Why Do Horses Crib?

Jessica McDaniel
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What is Cribbing in Horses?

Cribbing is a troublesome habit that a horse develops when it is being stalled for long periods of time. Horses naturally need a lot of exercise and companionship, so when they are cooped up in a stall for too long, cribbing is the result.

Horses are natural cribbers. Therefore, they will crib even without being stalled. However, these behaviors are most prevalent among horses that are being kept in stalls or pens.

Horses have a habit of taking a bite out of wood fence palings. What horses do is take a bite from a fence and then spit it out after a few seconds. It's during this time when the horse's tongue is suspended from the top of the mouth that it starts to suck and draw the cribbing object up and down.

This action causes the horse to produce saliva which is why many owners choose to take away their horses' cribbing objects. Their assumption is that the horse won't crib if it doesn't have anything to crib. However, this is not the best practice as it doesn't cure the problem.

Rather than take away the horse's cribbing object, it's important to understand why horses crib and try to prevent the behavior. There's a method called stall inhibition which is recommended by animal behaviorists to treat congnitively disordered horses such as those that crib.

Why Do Horses Crib?

Cribbing is a behavior in horses where they suck at a wooden object, most commonly a fence, pole or stall. It is a compulsive and potentially destructive behavior that can be difficult to stop.

A cribbing horse can cause considerable damage to its surroundings. It often wears the hair and the front of its lower legs, and it can even break its teeth from cribbing. The horse can also choke itself from swallowing too much wood.

Cribbing usually occurs when the horse is turned out in a group for the night, which is when it's usually bored and restless. The horse is looking for something to do and a good cribbing horse can consume 3 to 4 feet of wood per day. The behavior is common with young horses, as well as some older ones, not people's pets.

A behavioral modification approach is often the best way to eliminate cribbing. A horse's cribbing can be associated with stress, just like humans can develop a "vicious habit" to help deal with stress. This is why often a horses cribbing is reduced with the introduction of a new animal in the herd, such as a companion horse or a horse buddy or a couple of ponies. A cribbing horse is often much worse if it is lonely.

Preventing Horse Cribbing

Horse cribbing is a dangerous and harmful behavior that can lead to digestive, respiratory, and other health issues for your horse. It is important to look at horse cribbing in an unbiased way, to get an accurate view of the problem and help prevent the problem from continuing.

While scientists have advanced understanding of why horses crib, the specific reason your horse is cribbing is much more difficult to determine. It is important to recognize that cribbing is not a normal behavior for a horse and that there are ways to reduce and eventually eliminate cribbing.

By becoming more familiar with the signs of horse cribbing and studying all possible causes of cribbing you may be able to reduce the risk of crib-biting.

Stopping Horse Cribbing

Cribbing, known in the horse world as wind sucking, refers to the horse's oral fixation reflex where he sucks on an object in rhythmic tightening and relaxing of his jaw/neck muscles. When you see a horse cribbing there is often an accompanying "click" noise coming from the horse chewing at the crib. The behavior is common in horses in both pastures and stables and transcends age, breed, gender, and ownership, as it's believed to be inherent in horses.

The behavior is considered abnormal because it can be a sign of stress, anxiety, boredom, or just plain frustration. Cribbing is also an indicator of a physical problem, although medical issues are not always the direct cause of cribbing. This is why it's an important behavior to monitor, as it may indicate an underlying issue.

Conclusion

Horse cribbing is a recurrent behavior pattern by the horse. It is a psychological diversion for the horse while they get relief from something in the equine environment, and it's either totally or partially a ventilating and cleansing behavior. Cribbing is not a curiosity associated with aging. While it's not known why horses crib, it is certainly known that it's pastime in young horses, as well as old, and can lead to lethal consequences. Cribbing isn't a "simple" problem and should only be dealt with by professionals.

The Professional Advice

Realistically, if your horse is cribbing you should have it examined by an equine specialist vet. They will be able to find out why your horse is cribbing and provide the most appropriate ways to handle the problem. Cribbing horses can suffer with problems like colic and ulcers. Cribbing can also be a symptom of dental problems, equipment problems or leg pain, and this needs to be taken into account. A qualified equine vet can take an in-depth look at the horse and give it a thorough examination to find out exactly what the cause of the cribbing is.

The Do It Yourself Method

As mentioned previously, if the horse isn't showing any sign of abdominal pain or any physical ailments then trying to stop it yourself is fairly safe, although I don't recommend it.