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Equine Self-Mutilation Syndrome

Equine Self-Mutilation Syndrome is a type of stereotypy like cribbing, weaving, stall-walking or lip-flapping, generally associated with compromised welfare

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By: Antonia J.Z. Henderson, Ph.D. |

Equine Self-Mutilation Syndrome (ESMS) is a type of stereotypy like cribbing, weaving, stall-walking or lip-flapping. Stereotypies are chronic, invariant, seemingly purposeless behaviours, generally associated with compromised welfare. In a typical self-mutilation episode lasting from a few seconds to several minutes, a horse may spin, bite at the flanks, shoulders, or chest while squealing, striking, or kicking. In more extreme cases horses may lunge into the wall, or even throw themselves to the ground. It is (thankfully) a rare disorder seen primarily in stallions, less so in geldings, and very infrequently in mares. Some researchers have likened the condition to Tourette’s Syndrome in humans – a brain-based neurological disorder where individuals engage in intermittent, unpredictable, purposeless and involuntary sounds or movements called tics. Dr. Sue McDonnell, director of the Equine Behaviour Lab at the New Bolton Centre, identifies three types of ESMS: Type I is an extreme behavioural response to physical…

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