By Derek Bringewatt, Co-founder of The Farm and Ranch Exchange
I will never forget that cool spring morning I sauntered out to our horse barn and as I slowly opened the old rickety wood barn door, I was greeted by our three horses. Once I was inside I noticed two of our horses standing together, my eyes quickly scanned the empty stall but only found boards that had been pulled down, just laying in the stall. As I stood there, I pondered the thought of how this could happen? After examination of the boards, noticing the teeth marks and indents, it became clear that cribbing was the culprit. As I proceeded to let our horses out to pasture it was then that I shook my head and thought to myself.... Are You Cribbing Me???
What is cribbing you ask? Cribbing is when a horse uses their incisor teeth to bite on a fixed object, arches their neck, then inhales or exhales making a grunting type of noise. Cribbing affects about 5 percent of horses. That 5 percent equals almost a quarter of a million cribbing horses in the United States alone! Horses that crib have been known to crib for 15 to 65 percent of a typical day.
Reasons for Cribbing
The heavily debatable reasons on why horses crib is still ongoing. New research suggests that horses are actually exhaling the air, instead of inhaling air. An interesting fact is cribbing has not yet been noticed in wild horses. Possible causes of cribbing could be:
Boredom is often the first symptom that horse owners think of. On the good side this is one of the easier symptoms to eliminate. Possible remedies include:
- Allow more time to interact with other horses.
- Add stall toys to ease boredom.
- Give your horse more exercise time.
Stress is another possible cause of your horse(s) cribbing. Horses that crib have been found to have higher levels of hormones that are associated with stress. There are many reasons why your equine friend may feel stressed such as:
- Loading in a trailer
- Poor nutrition
- Changes in routines
- Interactions within their environment
Stress is your horse's natural reaction to anything it considers threatening. When looking at draft horses and other breeds with calmer dispositions they tend to have a very low cribbing rate. When stepping back and looking at these factors, you may be able to change the issue causing the stress and cure the cribbing issue with your horse.
Some breeds are more naturally inclined to crib. This can be passed on to their offspring, just like poor conformation in a breeding program. Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods are more likely to crib than other breeds. Your horse may have inherited the cribbing trait and unfortunately, it is going to be a uphill battle to curb their cribbing appetite. A study in Finland has shown that the 68 percent of foals were believed to inherit the cribbing trait.
Recent scientific discoveries have found that diet plays a large role in cribbing. Horses that eat more sweet feed (starched grains) in their diet may be at greater risk of cribbing. One study found that sweet feed fed to young horses immediately after weaning, was shown to have four times the rate of wanting to crib this early in their life. If you suspect diet is the culprit, here are some ideas you might consider:
- More long-stemmed forage
- Spreading large grain meals out to several little meals
- Increase access to salt and minerals
- Checking the entire diet to make sure it is properly balanced
Some of the studies have shown that horses who have been cribbing for a long time have unusual hormone levels. They have a tendency to show higher levels of the gastrin hormone , which triggers the production of stomach acid. This could be one of the reasons why horses that do crib may be trying to relieve the pain of increased stomach acid. Horses that crib, also have a low heart rate while cribbing, meaning a relaxed state. Although there is still some debate on this topic, this could be one of the many reasons why your horse is cribbing, to relieve pressure and pain.
Handling Horses That Crib
The first step should be to try and find the possible reasons why your horses is cribbing and address it at the root cause. This will be no easy task and will often require a lot of time. However, your horse may be trying to tell you that there is more of a problem than just boredom. Horses that crib are devoted to the behavior, as much as they are devoted to eating sweet grain. Cribbing will be a difficult vice to cure, but there are many options to consider in helping to solve the problem. Cribbing collars could be effective, but if you are not solving the root problem horses will go right back to cribbing. Horses that have been prevented to crib for some time and then allowed to crib again later, show a increase rate of cribbing than before they were prevented from doing so. You will need to utilize the cribbing collar very carefully. If the cribbing collar is not put on properly it can cause tissue damage. Therefore, other methods are available that are effective, but they require extensive time and money. Below, are some of those methods:
- Elimination of Cribbing Surfaces
- Taste Deterrents
Summing It Up
Horses that crib are much more likely to turn this into a permanent behavior once it has been established. Although cribbing is still a highly debated topic, with many different views or opinions, the fact remains that cribbing can be destructive to your horses pen, as well as damaging health issues. The fact that you are reading this article means that you care enough about your horses health to figure out what is going on with your best equine friend. Congratulations, you have taken the first step to possibly curing and preventing cribbing!
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