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I’ve seen all sorts of strange behaviors in horses. But there’s one that still sometimes frustrates me to no end: pacing. So when I met a new horse owner at the stable and was asked about the pacing behavior she noticed in her horse, I was happy to help her understand it better.
Horses pace for many reasons, including medical issues such as pain or neurological problems, environmental factors such as confinement or herd dynamics, and genetics or breed predispositions. Understanding the underlying cause of a horse’s pacing behavior is important to effectively address and manage it.
Pacing behavior in horses.
Pacing in horses is characterized by repetitive walking or trotting back and forth along a predetermined path, often along a fence line or in a small enclosure.
I have seen horses pace in paddocks, stalls, and on fence rows. Pacing can signify stress, frustration, or discomfort in horses and can be harmful to horses.
For example, the repetitive movement required for pacing can put a lot of strain on a horse’s joints, leading to lameness or other physical problems. Pacing can also cause a horse’s hooves to wear down more quickly than normal, leading to problems such as thin soles or cracks in the hoof wall.
In addition, pacing can increase a horse’s risk of injury, as the repetitive movement may cause it to trip, fall, or collide with objects in its path. We had a horse that paced its stall and would bang into its feed and water buckets.
Furthermore, pacing can be a sign of mental stress, anxiety, or frustration in horses, which can negatively impact their overall well-being.
It is important to address horse pacing behavior to prevent these harmful effects and improve the animal’s well-being.
Common Misconceptions About Pacing
Several common misconceptions about why horses’ pace may lead people to misunderstand or underestimate the significance of this behavior. Some of these misinterpretations include:
- Pacing is just a sign of boredom: While it is certainly possible that horses pace out of boredom or frustration, this is not always the case. Other underlying factors, such as medical issues or environmental stressors, may be at play.
- Pacing is a harmless or meaningless behavior: While pacing may not always be destructive or harmful in and of itself, it can be a symptom of other problems or a sign of stress or discomfort in the horse. Ignoring or dismissing pacing as a harmless or meaningless behavior can lead to more serious problems down the line.
- Pacing is easy to fix: Depending on the underlying cause of a horse’s pacing behavior, it may be more or less difficult to address. Some pacing behaviors can be resolved relatively quickly and easily with the right management or training strategies, while others may require more time and effort to resolve. It is important to be patient and persistent in finding a solution that works for the individual horse.
Medical Causes of Pacing
Pacing in horses can be caused by a variety of medical issues. One common medical cause of pacing is pain. If a horse is in pain, it may pace to relieve pressure on a sore area or respond to discomfort.
Pacing may be more common in horses with conditions such as laminitis, colic, or back pain. Neurological problems can also cause pacing in horses. Conditions such as EPM (Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis) or Wobbler Syndrome can lead to neurological abnormalities that result in abnormal gait patterns, including pacing.
In addition to pain and neurological problems, some other medical conditions can lead to pacing in horses, such as hormonal imbalances, respiratory problems, and gastrointestinal issues.
It is important to consult a veterinarian to rule out the medical causes of pacing and to develop an appropriate treatment plan. In some cases, addressing the underlying medical issue can resolve the pacing behavior.
Several environmental factors can contribute to pacing in horses. Some of the most common environmental factors that may lead to pacing include:
- Confinement: If a horse is confined to a small space, it may pace to release excess energy or respond to frustration or boredom.
- Herd dynamics: In a herd setting, pacing may signal stress or discomfort in the horse. For example, a horse may pace if it is being bullied or harassed by other herd members or not getting along with its stablemates.
- Genetics and breed: Some breeds of horses, such as Thoroughbreds, may be more prone to pacing due to genetics or breed predispositions.
Changing the horse’s living or social circumstances may be necessary to resolve pacing behavior.
Management and Training Strategies
Several management and training strategies can effectively reduce or eliminate horse pacing behavior. One approach is to address any underlying medical issues.
For example, if a horse is pacing due to pain, administering medication or implementing a specific feeding or exercise plan recommended by a veterinarian may be necessary to resolve the pacing behavior.
Another strategy is to provide adequate space and stimulation for the horse. If a horse is pacing due to confinement or boredom, increasing the size of its living area or providing more mental and physical stimulation through activities such as turnout or training sessions may help to reduce the pacing behavior.
Changing the horse’s social situation may also be necessary in some cases. For example, if a horse’s pacing is related to its herd dynamics or social situation, rearranging the herd or introducing new herdmates may improve the horse’s well-being and reduce pacing behavior.
Here are a few things I’ve done that have worked; I rearranged the horses in the barn so the one pacing could see horses he was familiar with and liked. I’ve also brought companion animals to our barn; goats, cats, and dogs have all worked well to lower our horse’s anxiety and reduce pacing.
Additionally, training techniques such as classical conditioning, desensitization, and counter-conditioning may effectively reduce or eliminate pacing behavior, depending on the individual horse and the underlying cause.
I personally have used a combination of these strategies with success in the past to address pacing behavior in horses under my care. I currently have a horse that paces frantically in his stall when other horses leave the barn.
He gets going so fast that I worry he will get hurt. I thought about using hobbles to slow him down. Hobbles are restraints placed on a horse’s legs to restrict its movement.
They are sometimes used when a horse needs to be kept from moving too far or fast. This seemed like a perfect solution; however, a friend advised against using them because it may cause the horse more stress or discomfort.
It is important to work with a qualified professional, such as a veterinarian or an experienced trainer, when developing a plan to address the pacing behavior of a horse.
Why horses pace is mysterious and sometimes frustrating behavior. While it is often assumed that pacing is simply a sign of boredom or frustration, there are actually many reasons why some horses pace.
Medical issues such as pain or neurological problems, environmental factors such as confinement or herd dynamics, and genetics or breed predispositions can all contribute to pacing behavior.
To effectively address and manage pacing behavior, it is important to understand the underlying cause and implement appropriate strategies, such as addressing medical issues, providing more space or stimulation for the horse, changing the horse’s social situation, or using training techniques to modify the behavior.
Working with a qualified professional, such as a veterinarian or an experienced trainer, can help develop a plan to address pacing behavior and improve the horse’s well-being.
Here is a YouTube video about training horses with stall problems.
FAQs: Why Horses Pace
Is pacing natural for a horse?
Pacing is not a natural behavior for horses. In the wild, horses are constantly on the move and do not engage in the repetitive back-and-forth movement that is characteristic of pacing.
Can anxiety cause a horse to pace in its stall?
Yes, anxiety can cause a horse to pace in its stall. Pacing is often a sign of stress or discomfort in horses, and anxiety is a common cause of stress in these animals. If a horse feels anxious or uncertain, it may pace in its stall to release excess energy or respond to its feelings of unease.
I love animals! Especially horses, I’ve been around them most of my life but I am always learning more and enjoy sharing with others. I have bought, sold, and broke racehorse yearlings. I have raised some winning horses and had some that didn’t make it as racehorses, so we trained them in other disciplines.