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
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
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
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.