The first thing I'm concerned about is the stable itself. It's a very unnatural place to put a horse and no wonder they get vices. They are basically boxes betwen 12' x 10' (3.7m x 3.1m) for a horse under 16hh and 14' x 12' (4.2m x 3.7m) for over 16hh, most however are just 12' x 12'. Go and mark out these measurements and just see how small it is. I don't care how pretty it is, how smartly made or how much it is, in my view small stables are without a doubt a cage.
The American Barn system has rows of loose
boxes facing each other across an 8' - 12'
passage. No outside world to view, no watching
of the seasons or day and night.
And then there are stalls. These are individually partitioned stables in which the horse is
permanently tied up, facing a blank wall. Now I may be over sensitive but just go and try this yourself. With most horses not getting out very often they may be looking at this wall, or stuck in this cage for up to 24 hours. If a person was in a prison cell with these proportional dimensions, I'm pretty sure we'd go demented quite quickly.
I know that some folks put their horses into stables or stalls for only short periods, tie them up to clean them etc but what I'm talking about is the use of these facilities are permanent solutions to house horses in. I just don't like them or think they are appropriate for an animal that should be living out on pasture.
Another thing that a lot of folks do is 'cross-tie' their horses for grooming, washing or sometimes for the whole time they're inside a building. This I don't understand or really approve of and really should not be something the horse should have to endure for long periods of time as he cannot move his head down or left/right. Not fair at all.
I guess it's the place most people are used to seeing horses and take it as normal. IT IS NOT NORMAL! A horse should be running free with others of it's kind. A horse should be in as natural an environment as possible and this rules out the stable. The nicest way for horses to be out of really harsh weather is to have an open barn or sheltered area for them to go in/out of or for a field to have plenty of natural shelter such as trees and hedges. Yes I know it's difficult, your horse gets dirty, it takes longer to get him ready to go out hacking etc but that's just about convenient for us, the human. Let's think about what our horses would really like
We have to stop putting human concerns onto our horses. We don't like getting wet, horses on the other hand seem to have no problem with it and if kept outside all the time and not over-groomed, their coats are very well waterproofed. The only thing horses hate and is bad for them is to be thoroughly soaked and then to freeze.
We also don't care much for wind and cold although I know most horses get friskier when it is windy and very sluggish in the Summer. We mostly like to sunbathe, horses like to be cool and getting too hot is actually worse for a horse than getting cold. So, grass kept horses outside 12 months of the year keep themselves warm and dry if given the opportunity. They're very good at finding natural shelter, we just need to make it available. We also need to feed them good forage throughout the year.
In the wild a horse will travel many miles to get forage and water and only the fit survive. We want to help our horses as much as we can without taking over their natural abilities for survival. I've never seen a farmer worrying over his cows or sheep getting wet and unless the horse is very fragile then we should stop over cosseting our horses. Don't pamper them, just treat them like horses and let them be as natural as possible.
Now, onto the subject of 'vices'. Most vices, are in my opinion, the result of stress and human interference.
Horses weave, because we put them in cages called stables and they want to be out with their friends. Horses crib-bite because we restrict their feed intake, they're stabled alone and they get bored and stressed. Horses kick stables often through bordom, through learned behaviour around feed times as they're hungry or even through hatred of the horse they don't like next door or the cage they are in. Horses, like us, have favourite friends and others they don't care to be next to. Horses are very sensitive and once again most are well behaved and fine when left in fields with their friends and handled carefully and kindly with enough space for all. The horse that is labelled a problem has usually had a problem with a human handling them badly, the fault I'm afraid is usually the human.
I've seen horses that windsuck and crib bite put into an anti-cribbing strap that is put around their throats. It is half metal and half leather and is strapped tightly up around the throat and prevents the horse arching his neck, thereby preventing him from doing the vice.
Most horses that start these vices do so from the stable. They're bored witless and being an intelligent animal they do these things to escape boredom. Wind sucking releases endorphins which help relieve pain caused by acid in the stomach and/or boredom. I have seen horses do these things in fields but usually it starts in the stable and becomes addictive to them especially when they have ulcers from the stomach acid. To then put on a device around the horses neck to STOP the horse trying to relieve this pain really does more harm than good. The vices are relieving him of the pain he is suffering, to take away that relief is like giving someone a severe headache and then not letting them have an asprin.
Recent studies have shown that one of the reasons for cribbing is acid in the stomach. Because horses are built to be trickle feeders, eating little and often, up to 20 hours a day, when we stable them or put them on bare paddocks and either starve them or feed them mostly concentrates the acid builds up to where ulcers start. As well as causing gastric acid to build up, our feeding regimes diminish the chances of the acid being neutralised. There is a specially made antacid for horses made by Feedmark called Settelex which has been known to help but remember an antacid is not a full remedy, the only way to help acid is to help your horse have a more natural lifestyle with plenty of forage. Also acid build up in the stomach, which is the only place it's supposed to be, if not used for it's purpose, which is to break down it's foraged food stuffs, can sometimes get out of the stomach into places it's not supposed to be like the rest of the gut or even leaking into the horse and affecting things like sensitivity in the skin of the horse!
Try to think of more natural remedies for vices, find the real cause and a good, more natural solution ;)