Cribbing, or crib biting has long been seen as a ‘vice’ but could there be more to this equine behaviour? We explore the potential causes and solutions to equine cribbing…

What is cribbing?

You may have seen a horse cribbing and wondered what it was doing? Or perhaps you have a horse that crib bites and you would like to know more about this habit?

Cribbing, also known as crib biting and windsucking, is when a horse grabs hold of a surface – often a stable door or fence post – with his teeth and appears to suck back on it, making a gulping noise. Horses often repeat this over and over again. Cribbing has been coined a ‘stable vice’ for a long time, however it is more correctly termed as a ‘stereotypical behaviour’ – or ‘stereotypy’ nowadays and there is more and more research going on as to the cause of it.

What causes cribbing?

Horse cribbing was always thought of as an unsightly, nasty, habit that was caused solely by boredom. A horse that cribbed was often though to ‘pass on’ the behaviour to other horses and therefore became less valuable in terms of resale with many people not wishing to purchase a horse that crib bites.

It was always thought that crib biting should be stopped – often through the use of collars to prevent the extension of the windpipe and even in years gone by, through electric shocks. However, after extended research there are new theories on cribbing.

While the noise made sounds like a horse swallowing air, in fact research now suggests that it is the horse expelling air – effectively like a burp – and it is thought to be a way of relieving digestive discomfort.

Theories suggest that the act of cribbing produces excess saliva, which helps to buffer the stomach and can provide support to discomfort. Once a horse starts to crib bite, they soon create a habit as it soothes and comforts them during stressful situations. Not only can is this unsightly to watch and damaging to property but more importantly, it can cause further complications such as colic and dental issues.

How can we manage the horse that cribs?

While it can be tempting to try and stop a horse from cribbing, it is a much more beneficial to look at the causes. In fact, by blocking your horse’s ability to perform the behaviour, you may create more discomfort and stress.

The most important thing to establish is why the problem started and this may well involve a veterinary visit to rule out any gastric conditions. Often, horses that crib bite and are diagnosed with ulcers stop or reduce the behaviour after successful treatment. It is worth evaluating the overall condition of the horse and looking at whether there could be a possible mineral deficiency and if there are any signs of a weakened digestive system before looking at how to stop a horse cribbing.

Digestive problems may well be a result of overall stress – so look at the management system of your horse. Is he stabled for long periods of time? Is he getting adequate nutrients in his diet? Does he have a generally nervous disposition? Is his forage intake enough? By focusing on the management side of things first you can ensure that the environment and routine your horse is subjected to is conducive to a stress-free lifestyle.

Other factors to consider are feed regimes and the types of hard feed consumed. Large amounts of concentrates fed at one time can cause digestive upset and result in a horse requiring a ‘coping mechanism’ to relieve discomfort.

Top tips for managing a horse that cribs…

  • Provide plenty of long stemmed forage – such as hay, haylage and fibre-based feeds. If your horse is on a restricted diet because of weight concerns then consider a small-holed haynet to slow down consumption.
  • Ensure your horse gets plenty of turn out in the field – not only giving them the chance to move around outdoors and graze naturally, but also to interact with other horses.
  • Provide stable toys and boredom busters such as vitamin, mineral and salt licks.
  • Feed concentrates in small quantities on a more regular basis rather than in one big meal.
  • Ensure the diet is not deficient by incorporating a nutrient dense balancer.
  • Provide support to the digestive system through the use of a specific gastric supplement such as Vetrogard.

Have you ever had a horse that crib bites? How did you manage the behaviour? Comment below or let us know on our Facebook page.