Cribbing – A Nasty Habit



I find cribbing horses extremely saddening. I have owned two cribbers, including my first pony Rikki. Luckily for me, neither horse cribbed while wearing a traditional metal hinged cribbing strap (they didn’t make fancy, miracle cribbing collars back when I was a wee equestrian).

Interestingly, there seemed to be an abundance of cribbing horses when I was younger. I guess much of that had to do with limited to no turnout for stabled horses. Now, boarding and training facilities offer more turnout options, and I think more importantly, young horses have much more opportunity for turnout, thus eliminated the cribbing behavior from starting.

Cribbing is not the same as wood chewing. Many people, still, call their horse a “cribber” when they are actually wood chewers, or as I like to call them, “beavers”. Cribbing is when a horse grasps an object between his incisor teeth and inhales air into the esophagus while emitting an audible grunting noise. I have actually seen horses try to crib air; that is more amply called windsucking.

Across the country, I have seen many, many more cribbing horses on the East Coast. My guess is the main contributing factors to my non-scientific, geographical crib densities study are:

  1. limited turnout
  2. smaller stalls
  3. darker and older barns

Funny, I think there are more smokers (humans) on the East Coast too. Maybe there is something bigger at work here than just turnout.

Guess what; there might be! Researchers from the UK recently found that horses that crib learn differently than horses that don’t crib. Cribbers reportedly have fewer types of dopamine receptors in a specific region of the brain.

Although many cribbers also tend to be a bit on the thin side, there is some new information suggesting less grain could benefit a cribbing horse and possibly help deter the behavior altogether. Also, potentially offering up unlimited hay can be a viable option for some, but others fighting the economics of hay purchasing, unlimited hay could be a bank-busting cure.

Cribbing collars and cribbing straps can limit the amount a horse cribs, but it does not totally eliminate the behavior. Turnout seems to be the best solution for a horse that cribs, but some horses are diehard cribbers, even in turnout. These horses SHOULD wear a cribbing collar or strap at all times, but this warrants dangers.

A horse wearing a strap or collar outside in turnout could easily get the device caught on a variety of objects (fence post, tree branch, other horse’s teeth). I hate seeing horses outside with any sort of headgear, and don’t even get me started on macro horse turnout with some barns leaving the halter on!

Whatever the case may be with horse cribbing, it’s really sad to watch. Depression, boredom, anxiety? Environment? Genetics? Unfortunately, no one knows for sure the root causes of horse cribbing. Until then, you’re stuck with my pop-scientific answers.

Meaning no answers, that is.