Herd Bound and Barn Sour

Because horses are herd animals and territory is important to them, most are bothered by being separated from their group or taken away from the barn where they feel safest. Some horses exhibit this displeasure so subtly that only the most experienced horse handler would even notice it. Others exhibit it so graphically that you can't help but notice — say, after you're mown down by a distraught horse being led away from his pasture pals, or when you are on a runaway horse that comes to a screeching halt only after he reaches the barn aisle.

Chances are you'll experience something similar in between, and you might even attribute the behavior to another cause. Don't be fooled — the horse that plods along on the ride away from the barn but jigs on the ride home is not suddenly peppy for no reason. This is called being herd-bound and barn sour.

The important concept to grasp here is that your horse must learn to be comfortable and feel safe with you while away from his equine friends. Your horse must learn to trust and follow your lead. You must establish yourself as his herd leader by being reliable in your support and consistent in the boundaries you establish with him. You need to understand what is happening when barn sour behavior arises. Instead of being convinced by well-meaning but misguided advice to turn to new and bigger bits or changes in feeding programs, get to the root of the problem and up the level of trust in your relationship with your horse a notch.

Stable Vices

Stable vices are bad habits that horses develop from boredom or from being left in a confined area too long. Too much stall confinement causes a horse to become frustrated and stressed because it is completely against their natural way of existing.


Cribbing is perhaps the most insidious, most well-known, and most destructive of all stable vices. When a horse cribs, it grips its top front teeth on some hard edge, usually the top of a stall door or a fence board, pulls back, and makes a grunting noise — and does it over and over and over again. This is an addictive behavior that, once learned, typically can never be fully eliminated but only controlled. The addiction has been discovered to come from a release of natural stress-relieving endorphins that the horse experiences each time it does this.

Horses can either learn to crib accidentally or they can learn it from watching other horses. Cribbing can be expensive. When a 1,000-pound horse pulls back on a fence board, a stall door, or a feed tub screwed into the wall, that object takes a lot of stress and eventually breaks. Cribbing holds numerous potential major health issues for the horse as well. For example, the front teeth will show unnatural wear. Some horses are more interested in their addiction than in eating, so their digestive health and overall body condition may suffer.

Are cribbing and wood chewing the same thing?

No. Although a cribber will certainly chew up wood fencing in the process of biting the boards, a wood chewer doesn't necessarily crib while it's destroying your fencing. Pica, or the habit of chewing wood or eating other unnatural substances (sand, dirt, gravel, feces), can indicate a nutrient deficiency. Sometimes a pasture deficient in phosphorus is to blame.

Some people don't seem to mind having a horse that cribs, but if you are in the market for a horse, you are wise to avoid a cribber. Although cribbing doesn't affect riding at all, it is technically considered an unsoundness, and anyone selling a horse is obligated to tell you about this habit. If you board your horse and notice a horse nearby cribbing, get your horse moved out of the cribbing horse's sight and preferably earshot.

If you have a horse that cribs or if your horse develops the habit, keep it outside all the time in an environment where there is little to crib on — electric fencing instead of board fencing; feed buckets loose on the ground, not attached to walls; a shelter that has no edges inside for the horse to grab onto, and so on. The most addicted cribbers will find amazing ways to satisfy their addiction. Anti-cribbing collars seem to be effective if they are perfectly adjusted.


This vice is typically seen in a horse that is kept in a stall twenty-four hours a day. The horse stands at the door and weaves back and forth, back and forth, shifting its weight from one front leg to the other. This uneasy type of horse doesn't take confinement well. The problem will escalate if he develops any lameness issues that require immobility because weaving is almost impossible to control. If your horse starts to weave, you need to make him happier by giving him more time outside his stall.

Digging and Pawing

This habit is annoying, but it can also cause uneven foot wear for barefoot horses on hard ground. The horse may stand at her bucket, put her head down, and paw like she is in a trance. Clean bedding gets dug up with the dirt floor almost immediately. Some horses paw anywhere in their stalls, sometimes digging up giant craters with both front feet. Some will paw right at the entrance to the stall, setting a nice booby trap for you. Like cribbing, this seems to be a learned behavior that horses pick up by watching others.

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