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A Close Look At Horse Cribbing

By Jeffrey Rolo

Horse cribbing is a vice that can drive even the strongest horseman to his knees in frustration, for not only is it obnoxious to witness, cribbing can also impair a horse's long-term health and cause significant damage to a stable. The unfortunate news is there is no magic bullet to conquer a cribbing problem (what works for one may not work for another), but there is an assortment of remedies that just might solve your horse's vice. Before discussing the potential solutions to this problem in a Conquering Horse Cribbing, let's take a brief look at what cribbing is.

Cribbing, also commonly referred to as wind sucking, is the act of a horse gripping an edge such as a wooden fence, grain bin, metal round pen, stable door, etc. with his front teeth, arching his neck and swallowing air. This air intake creates a grunting/belching noise. Note that cribbing and wood chewing are not the same. Some horses will chew on wood without arching their neck or sucking in air.

Two major causes of horse cribbing are:


Horses are grazing animals by nature, so when they are forced to remain within a stall for long periods of time without hay to graze on they will become stressed. This stress leaves them open to picking up a vice to distract their idle mind. Therefore the easiest preventative measure to take is to ensure your horse does not stand idle all day and become subjected to boredom. Rather than feeding three huge flakes of hay a day, consider much more frequent yet slightly smaller portions of hay. Look into finding horse toys that can entertain your horse while he's not eating, or consider salt licks for his "down time." Of course the most ideal solution is to set him out to pasture, but unfortunately this isn't an option all of us have.

The second major cause of cribbing is example. Horses are herd animals and therefore they tend to observe, and more importantly mimic, each other's actions. If a horse watches another horse crib for extended periods of time (particularly an idle observer) then there is a good chance the observer will copy the behavior he observes. Some horses will dismiss the cribber and never pick up the vice, but it can be an extremely contagious habit and therefore it is best to isolate a cribber from the rest of the herd if at all possible.

Horse cribbing can be an incredibly difficult habit to break a horse from if it is allowed to take root. The reason for this is two-fold:

bulletCribbing is believed to be an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
bulletCribbing is a natural high… literally!

Unfortunately humans can see a psychiatrist for years and still not fully conquer an OCD, so you can imagine a horse that doesn't have the benefit of psychiatric communication would have an even more difficult time kicking the habit. The addiction is heavily fueled by endorphins that are released to the brain with each suck. These endorphins act as a drug and provide a natural high to the horse.

Due to the above factors it is much easier to combat the cribbing problem as it is first developed rather than after it has become ingrained over many months or years.

Cribbing is more than just an obnoxious habit that can damage your property; it is a vice that can create long-term health problems for your horse. The most obvious health issue for cribbers is their teeth since the constant grinding of teeth against wood, plastic or metal wears them down at an abnormally quick pace. A long-term cribber can grind his front teeth down so low that a gap exists between the upper and lower teeth even when the jaw is completely closed.

It is also commonly believed that cribbing can ultimately lead to an increased chance of colic, flatulence and digestion problems due to the air that is swallowed. For this reason there are some equine insurance companies that will refuse to provide insurance to a horse that exhibits this vice; they don't believe the increased risk of health issues is worth it.

Some recent studies have questioned this common belief, suggesting that a very minimal quantity of air taken in during cribbing actually reaches the stomach. They suggest that increased colic and flatulence are not directly attributed to the cribbing itself, but rather secondary factors such as worn teeth. When a horse's teeth are worn down to the point they cannot grind the food their digestion will suffer significantly, thereby leading to an increased chance of colic.

Of course one can successfully argue that it's little more than splitting hairs to suggest whether horse cribbing directly or indirectly leads to an increased chance of colic… and this is true! Ultimately no matter how you look at it, cribbing can impair a horse's health significantly, particularly over the span of a lifetime.

If you own a horse then do not despair! There are a variety of products or techniques that you can use to help you conquer horse cribbing.

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