Have you ever walked into the barn to hear a strange grunting noise coming from one of the stalls? Do you know a horse who’s slowly eating through the fencing, his feed buckets, his stall doors? Perhaps your own horse has a cribbing habit. Horses who crib, a common issue, are not only destructive, but they’re also at risk for a number of health issues.
What is cribbing?
Cribbing, sometimes referred to as “windsucking,” is a behavior where horses latch onto a piece of wood, arch their necks, pull backwards, and let out a loud grunting noise. They’ll repeat this behavior again and again, sometimes for hours on end.
Cribbers can vary in degrees of severity; some horses crib only when stalled, whereas others will actively search out fences while in turnout for the sole purpose of cribbing. The behavior can be hard on barns; repeated cribbing will wear down wood edges, fences can be destroyed, and a cribber may even pull feed tubs from the walls.
What’s the effect of cribbing?
Besides the negative effect on the barn, cribbing takes a toll on the horse’s body as well. Cribbers may grind down their teeth from the repeated motion, making grazing more difficult and leaving them more prone to choke. Severe cribbers may prefer to crib instead of eating, so weight maintenance can become a serious issue. Cribbers may be prone to colic, and they repeatedly stress the muscles in their necks and backs. Potential buyers may be wary of purchasing a horse who cribs, so the behavior can have a negative effect on the horse’s value, as well.
Why does my horse crib?
The cause for cribbing is still up for debate among equine professionals. Cribbing is often attributed to stress or boredom, as it frequently manifests in horses who spend a great deal of time in their stalls, such as racehorses or show horses. Some veterinarians have proposed that a horse may crib to alleviate pain; the act of cribbing releases endorphins, the same feel-good chemical that the human body produces during exercise. Another theory is that horses who crib may be doing so to ease the pain of stomach ulcers.
What can I do about cribbing?
If your horse cribs, try to maximize the amount of time that he’s outside in a pasture. Providing cribbers with 24-hour access to hay can help to reduce the behavior. Treating him for ulcers (or having him scoped to diagnose ulcers) might also improve the problem, if ulcers are, in fact, the cause.
Consider trying a cribbing strap to see if that makes a difference. Cribbing straps are available in a number of different styles, but they operate by pressing against the horse’s throatlatch when he pulls back to crib. Collars need to be tight to work and may rub the horse’s neck, so some owners turn to cribbing muzzles, which allow the horse to eat and drink freely but prevent him from latching onto a board to crib.
There’s also a wide variety of wood sprays and paints which are intended to deter cribbers. While applying these to a stall area might stop a mild cribber, more determined horses tend to continue the habit despite the nasty taste of the paints. If your horse will be turned out in a paddock, wood paints and sprays aren’t very feasible because of the great area to be covered.
In extreme cases surgery may be an option. The muscles of the horse’s neck are cut some are removed to make it more difficult for the horse to crib. Surgery is generally only used in cases where cribbing is putting the horse’s health into serious jeopardy.
Cribbing is an annoying, destructive behavior, but it can also do serious damage to the horse’s body. You may need to try a few different cribbing prevention techniques before you find the one that is right for your individual horse.