Stall walking used to be called a 'stable vice'. It’s often regarded as a bad habit, just as weaving, wood chewing, and cribbing are. Stall walkers aren't bad horses, they just have a bad habit that can become destructive to both the horse, and to the stable and paddocks. A variation is fence walking.
What is stall walking?
Stall walking is also known as box walking. When a horse stall walks it will either continuously walk around the perimeter of its stall or it may walk back and forth from one wall to the other. A horse that is outdoors may 'fence walk' from boredom or frustration as well. A stabled horse that stall walks may also kick the walls and paw. A horse that fence walk may paw and appear to dig.
Why do horses stall walk?
Boredom and frustration are the main causes of stall walking. A horse may be bored or frustrated because it is kept separate from other horses, its feed is restricted, or it's kept in a stall for prolonged periods. Fence walking usually occurs when a horse is kept separated from feed or herd mates. Stall walking may be a frustrated flight response.
What are the effects of stall walking?
A horse’s natural environment gives it lots of exercise so it can burn off energy. And they live in small herds, which serves its social needs. Horses also spend most of their time eating. When we keep it indoors in a small space, we are frustrating its need for movement, friends, and grazing.
Some horses can cope with this, but some don’t and express their frustration in ways that may not be good for it. A horse who habitually stall walks may be difficult to keep in healthy condition. Nervous stall walking burns a lot of energy and while a horse is stall walking it is not eating. This can cause a decline in the horse’s condition if the habit is severe. Stall walking may also be damaging to flooring, especially dirt floors, and a fence walker will quickly wear ruts along fence lines. There is a chance the horse could hurt itself as it repeatedly paces, kicks or paws.
How can stall walking be stopped or prevented?
Stall walking may be difficult to stop if the horse must have stall rest due to illness or injury, must be kept separated (such as a stallion) or is on a restricted diet. To prevent stall walking you could try putting safe toys in the stall and hanging clean plastic bottles from the ceiling. The toys may be enough to distract the horse. Others may only see toys as obstacles to walk over or around. Learn to keep your horse healthy and happy in its stall and manage a stretch of stall rest.
A horse turned out with companions will be happier and less likely to stall walk or develop other vices. This is the best way to prevent stall walking. Lots of grazing, or eating at a round bale will occupy your horse in a natural way, and exercise in the form of riding or driving may help.