Horse Care Riding Tips

8 Bad Habits & Vices That Turn Dream Horses Into Nightmares

Horse cribbing
Written by Melanie B.

Whoa, Naughty Nelly!

Equine bad habits and vices are terms that you will hear thrown around frequently at barns and stables. They also pop up frequently during sale ads. While the terms are often used interchangeably, there is actually a significant difference.

Equine Vices vs. Bad Habits

A vice is an unwanted behavior that a horse develops due to inadequate care or stress.

A bad habit is an unwanted behavior that a horse learns due to stress or other factors.

Both bad habits and vices are unwanted behaviors that a horse can pick up due to stress and other factors.

However, a key difference between the two is that bad habits can be broken or trained out of them with adequate care and ideal circumstances, while a vice can only be managed.

Are vices learned?

Despite the worry that a horse may learn or pick up a vice from another nearby horse, according to the University of Minnesota Extension Horse Team, there is not any evidence of this being the case.

With that said, if multiple horses at one facility begin to crib, the link is likely due to their quality of care.

Vices are typically caused by inadequate horse care.

Horses are at a much higher risk of developing a vice if they do not have sufficient access to turn out, if they become bored in their stalls, or if they are suffering from an outside stressor. They use the vice as a coping mechanism.

What is stereotypic behavior?

Stereotypic behavior is a repetitive behavior that is not functional to the horse. The stereotypes will not help them achieve a goal.


Bad Habit or Vice? Vice

Description: The terms cribbing and wind sucking are often used interchangeably.

The University of Minnesota distinguishes between the two by explaining that when cribbing, “the horse places its upper teeth against a flat surface, arches its neck, and pulls backwards with its body while making a grunting sound.”

When windsucking, a horse does a similar action, however they do not latch onto an object with their teeth.

Possible Harmful Effects: Doing this can negatively impact the horse’s stomach and digestive system. Cribbing can cause stomach acidity to increase, saliva production to decrease, the digestive system to slow down, and increase the risk of stomach ulcers (University of Minnesota).

Stall or Fence Walking

Bad Habit or Vice? Vice

Description: When stall or fence walking, the horse walks around the perimeter of their enclosed area. This is not a one-time trip around their pen, but a constant circling, to the point that they wear a noticeable path along the perimeter.

Possible Harmful Effects: This behavior can be damaging to both the horse and their environment. This causes damage or excess wear to the environment, and more harmfully, to their muscles and joints, especially if they are constantly turning in one direction.

Wood Chewing

Bad Habit or Vice? Vice

Description: Wood chewing is a relatively self-explanatory vice. Horses chew on the wood near them in their stalls or in their field.

Possible Harmful Effects: Wood chewing can cause excess tooth wear and possible splinters, both in their mouth and further along their digestive tract (University of Minnesota).


Bad Habit or Vice? Vice

Description: Weaving is a behavior that the horse conducts while standing still. The horse will sway their head and neck from side to side while also shifting their weight back and forth with the motion.

Possible Harmful Effects: It is inconclusive whether weaving has any effects on the horse, however some experts believe that long-term weaving can lead to increased stress on a horse’s joints.


Bad Habit or Vice? Vice

Description: When pawing, a horse has three feet planted on the ground while one of their front hooves repeatedly strikes at the ground. Horses may do this in their stall or while turned out, but it is very common to see a horse do this while tied.

Possible Harmful Effects: Pawing can wear down hooves quicker than normal, or cause other injury depending on what they are striking. Also, repeatedly striking the ground could cause joint issues if this is a habitual behavior, especially when the footing is hard.

Head Bobbing

Bad Habit or Vice? Vice

Description: Horses may bob their head if there is a physical issue, such as a problem with their ears, tack, bugs, or other irritants.This behavior turns into a vice, however, when the behavior becomes compulsive.

Possible Harmful Effects: Head bobbing can cause problems under saddle. If significant enough, riders may have troubles handling their horse. It could also affect placings at a horse show.


Bad Habit or Vice? Bad Habit

Description: While some horses may curiously investigate a new object with their mouth, it is considered biting when a horse lashes out with their teeth in an aggressive way.

Possible Harmful Effects: Although their teeth are not sharp like carnivorous animals, horses have very strong jaws and a bite can cause serious injury.

