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Cribbing – Why Do They Do It?

by Katie Casale

In this guest blog by Kate Casale, discusses the abnormal behavior pattern described as "cribbing". Read on to learn why this behavior may occur and a few ways to help curb or reduce it.  

Cribbing is not a disease, but rather an inappropriate behavioral pattern in horses. When a horse cribs, they grasp an object with their upper front teeth, pull back, arch their neck, and appear to draw air into their esophagus while making a characteristic grunt, then release the air. This in turn triggers a calming, pain-killing endorphin release. 

Windsucking is a vice similar to cribbing, but some people get the two behaviors confused. The noise the horse makes is the same, but when a horse is windsucking, he doesn’t grab on to an object with his teeth before sucking air into his throat.

Once a horse picks up on this behavior, it is very hard to stop it. Cribbing is considered to be an abnormal compulsive behavior or stereotypy seen in some horses and is often labeled a stable vice. Most often horses crib on fence boards, stall doors, and feed tubs. 

Over time, this vice can cause tooth damage, requiring more frequent dental work. Cribbing is not a habit seen in wild horses, so it is commonly thought that the habit of cribbing has a lot to do with the horse's living conditions.

Causes of cribbing habits: 

1. Boredom 

2. Temperament 

3. Stress 

4. Diet 

5. Genetics 

6. Lack of socialization with other horses 

7. Lack of exercise 

8. Too much confinement

9. Gastrointestinal issues The best way to help cribbing is avoid confining a horse for long periods of time. Turn out your horses more often to give them more freedom and to be able to burn off excess energy. You could also feed more roughage instead of grain, but the most important thing is to have them on a properly balanced diet.

Reduce stress by allowing your horse to interact with other horses. This is an important part of your horse’s enrichment. Regular exercise and riding in different environments can help keep them stimulated. You can even give you horse more toys and enrichment in their living space. 

Finding new ways to add mental and physical stimulation to your horse’s daily routine is said to be the best management practice.