From Your Horse - Jan. 2015
Manage his box walking
Once seen as a vice, box walking is actually a response to stress j and not bad behaviour on the part of your horse. Jason Webb helps you understand and tackle this repetitive practice
Box walking is the name given to repetitive, circular walking or pacing around the sides of a confined area, usually a stable. If you've never seen your horse display this behaviour, signs he may be a box walker include finding a very messy stable each morning, or even a groove worn into his bedding.
Contrary to popular belief, box walking isn't a response to boredom but to stress. When a horse is deprived of his normal herd behaviour patterns, such as grazing, adequate exercise, looking for a mate and social interaction, he may become stressed and frustrated, which may be released in the form of a 'displacement activity', in this case, box walking. In the wild, a horse would show this type.of behaviour if he became separated from the herd by some form of impassable barrier, or if there was a shortage of food or water in a confined area.
Like weaving and wind sucking, box walking tends to develop when horses are stabled for long periods of time. Most horses that develop these habits do so as foals, particularly if they've been separated from their mothers before they are sufficiently independent. This may be why these habits are more common in racing Thoroughbreds, as they are often stabled from a young age.
MANAGING BOX WALKING
Unfortunately, once a horse has developed box walking, it's practically impossible to cure because, while it started out as a means to reduce stress, once it's established as a habit, it causes relatively little or no stress - it's just a thing they do!
However, there are ways to manage the situation. Trying to avoid stabling for long periods and turning out with other horses will help. If an equine friend isn't an option then a companion of another kind may help, chickens for example. I've heard that mirrors positioned in the stable and other stable 'toys' (feed balls in particular) can help to distract a horse, but these tend to only be short-term solutions.
Box walking takes up a large part of a horse's resting and eating time and as a result it's often difficult to manage their weight. Placing forage at intervals around the stable may help to slow box walkers if they decide to eat as they move.
Box walking is seen as a locomotive (or movement) issue, so you can tackle it by educating your horse. By teaching him to be patient before he's moved anywhere, for example in/out of the stable or on/off a trailer, you can help to readdress the balance between him always wanting to move and waiting.
To make your horse feel more comfortable in the stable, you can also use a form of reverse psychology and try to get him to see the stable as a place of rest and relaxation. You can do this by working your horse in another area and returning him to the stable to have some 'time out' before resuming the exercise. In this way, he may begin to associate 'time out' from work with resting in the stable.
DID YOU KNOW
For some horses, being confined in a stable may give them comfort, particularly if its where they're usually fed and watered. For others, it can make them feel claustrophobic, forcing them to look for a way out. If a horse feels vulnerable, then it will be the latter.