If you own a horse chances are you will come across a horse windsucking at some stage.
Windsucking is a common problem with horses and it can cause serious health issues such as stomach ulcers, dental issues, weight loss.
Understand the reasons why horses begin to windsuck and learn how you can stop your horse from doing it.
What Is Windsucking?
Windsucking is when a horse tightly draws in the muscles of its neck and esophagus and forces air into its throat. The result is a strange gasping sound that is usually followed by dysfunctional behavior, such as your horse licking their lips or swallowing repeatedly.
Unlike other vices, windsucking is particularly difficult to break. For starters, your horse won’t be biting into their door like when cribbing or crib-biting. This makes it really difficult to prevent them from performing the sucking behavior.
With cribbing, you could at least try to add a crib collar to your horse’s neck or ensure they can’t access the door or wall where they crib. But how do you stop your horse from sucking air into their throat when that’s what their throat is designed for?
Reasons Your Horse Is Windsucking
Before we look at possible solutions, preventions, and cures, let’s consider why horses windsuck. Horses will begin windsucking for several reasons:
- They Are Bored
In nature, horses are too busy to be bored. When they live in a natural herd situation, horses have their own social circles. They also have enough grazing and activities such as chasing and playing with a friend to keep them mentally and physically occupied.
Sadly, most pleasure and competition horses never get to experience this due to cramped stabling and small paddocks.
When horses are kept in their stable with minimal turn-out time, they have nothing to do except eat high-concentrate sugary feeds that require no effort on the horse’s part to find and eat.
It is no surprise that horses tend to be bored. When their feed runs out, they will begin to find other ways to amuse themselves, which includes sucking air into their throat. Soon, their own nervousness will make this pastime a habit.
- They Aren’t Fed Enough
Sometimes a horse will not get enough nutritional intake of roughage and fiber into their diet, or they will develop a taste for their sweet feed, which will prompt the windsucking behavior.
While your horse may not bite onto a hard surface to satisfy themselves, they will suck in air, stimulating their throat muscles and causing the air to flow into their stomachs, which will make them feel fuller.
In some extreme cases, a horse may also regurgitate their feed, effectively giving themselves a second meal. This kind of windsucking can become extremely dangerous as it increases the risk of ulcers and they can even develop a megaesophagus.
In horses, a megaesophagus can result from extra pressure on the lining of the esophagus where it enters the stomach, forming a pouch that collects food. There is very little that can be done about this, and it can cause serious digestive problems for horses, increases the risk of choke, and can lead to extreme weight loss over time.
- They Aren’t Socialized Enough
Horses are social animals, and their mental well-being often depends on being able to mutually groom another horse, run, and play. When we isolate them by keeping them in private paddocks or limiting them to box-rest, our horses easily become desocialized, and before long, they will start to reward themselves with other forms of pleasure such as windsucking.
- They Are Stressed
At times, horses can be quite stressed. Moving a horse to a new boarding facility or stabling yard can lead to serious stress and anxiety for your horse. The result is they become unhappy.
A natural instinct among horses is to eat when they are feeling stressed. This stress can also trigger a bout of indigestion or colic, and it can even lead to their death.
A stressed horse may windsuck to ease stomach pain from ulcers, and the feeling of regurgitation as they force the stomach sphincter to open by tightening their throat muscles and sucking in air can soothe them.
It’s the horse’s equivalent of self-hugging, except the horse doesn’t have arms, so they have to find other ways to feel warm and full.
Is Windsucking Bad for Horses?
For the most part, windsucking is an annoying vice that horses develop. However, when a horse does it so repetitively that it starts affecting their appetite, since they feel full, and they lose weight, it can become a life-threatening condition.
Horses that windsuck will develop the incorrect muscles in their throat due to the excessive sucking and self-bracing behavior they engage in while they windsuck. This can lead to issues with head carriage and overall body health too.
The horse’s stomach is designed for liquid or masticated roughage, not for air. By having a regular intake of air into the stomach, your horse can develop ulcers, suffer bouts of colic, and their appetite will be negatively affected as they will not graze as they should.
How to Stop a Horse Windsucking
Firstly, a horse far outweighs you, so why would you want to try to force them into anything? Stopping them when they don’t understand that windsucking is bad for them is nearly impossible. Instead, your focus will be on distraction, mental and physical activity, and preparation.
- Prepare an Interesting Environment
When your horse is mentally occupied, they will be less inclined to windsuck and they will be content in their environment.
Add some interesting elements to your horse’s stable if that’s where they tend to windsuck. Perhaps you can add a non-breakable mirror to your horse’s stable, or you may hang a salt-lick or some apples on a string to help keep your horse interested and assist them to explore their world.
When your horse is being mentally involved, they will be less interested in their damaging habit of windsucking.
- Feed Appropriately
Be sure to measure how much you feed according to your horse’s body type and decide which feeds your horse can handle. If your horse has a sensitivity to molasses, you should avoid feeding these as they may trigger a negative reaction that will encourage windsucking.
Keep a food diary for a week or a fortnight and note the amounts of feed, as well as what you feed and how your horse responded after each meal.
Feed your horse from ground level to ensure their necks stretch out when they eat as this will result in better digestion and less cause for windsucking.
- Ensure Ad-lib Hay
A happy horse is a horse that can chew. Limit the damage to their esophagus and focus on giving them free choice of grass hay. This will help keep your horse happy as they can munch away at a bale of quality hay while they wait for you to come visit them.
- Stimulate Good Physical and Social Activity
Horses love to run, and you will do well to ensure you provide regular stimulation to help settle their mind. Provide your horse with a paddock friend such as a smaller pony or even some ducks.
Before long you will have a much healthier and happier pet who can be trusted to look after themself. Ensure your horse has loads of movement to keep them physically sound.
A windsucking horse has a vice much like cribbing, yet they can also be the best buy you have ever made. It all boils down to whether you can stand the sound of windsucking or not, and whether you can help your horse limit the habit to protect their health. There are many successful horse athletes that windsuck. If a horse windsucks, it doesn’t affect their athletic performance, provided they are healthy.
When your horse cribs, they bite onto a hard surface, arching their neck, and they may or may not draw a small amount of air into their stomach. Windsucking, on the other hand, is when your horse arches their neck, without biting onto a hard surface, and as a result, they draw in a lot of air into its stomach. Both cribbing and windsucking are caused by boredom, inappropriate feeding, and stress.