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Dealing with Domestication

Stereotypies, such as cribbing and weaving, are repetitive behaviours that follow a ritualized, invariant sequence and appear to serve no obvious purpose. Bizarre as many stereotypies appear to be, they are all components of a normal behaviour that has been isolated from its external goal or function, and which the animal is highly motivated to perform. Weaving for example, may originate as a thwarted, and now abbreviated, walking sequence where a stall-bound horse is prevented from reaching his intended goal (companions, feed or movement). A weaving horse remains stationary, but shifts weight between the forelegs or, in some cases, among all four legs, which eventually develops into a highly stylized, repetitive sequence. In common horse parlance, stereotypies are often referred to as “stable vices,” although, as I will argue, the defects are more relevant to the management practices that precipitated them than to any malevolence on the part of the…

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