Cribbing is a compulsive vice seen in horses which can be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to break. Cribbing, often referred to as windsucking, is when the horse will grab a solid object like a stable door, fence or feeder with their teeth then arch their neck pulling back on the object and suck or gulp in air.

Signs that your horse may be cribbing include damage or bite marks to stable doors, fences or feeders, worn, chipped or broken front teeth, or hearing the grunting sound as the horse gulps in air.

Traditionally cribbing has been believed to be a bad habit of bored horses, particularly stabled horses. However, recent studies have indicated that cribbing may be a way that horses respond to digestive upset. When a horse cribs and gulps air excess saliva is produced which assists in soothing and relieving digestive discomfort. Digestive discomfort may be caused by gastric ulcers, mineral deficiencies, stress or feed that is hard to digest. During the process of cribbing and gulping air endorphins are released. This is one of the reason it becomes a compulsive behaviour and hard to break because the endorphins make the horse feel good and calm.

It is important to know that cribbing is not a learnt behaviour. Just because one horse in a stable or paddock cribs it does not mean that they will teach other horses how to do it. If there are a number of horses in a stable or living together that are cribbing than it may be necessary to look at management practices and try to determine what might be causing a number of horses to be stressed and/or suffering from digestive upset.

Breaking the habit and/or need to crib means evaluating all factors including health and environment. A veterinarian can assist in diagnosing medical reasons, such as gastric ulcers and/or digestive issues that could be influencing the cribbing. Environmental modification such as changing the horse from a stable to a paddock may help. Reducing stress or removing the horse from stressful situations, like changing their exercise program or changing their location or changing what other horses are with or around them. The horse’s diet may also need to be looked at and possibly adjusted to help reduce any digestive discomfort. There are also a number of products available to deter horses from chewing or gnawing on surfaces which then in turn stops them from cribbing. These cribbing deterrent products can be pasted or sprayed onto surfaces and their taste stops the horses destructive biting/chewing and then it stops the cribbing on that surface.

Originally published in My Pet Magazine Autumn 2016.

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