Horse in stall

Photo Cred: Canva


Bad Habit or Vice? Bad Habit

Description: Rearing is a behavior that is often showcased by horses in movies and tv shows. While doing this, the horse lifts their front feet off the ground while balancing on their back legs.

Possible Harmful Effects: It is not uncommon to see a horse rear when interacting with other horses, however it can be very dangerous if the behavior occurs while they are carrying a rider. Rearing horses can lose their balance, flipping over backwards.

This can cause serious injury, even fatalities, to both horse and rider.

How do you fix a horse with vices?

Unlike a bad habit, a vice cannot be trained out of a horse, and therefore must be managed.

Before attempting to manage a horse’s vice, it would be beneficial to consult a veterinarian to ensure that they are not showing symptoms of a larger issue.

Lameness, sore muscles, painful tack, and other outside factors could cause a horse enough stress to begin a vice. If there are no major issues, you can begin managing the vice using a few different methods:


If your horse has developed a vice in their stall, the easiest solution may be to change their environment.

If given the option between grazing and cribbing, a horse is much more likely to choose to graze.

By increasing their turnout time as well as the quality of their turnout, horses will not be as likely to resort to vices out of boredom.


Horses are herd animals. A big stressor may be loneliness, and they turn to their vice to cope. Either boarding at a facility that allows them turnout with other horses or acquiring a companion animal can greatly improve this stress.

Stable Management

If you are unable to change their companionship or environment, changing their stable care can help a lot.

There are some mechanical fixes that can be employed. Cribbing collars are devices that are fastened around a horse’s neck that keep them from being unable to suck in air when they crib.

For a horse that stall or fence walks, placing obstacles in their path might minimize the behavior.

If horses are bored in their stalls, giving them slow feed hay nets, toys, and other enrichment activities can help keep them occupied. Also ensure that they are getting enough exercise.

horse stall toy

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Feeding Schedule

Horses were meant to graze, so a good thing to try when managing a vice would be to increase their access to forage and to feed more frequently.

If you can only give your horse hay a couple times of day, giving that hay in a hay net to slow their eating would help keep them occupied for longer and reduce the time they spend on their vice.

Cribbing and wood chewing may also be indicative of a deficiency in their diet. A vet should be consulted to determine whether supplements should be added to their diet.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Do stable vices affect the use and value of a horse?

According to the Kentucky Equine Research Staff, horses with stable vices are not cognitively impaired and can learn at the same rate as horses without vices and bad habits.

So, horses with vices and stereotypic behavior do not learn slower or experience any cognitive impairment compared to horses without those behaviors.

Regardless, the value of the horse may still decrease if they do suffer from a vice.

As mentioned earlier, vices need to be managed, and some vices can cause health issues. Between those two factors, as well as possible damage to the barn, the value of the horse may be diminished when considering selling prices.

Q: What does “no vices” mean in a horse ad?

When a horse sale ad says “no vices” it means that the horse does not have any compulsive vices.

Be aware that because some bad habits are not considered vices, they may not be listed. Additionally, a horse not having any vice today does not indicate that they may not develop one later, if their care is not adequate.

Q: What are the effects of stable vices in horses?

Some stable vices can be more detrimental to a horse’s health than others. Specifically, cribbing can lead to problems with the digestive system. A vice may also impact a horse’s sale value. Head bobbing can even lead to a poor placing in a show.

Some boarding stables may not want to board a horse with a vice like cribbing or wood chewing due to the management and repairs that it would entail.

Carefully managing your horse’s lifestyle to ensure that they never develop a vice is essential.

Horse bite sign

Photo Cred: Canva

Parting Thoughts

While most vices and bad habits are not detrimental to a horse, they can be indicative of a larger problem. If your horse begins to develop a vice, this could be an indication that they are lacking in an aspect of their care.

Careful management and a healthy lifestyle with sufficient turnout and access to forage can greatly reduce the risk of a horse developing a vice.

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University of Minnesota:

Kentucky Equine Research:,behavior%20in%20horses%20remains%20unclear.


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About the author


I'm passionate about horses, a passion that was kindled through a lifetime immersed in lessons, horse camps, and the joy of riding. It all began when I first felt the thrill of the saddle as a child and continued as I found myself working at a boarding stable and teaching beginner riding lessons. Throughout my equestrian journey, I've grown to own two magnificent horses, embarking on an adventure competing in both English and Western disciplines.