Horse Chewing Wood: What is Cribbing?
Cribbing is a bad habit for a horse as it allows him to solve a stressful situation. It has been observed that cribbers often have anxious behavior, but cribbing can be caused by a wide variety of issues. While it is not 100% clear what exactly causes horses to crib, some of the common causes are:
- Being teased while tied up (sucking against an immovable object)
- A stress free environment outside of the stable (too much freedom)
- Sensory deprivation in the stable
- Sensory overload
- Excessive play while being tied up
- Being bored
- Poor nutrition
- Emotional stress
As previously mentioned, there are a lot of different reasons why a horse might crib. Because it is caused by so many factors, it’s also important to identify what exactly is causing your horse to create an association between cribbing and some sort of reward. The reason is that this is a solution that your horse has come up with to release stress.
Before your horse starts to make the association between cribbing and a reward, you will see him being fidgety and being sick while sucking on the wood. As he continues to do it, he will begin to be very comfortable with the whole process and won’t even give it a second thought.
Horse Chewing Wood: Why Do Horses Crib?
Horses have a natural desire to chew which is aided by the continuous wear of the teeth, as they continually grind against each other. They can be selective too, nibbling on objects that are softer and more palatable than others in their environment or that are easily digestible. You may also find that horses will crib when they are bored, stressed, and/or anxious.
If your horse chews wood in his stall, you need to nip this habit before it becomes more serious. Being in a stall doesn’t make cribbing behavior any less dangerous as a horse can choke and die from an impaction. In addition, since your horse will nibble on anything in his stall, it’s a good idea to replace potentially dangerous items with more suitable options.
Furthermore, cribbing behavior can escalate quickly, especially if your horse is alone in the stall. Horses that crib on their own can be very secretive and can damage their teeth when they chew wood. A horse who cribs on their own may end up having to wear a cribbing strap or break the habit with the help of a trainer. Still, it’s better to prevent your horse from cribbing all together, to avoid injury to himself, as well as possible damage to the wood in his stall.
The good old saying of “If a human does it, why can’t an animal?” often comes up when discussing the behavior of horses. We love to know the deeper meaning and reason behind what an animal does. When horses started cribbing, men and women, who were around horses for a long time, said it was because of flies bothering them when eating, thus they learned to hold the food in their mouth to chew it when out of the box. Didn't make sense? There are some theories about why animals do what they do. I won't get into those here but I will give you some ideas about horses cribbing.
When we take a look at a horse and a human, we have things in common: Both humans and horses have feelings, emotions and can make choices. In humans, common issues causing anxiety can cause people to act out in certain ways. These same problems can occur with horses, as often, the human form, such as an owner, has caused the issues with a horse.
Horse Chewing Wood: Stomach/Gastric Pain
(Bloat) or Tit (Mouth)?
There are many reasons horses chew wood ranging from boredom to thirst to a medical issue. So let’s start with the basics on external reasons such as boredom.
The very first step is to remove any potential boredom triggers. A bored horse will chew wood or other objects, such as fencing, to help release pent up energy. You can address boredom through exercise, exactly how much will depend on your individual horse. A vet or equine professional is the best person to help you determine the right amount.
However, certain types of exercise are not appropriate for all horses. For instance, a high-energy horse can easily injure a less active horse. Some owners setup obstacle courses or challenge themselves and their horses by entering them in eventing or jumper classes. Whatever form boredom relief takes, if it’s appropriate for you and your horse, it’s a very smart thing to do. Boredom relief is a very smart and relatively inexpensive way to prevent cribbing.
How to Stop a Horse from Chewing Wood
Cribbing is a bad habit that is common in some horses and ponies. Horses chew or pull on wood with their front teeth (incisors) and sometimes their molars.
Wood is a lot softer than the wood fence, which is what horses normally crib on. Unfortunately, because of this fact, horses can sometimes break their teeth, wear down their teeth, and cause other dental problems when they crib wood.
Cribbing is a bad habit when it’s done often. It could be a sign of boredom, which is easily fixed although it can be hard for horses when they are in a stable or in a pen with nothing to do. Cribbing is also commonly found in horses that were bottle fed when they were young. If the bottle is held by the horse’s mouth, he will begin cribbing on the bottle.
So how can you stop your horse from cribbing?
There are several types of cribbing collars and devices. Of these, the simplest to use is the cribbing collar. This is often also known as a belly band, or as a crib-biter. It is made of nylon or leather and should be worn high enough that it doesn’t dig into the horse’s skin.
Cribbing collars tight enough to deter cribbing may cause sores on the horse’s trunk if they are worn for too long.
The first step to stopping cribbing is to discover what triggers it. Sit with and observe your horse while he cribs. Try to write down the circumstances surrounding his cribbing episodes. They can include:
Reading your cues and anticipating you in the barn.
Being in a tough spot on pasture.
Being ready to sleep.
Wind, changes in daylight, and often in tandem with changes in weather.
Being with other horses.
Having an itch, especially on the belly or other body part.
The goal is to understand what it is about these actions that makes your horse crave the real or psychological pleasure he gets from wood. Then you can offer him the same (or better) with an activity or object that doesn’t involve cribbing. A groom in a stall, an all-natural product on his horse body ingredient list, or a new toy like a chew ball could be the answer.
Refusing to engage him in the cribbing action almost always stops the behavior soon. The challenge lies in finding the appropriate distraction. The most common distraction is tack, but it's something to use with caution. If the horse has already been taught to crib with or while being handled, the same cues that trigger the cribbing behavior can trigger the need to crib while you or a helper put on or remove the gear.
Cribbing is bad for a horse’s health because it puts an added strain on their neck and throat muscles. It can cause pressure on the windpipe and lungs which leads to coughing and choking. Cribbing is also detrimental to teeth because of the friction that occurs when the horse bites and pulls on the cribbing object. If you notice cribbing, owners have a few options to correct the problem.
One option is to put a cribbing collar on the horse, but they can only be used for short periods of time. If a horse cribs for a long period of time, they can develop an abrasion on their esophagus and stomach which can become infected.
Paint and Other Alternative Solutions
If your horse is cribbing wood slat bedding and chewing it to pieces, you may be able to stop them with a quick and easy paint job. This texture change is enough to fool the horse and get them to give up chewing the wood.
To paint your wood slats, just use common latex paint.
Use brightly colored paint if you don’t want your horse to bite into the wood. Black and white slats aren’t usually an issue.
The taste of the paint and the texture of the slats are enough to keep them from cribbing the wood.
Many owners even report paint jobs lasting indefinitely.
If your horse is a chewer, he needs something to do during his chewing hours. Providing him with recycled logs or cardboard cutouts is an inexpensive way to appeal to a horse’s need to chew.
Cribbing is the act of a horse eating wood or wooden fences. It's a way for him to relieve stress. It's also a natural behavior that may have started with wild horses who would eat the wood of trees they crashed into when running away from predators.
A cribbing collar that applies pressure to the neck to discourage the horse from cribbing is just one of the methods that can be used if other things have failed.
Remember to always assess the environment and your horse's temperament before assuming that he cribs because he's bored. An older or arthritic horse may crave the ok pressure but not be a cribber. His need for the pressure may be triggered by a change in his environment, such as a new tack or an annoyed handler.
Also, watch how closely you are monitoring your horse's cribbing. Some cribbers crib when they think no one is around. It's important to interpret the ways horses show their needs.
If you’ve tried to identify and fill needs but haven't had success, consult a vet. A cribber may be suffering from a medical issue.