What can I do about my horse that weaves?
Weaving is a “vice” in which they rock their heads, necks, and or body back and forth while remaining relatively in the same spot. Sometimes the legs are spread wider than while standing quietly, and the head, neck, and shoulders transfer weight from one leg to the other. This can result in joint and soft tissue damage over time, as well as problems with hoof growth.
While we call weaving a vice, it’s cause is not believed to be similar to other stable vices. It is generally believed that weaving is a response to stress, not boredom. It is most commonly seen in stabled horses, although it can happen outside of the barn in turnouts or pastures, too.
The most common stressor that can trigger a weaving “episode” (for lack of a better term here) is separation from buddies, although it can also be seen in mornings before feeding time, especially if feeding time is a predictable routine at a consistent hour. Weavers typically get into the groove near an exit, like a paddock gate or stall door. You may notice that even brief company from a barn cat, dog, or human quiets the behavior.
There is a theory that when horses weave, their field of vision changing is what brings comfort to their stress. Luckily, there is quite a bit of research on weaving, and the consensus about adjusting the behavior can be summed up into one word: MIRROR. Horses that weave are almost always comforted by a mirror in their stalls and also in the trailer (this makes trailering alone much safer).
I found this handy dandy gem of a mirror (note: shatterproof!) at my local tack shop.
When choosing a mirror for your horse, you have some options. Stainless steel polished to a mirror finish can work, be wary of edges, you may want to put a frame around it. You can also use plexiglass type mirrors, I have seen some in local craft shops. You may have to experiment with size, not to big, not too small. Very Goldilocks. Make sure you keep the mirror clean, and it’s best to place it away from food and water. Studies have also shown that horses like to have “company” to the sides much more than across a barn aisle, so consider this when you are looking for a hanging spot. Make the mirror a “choice”, so that your horse can stand next to it, or not. Wall to wall mirrors can create anxiety.
You can also get a full time buddy for your horse, such as a goat or mini. However, this is much more expensive than a mirror, but can work really well for some horses. Of course, the standard lots of exercise and turnout along with slow feeders can also help.
What has been your experience with weaving?