Behaviour Unusual habits Aggression towards food
QMy horse has developed this habit of snapping the air when he’s upset. It’s most apparent when other horses walk past his stable. Why is this happening and how can I stop it? Harriet Minster, Warwickshire
AFrom what you describe your horse could be showing a less common type of ‘STP’ (stereotypic behaviour pattern). Ordinarily known as a ‘stable vice’, an STP can be a sign that there’s something specific in his environment making him feel stressed, anxious, frustrated or even excited.
Without knowing about his environment or his history it’s hard to diagnose exactly, but it’s also possible he’s ‘foal snapping’, although this is rarely seen in adult horses. Foals do this as part of natural ‘equine etiquette’ when they’re learning from other horses. It’s a submissive gesture which, roughly translated, means: “I’m respecting that you’re older” or “I’m still learning”. Occasionally they don’t grow out of it.
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It can be a challenge but try to find the specific trigger for your horse’s behaviour. This is key to stopping it from happening. From what you describe, his behaviour is likely to have a ‘social’ motive. Wanting a horse to keep their distance, or wanting to be with others, are just two possibilities. Can he spend more time at liberty — in other words, away from his stable? As a naturally sociable, grazing herbivore, this can help. Is it possible for other horses to use an alternative route past his stable? If not, you could try feeding him towards the rear of his box at times when others are likely to pass by. By performing an STP, the horse actually calms himself. It’s similar to when a person taps their foot or bites their nails. As horse lovers we don’t ideally want to see these behaviours, but the repetitive action of an STP helps at least to relax the horse. Physically preventing STPs (such as using crib collars or weave grills) can actually cause more stress to the horse. So, if making changes to his environment is impossible, at least you know he may be self-calming by doing this.
Foals often snap at each other as they learn to pick up social cues from other horses