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Conquering Horse Cribbing

By Jeffrey Rolo

Anyone who has combated the cribbing vice before knows that it can be an incredibly difficult habit to remove from a horse, particularly if the vice was allowed to take root. Luckily there are a few different weapons you can arm yourself with on your quest to conquer the habit that afflicts your equine friend.

First it's important to understand that no single technique or product can definitely solve your horse's problem. Each horse is an individual and what may work for one horse may not work for another. Another factor that can affect success rates is how ingrained the habit is - if a horse just picked up cribbing recently he will be far easier to cure than a horse that has been cribbing for many years.

Some of the most common aids in breaking your horse from the cribbing habit are:

Distractions and/or Food

Boredom is the most common reason why a horse will pick up the cribbing habit; they need to eat throughout the day and keep their minds active lest they become bored and stressed. Whereas distractions such as horse toys and food work better as preventative measures than they do as cures, if your horse just picked up the habit you can attempt to distract him with multiple feedings, pasture time and toys before the habit becomes ingrained.

Unfortunately if your horse is a long-time cribber chances are these won't break him from the habit – at most it will lessen his cribbing sessions as he eats instead.

Cribbing Straps

Cribbing straps are leather straps that go around a horse's upper neck to place pressure against the larynx area when a horse attempts to arch his neck and intake air. These straps are generally not uncomfortable when the horse isn't expanding his neck to crib, and sometimes a die-hard cribber will even overlook the annoyance of the crib strap to wind suck anyways!

Even if your crib strap stops your horse from cribbing while it is on, if he's a die-hard cribber it certainly doesn't stop him from cribbing once it is taken off. Nonetheless, while crib straps aren't perfect, they do succeed in suppressing many cribbers, so it's an inexpensive option that's worth a try.

Electro-Shock Collars

These collars are worn around the upper neck just like a crib strap, but when the owner and/or handler pushes a button on a remote control unit the strap emits an electric shock. The idea is to shock the horse each time he takes hold of a fence to crib.

Going beyond the debate as to whether such a course is actually inhumane, these fairly expensive collars are unfortunately not all that effective. It will almost certainly discourage the horse from cribbing when he's in front of you after a few shocks, but horses are more intelligent than many people give them credit for. Your horse will learn that it's not wise to crib in front of you, but once you're out of sight it's safe to call it open season on the fences once again. Unless you can stay there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to consistently shock your horse anytime he cribs, he's going to know the fence isn't what is causing the shock… you are! If anything he'll choose his times more carefully, but not break the actual habit.

Electric Fencing

Stringing electric fencing along the top of any paddock and/or pasture fences is a wonderful and completely effective way to stop them from cribbing on fences. Unfortunately if there are other edges to take hold of (such as inside a stable) the horse can just move on to a "safer" area. Even with that small loophole open to some horses, electric fencing is highly encouraged since it will effectively stop cribbing in its tracks on the protected locations.

Chew Stop And Related Products

There are some non-toxic products that can be sprayed or painted on popular cribbing areas to lend a very unappetizing taste and smell, thereby discouraging a cribber from taking hold of the area. Chew Stop is one of the more effective products; another popular option is Bitter Apple. The only problem with these paints and sprays is some horses can get over the flavor (particularly Bitter Apple) and they must be re-applied from time to time as eventually they lose their potency. That being said, I highly recommend trying these products out in your barn. Since they are sprays, they can be applied to any surface that metal strips or electric fencing can't reach.

Modified Forssell's Procedure

The modified Forssell's procedure is a surgical procedure that entails cutting some of the muscles and nerves in the ventral neck region as well as the removal of some muscle tissue. This makes it far more difficult for a horse to contract his larynx and crib, and whereas it sounds drastic it's actually a rather safe procedure that rarely creates any cosmetic problems.

A horse undergoing this procedure may need to be hospitalized for up to four days, and so far the success rates for this procedure are promising: 60% of the patients are cured completely while 25% are not cured but are helped significantly.

Naloxone

Naloxone is an injected anti-depressant that prohibits the creation of endorphins, thereby suppressing the natural high a horse gains when he cribs. This is not a practical solution since the effects are short-lived, but further research is being done on similar drugs that may have a longer lasting effect.

Finally, if your horse suddenly picks up cribbing and doesn't seem to have developed it from one of the normal causes (example from another cribbing horse or boredom) it would be a good idea to ask your veterinarian to check your horse and make sure there isn't a medical cause for the cribbing.



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