Visiting a horse stable near my hometown made me realize the anxiety that prevails among the horse caretakers and horse owners regarding equine cribbing. Cribbing is a bad habit of grabbing any object, like a wooden fence, with incisors and sucking air into their lungs. One of the horse caretakers, Mr. David, told me that more than 1% of their horses do Crib and if this bad habit develops once, it's very difficult to get rid of.
Seeing horses crib for the first time may be confusing and it is very frustrating for the owners and caretakers. Mr. David said that it is one of the issues horse owners never want to see their horses have. Owners spend a lot of money buying online products and medicines that are advertised, but the root of the problem lies somewhere else.
Thinking other horse lovers like me also want to know about the background and solution of this problem, I am writing down what I learned there.
What is Cribbing?
Cribbing is the repetitive habit of grabbing a stationary object (fence, gate, etc.) with their upper incisors, pulling against it arching the neck, then sucking in the air. Horses can often be seen licking the surface of the object before beginning to crib. Horses can spend much of their day doing this behavior.
Possible Causes for Cribbing
Cribbing is just a behavior that develops over time and becomes difficult to remove like any other bad habit. There are many possible reasons but here are some for you to think about:
According to Mr. David, while entering any horse into the stable, they do note down any vices that are present in the horse, like weaving, wall kicking and cribbing. This behavior is common in some horse breeds like Thoroughbreds. These vices are also important while overall scoring the horses. The behaviors are also transferred to the progeny or offspring. Cribbing has a 0.6 factor, according to the specialists of Genetic Breeding. So, look for a horse having no bad habit before breeding with your horse.
It is also a myth that these vices transfer from horses to others. Some people believe that horses can learn cribbing from cribbers, but studies do not show that.
Feed (nutritional deficiency) Strangely, those horses that are fed more grains have more chances of cribbing. Horses licking fences and other materials is also a sign of nutritional deficiency. Cribbers are more prone to lick fence rather than eating feed and even sugary substances like molasses that result in nutritional deficiency.
Behavior: Cribbing is more common in high-energy horses. Heavyweight, high-energy horses are more inclined towards this bad behavior because they do not get enough exercise to spend their energy. So they start to crib like any other animal having high boredom.
Stress (nervousness) Any bad behavior is also a sign of nervousness and stress. This stress can be due to high or low temperature, some pain like colic, worm infestation, deficiency of nutrients, etc. So, we must rule out the stress.
Colic You must look for the signs of colic. What is colic? Colic is a general term used for the pain in the abdominal (belly) region. Here you must know the signs of colic. One of the signs is cribbing and other signs like pawning on the ground, kicking on the belly and looking back on the belly. If these signs are present, you must call your vet.
Calling your vet is very important, at the same time you must know the reasons for this bad behavior to like more grains engorgement, worm infestation, tympany, etc.
Effects of Cribbing:
Cribbing has a very bad impact on the whole health of the horse.
It devastates the horse's mental health, nervousness or stress increases with time.
By licking such objects, animals start to eat less, and the diet intake of the horse decreases. As a result, the overall body score goes down.
Chances of colic and enteritis (inflammation of the intestine) increase due to cribbing. In easy language, diseases of the Gastrointestinal system devastate the health of your trusty steed.
Can wear down incisors quicker than natural.
Psychology and Hormone Regulation of Cribbers:
Understanding the psychology of your lovely friend who is cribbing now is important. The psychology of the cribber changes in a way that the leptin hormone disturbs the reward system of our horse. Licking the wooden fence becomes a reward for the horse, and the dopamine release makes the habit stronger. So, you must break the habit of your horse in the very early stage; otherwise, it becomes very hard to eliminate it. The best way is to observe your horse carefully and never let him indulge in this vice.
Now, you have a clear picture in your mind about the background of the cribbing. It's time to learn about the various ways to end this habit.
Change in Diet: Yes, changing your horse diet and adding more green fodder and less grain will help your mighty friend, especially at the weaning time. Because vices develop more at the weaning time, so be careful!
The best way to remove the boredom (number one reason of vices) is through socialization. Your friend needs to meet with other horses; you can even adopt some other animals like goats, donkeys, ducks and dogs. Horses like friends because they are prey animals and find safety in numbers.
The best way to channelize your horse's energy is through exercise and various activities. You can introduce jolly balls or other play items in the stall or pasture. These help stimulate their brains and encourage curiosity and play.
Hire an exercise rider if you do not have time to regularly ride your horse. Giving your horse a job is a great way to keep them from starting habits. Most horses enjoy horse and rider time!
Limiting stall time is also a great way to keep a horse healthy and happy. More time in the pasture allows a horse to be himself and graze naturally. Having a couple horse buddies in the same pasture can encourage a herd like mentality.
Most of the owners use Cribbing Collars; these collars need to be tight enough to prevent cribbing but not so tight that they hinder breathing. Be sure to check with the manufacturer on sizing and tightness for the collar you purchase.
Metals on Doors
Aah! The easiest way is to screw metal pieces at the edges of the fences and doors. The metal prevents their teeth from sticking or holding onto the object. You can also spray some sneezing-causing materials. However, these would need to be reapplied in the case of rain.
If your horses are not dewormed regularly, intestinal worms can be the reason for cribbing. You need to stick to a deworming regimen to help prevent worm buildup. If you are unsure of what dewormers you need to use and when, you can get an evaluation of a stool sample to determine the types of worms. Call your vet for more information.
Acupressure is a pain and stress relieving technique used in both humans and animals. This technique is getting famous in horses, especially in sports horses, to relax muscles and nerves after exercise. Special pressure points are pressed and massaged by human fingers. Acupressure has the same benefits as the acupuncture technique in horses but doesn't require needles! You can use acupressure as a preventative measure to help prevent habits like cribbing.
I am ending this blog with the comments that being the horse's caretakers, it is your responsibility to identify any behavioral change and find out the reason for it. Reasons can vary from boredom to intestinal parasites, and you must try various solutions to end it. Behavioral change requires rigorous exercise. Preventative care is a number one factor in preventing emotional and physical upsets in your horse!