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Stall Vices, Behavioral Stereotypies

Synonyms: Stereotypical Behavior

A stereotypy or stereotypical behavior is defined as a repeated movement or behavior with no obvious function for the animal, and likely either caused by frustration, stress or brain dysfunction.

There is confusion over the term “stable vice,” which implies that the horse is misbehaving. This is not the case with stereotypical behaviors. These behaviors do not arise out of the lack of discipline or proper training. Horses with stereotypical behaviors are acting out of frustration stemming from an environmental deficiency.

Stereotypical behavior is therefore a response to the conditions in which horses must live. Wild animals confined in zoos display similar behavior commonly. Examples commonly seen in these animals include constant pacing in an enclosure, and even self-mutilation. Lack of exercise, normal socialization and unnatural feeding practices probably all contribute to the development of stereotypies in both horses and zoo animals.

Stereotypical behaviors are thus rarely observed in animals in their natural environments. Stereotypies are found more commonly in stabled and performance horses than in other groups of horses.

A careful history and physical exam helps a vet rule out physical factors that may be associated with or cause the behavior.

Prognosis & Relevant Factors

Once stereotypical behavior starts, it may improve with management changes but is often difficult to completely eliminate. The key is prevention with proper management in the first place.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


McGreevy P. Equine Behavior, A Guide for Veterinarians & Equine Scientists. Edinburgh: Saunders, 2004.Higgins AJ, Snyder JR eds. The Equine Manual. 2nd Ed. Edinburgh: Elsevier Saunders 2006.


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