white face looking outside through stall window

Is it okay to allow a horse to weave?

Whether or not weaving is unsafe for a particular horse depends on many factors. In the short term, weaving is not inherently dangerous. However, serious problems may occur over time, including inconsistent and uneven wear of the hooves, muscle and joint pain, and mental distress.

Can you stop a horse from weaving?

Once you and your vet determine what factors are contributing to your horse's weaving, you can implement strategies to curb this unwanted behavior. Stall weaving is most successfully corrected when it’s addressed as early as possible. The longer your horse weaves, the harder the habit will be to break. Because it can have long-term detrimental effects on your horse's physical and mental health, owners should try to address weaving as soon as it’s recognized.

Should you buy a horse that weaves?

The decision on whether to purchase a horse that weaves is unique to each horse and their potential buyer’s situation. If you’re thinking about buying a horse that weaves, ask the seller:

  • how long the horse has been weaving
  • the likely cause of the behavior
  • what remedies have been tried by the current owner to stop the behavior

In general, the longer a horse has been weaving, the harder it will be to stop. It is also important to evaluate the lifestyle of the horse in the new owner's facility and determine if the weaving can be adequately addressed. Because chronic weaving can have negative physical effects on a horse, the history of this behavior should be mentioned to the veterinarian performing the pre-purchase exam so that the hooves, joints, and muscles can be evaluated to identify any existing damage.

Evidence-Based References

  1. Heritability of Locomotor Stereotypies in Chilean Horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. Elsevier. eISSN: 1542-7412; pISSN: 0737-0806; Volume 105.(October 2021).
  2. McAfee, Lynn M; Mills, Daniel S; Cooper, Jonathan J (September 2002). "The use of mirrors for the control of stereotypic weaving behaviour in the stabled horse." Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 78 (2–4): 159–173. doi:10.1016/s0168-1591(02)00086-2. ISSN 0168-1591.

SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian regarding specific questions about your horse's health. This information is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease, and is purely educational.