by Caterina Tadlock

What is cribbing?

Cribbing is when a horse swallows air. Some horses do this by grasping a stationary object, such as a fence board or post, with their upper teeth, then arching their necks and pulling usually making a grunting sound. Other horses crib by resting their incisors on an object without grasping it, still others rest their chin on an object and swallow air. Some horses, however, do not use an object at all, but move their lips, close their mouths, flex and arch their necks, swallow air and grunt without grasping. Cribbing is often confused with wood chewing, another vice. Wood chewing however, is when a horse actually bites and chews wood, destroying fences and barns. Cribbing is also sometimes referred to as wind sucking, or swallowing.

Cribbing can lead serious health problems, such as poor digestion, colic, and various dental problems.

Why do horses crib?

It is not known for certain what causes a horse to crib.

It is thought that stress may contribute. When a horse cribs, it is believed that his body releases endorphins, which stimulate the pleasure center of his brain. This may explain why horses crib when under stress, as well as why it is such an addictive habit, and such a hard one to break.

Every horse handles stress differently, some better than others. It appears that susceptibility to stress in horses is inherited, so genetics may play a part also.

Improper diet and feeding is also thought to contribute to cribbing, perhaps because it may cause a horse more stress.

Another popular theory is that cribbing is due to boredom, and lack of exercise. Horses kept stalled are more likely to become Cribbers than horses that are allowed to roam in a pasture.

Cribbing has not been reported in wild or semi-wild horses.
Horses in the wild or in the pasture naturally spend 90 percent of their time grazing, and using their upper teeth. A horse's need to graze and thus use his upper teeth may also cause a horse to crib. Horses that are kept stalled spend less than 30 percent of their time eating. This inability to graze, is thought to cause stress and contribute to cribbing.

This view is supported by the fact that allowing horses more pasture time can reduce cribbing. Many stall cribbers do not crib in the field.

It may be the way an individual horse responds to its surroundings or stress. A barn with thirty horses, all fed the same food and exercised the same amount, may have twenty-nine horses that do not crib, and one that does.

Some people believe that cribbing may be learned from other horses.
On the other hand, some people will put their cribbers in with other horses, which may reduce the cribber's stress and help to stop the habit.

To date we know of no proof or studies that indicate a horse learns to crib from being around a cribber, and it is likely that several factors come in to play to cause this disorder.

What is the treatment for a cribber?

Once a horse starts cribbing it is difficult to get them to stop. The best thing is to try to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

To help prevent and reduce cribbing:

Allow your horse as much pasture time, in as big a pasture as possible

Spend time training and handling the horse to help prevent boredom.

Provide your horse with a companion, preferably another horse, but goats also often make good companions for horses.

Allow your horse access to fresh grass, or grass hay at all times.

A cribbing strap, or collar may also be useful. This strap is placed around the horse's neck. A metal plate on the bottom of the strap presses into the throat when the horse arches its neck to crib. This makes it difficult, and uncomfortable for the horse to swallow air.

Another option, usually used as a last resort, is a surgical treatment which includes cutting the muscles which flex the neck. If this is not successful, surgery may be done to cut the muscles which allow the horse to pull his neck up and back.


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