Destructive Habits: Overview Copy
A destructive habit is a repeated behavior that has become entrenched in the nervous system of the horse and causes actual damage or presents potential danger to the animal or its surroundings. Destructive habits are more than just an annoyance in a horse. They can lead to injury to the animal or to those around them, as well as significant property damage.
Correcting destructive habits will be met with varied success depending on the cause of the habit and how long the habit has been in place. In the initial assessment of a habit, you should investigate whether the horse is reacting to stimuli in the immediate environment. Does the behavior change when the horse is moved or when certain people or certain horses are present? (A guardian may be far more lenient with their own horse even to the point of encouraging “cute” habits that they would consider intolerable in another horse.) Paying attention, even in the form of reprimands, may encourage some horses and reinforce bad habits. Sometimes ignoring or turning away from a horse who is misbehaving may be sufficient reprimand. Many of these habits however are not behavioral, but actually entrenched in the central nervous system, so punishment is rarely successful.
As a massage therapist, you may be able to turn the situation to your favor simply by: changing the handler, restraining the horse in a different manner or engaging the guardian in conversation that diverts them from fussing over your equine client. Do not pass judgment in these cases. Everyone has the right to care for their horse as they see fit, short of abuse or cruelty.
You should protect yourself from a horse’s destructive habits. You have the right to refuse to work on any horse at any time if you believe you or the horse are being compromised or placed in danger.
Let’s look at some of the typical destructive habits you may see in horses.