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Behavioral disorders in horses

On the part of humans, two different behavioral sequences are undesirable in horses:

Actions that harm the horse itself or other living creatures.
Actions that interfere with the use of the horse by humans.

Improper husbandry and lack of occupation are the main causes of such disturbances.

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The horse swallows air with or without noise while pulling back the larynx. Typically, the upper incisors are placed on horizontal parts of stable equipment or paddock. Occasionally, this also occurs without the incisors being placed on top. As a result, gas can accumulate in the stomach and intestines, and in unfavorable cases even cause colic. Finally, the incisors can be damaged.

Bar biting, grid biting

This disorder is observed during states of excitement. For example, immediately before feeding in horses. The result is severe tooth wear. The animals are not able to relieve their social instinct by fighting with conspecifics, which is often the cause of arousal states. The solution is either to rearrange the horse in the stable or to change the feeding routine.

Kicking, pawing

Horses in individual stalls hit or scratch at the side walls. This can cause damage to the extremities. Causes can be the beginning of feeding, movement of stable mates or begging postures. The remedy is found in education work and rubber floor with bedding.


The horse stands with its front legs spread and sways its head and neck. A horse can be observed either keeping its front legs on the ground or lifting them one after the other. Lifting is probably a substitute action for lack of locomotion. Weaving in horses, for example, does not occur in group and pasture housing.

Finally, hormone status may have an influence on this type of misbehavior. Stud stallions, for example, which can get into great stress due to less than optimal husbandry conditions (species-appropriate husbandry), try to relieve themselves by weaving.

Locomotion stereotypes

The causes of this behavioral disorder are the same as those of weaving. Although the term “stall running” is also commonly used for this disorder, this can also occur in individual horses kept in the exercise area. However, it is always associated with too little activity or no contact with conspecifics.

Not laying down

This case occurs when the horse does not feel absolutely safe, is tied too short, or when the space available for movement is severely limited. Non-slip footing or bedding that is too wet can also be the cause. In principle, all causes go back to insecurity or uncertainty of the horse. 

Self-injurious behavior

Automutilation is the technical term for this behavioral disorder. A stallion with a particularly strong sex drive is often affected. Other reasons may be that it is kept in isolation, not kept busy enough or used too rarely for mating. As a result, the horses bite themselves, especially in the chest. The keeping conditions must be checked or optimized in the first place. A species-appropriate husbandry is a necessity to avoid this behavioral disorder as good as possible. Natural remedies can supportively help to balance the state of mind.


A horse shies when an object or situation appears dangerous. Although this reaction is intended to prevent harm, it very often puts horses in danger in the first place. Sometimes the horse panics and runs away aimlessly. Triggers for shying are acoustic, olfactory (involving the sense of smell, the olfactory nerve) visual or tactile stimuli. The creation of an environment suitable for the horse, professional training and a stable basis of trust prevent shying.

Training with objects that are suspicious or frightening to the animal has also proven successful. Fluttering tarpaulins or ribbons, loud vehicles, gentle touching of the animal with a leash or crop can be used as therapy. This training is all about confronting the fear inducing object. The horse should gradually get used to it and reduce its fear.


Biting, kicking or pushing against the wall, etc. is always a harm-avoiding reaction. The cause is incorrect handling of the horse. There are also horses with an inborn disposition (physical or psychological condition), which leads to reacting viciously when they are handled incorrectly. Often horses that have good dispositions in the sense of high performance are affected. Horses are more sensitive to human misbehavior than average horses. Such behavior must never be tried to be stopped by punishment.

Tongue stretching

This disorder can be observed when the jaw is used incorrectly during training or usage. The horse tries to resist its treatment. In exceptional cases, anatomical malformations may also be the cause.

Disobedience, stubbornness

Healthy horses, which try to resist when in a specific mood or even permanently, want to avoid damage. The reason is that a trainer or the user didn’t recognize this at an early stage and stopped it. There are three different categories to consider:

  • Disobedience during loading and transport, refusal to be tied, head shyness, resisting being shod (in general).
  • Disobedience during individual riding, saddle constraint and riding activity (during riding).
  • Resistance to the application of the crupper, rope beating, leash gnawing, insufficient tensile strength, laziness, going through (when riding).

As a therapy, especially the fit of saddle and harness should be checked. Observing the owner while putting on the saddle and harness could possibly reveal deficiencies.