A characteristic that is often times difficult to pin-point, self-mutilation is sometimes an overlooked concern. The challenge lies in determining whether it’s truly a self-mutilation concern, or a behavior caused by colic or other health concerns.
So what is self-mutilation in horses? Generally, it’s much more common in males (often stallions) than in females. The pattern can develop as a colt, where they may begin to nip at their chest or flank. It is often brought by the on-set of sexual maturity. It can start as missing patches in the hair coat, and progress to more prevalent wounds.
It is important, if your horse is displaying signs of self-mutilation, to consult your veterinarian to rule out internal or external sources of pain. This can often times be the reason for the self-mutilation, so it’s important to troubleshoot these issues with your veterinarian.
Eliminating the pain (if present) is the first step in combating the problem. Other options could include a ridged neck cradle, providing more time out of confinement, adding a stall-mate or increasing work or exercise.
Like with cribbing, feed management can also play a factor. Providing free-choice hay, with a slow feeding haynet can sometimes ease that boredom that can be associated with the cause of self-mutilation. Again, consult your veterinarian on a treatment plan that will best fit you and your horse.