Three Horse Cribbing Solutions

by | Oct 24, 2018 | Blog, Equine Health

Stables vices have plagued horse and owner for many years – ever since we first decided that horses would be better off shut up inside. One of the most irritating of these pesky habits is cribbing. The habit is annoying and dangerous to the horse, but it can be curbed using these handy tips.

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What is Cribbing?

Cribbing is also known as crib-biting and windsucking. Its scientific name is aerophagia: the ingestion of air. The horse will brace his upper incisors – his top front teeth – on any solid surface and then lever his lower jaw open to take a gulp of air through his mouth. Since horses can’t inhale through their mouths, this air ends up going down his esophagus and into his stomach.

Like all other stable vices, cribbing is caused purely by the horse’s lifestyle. While some oldfashioned sources and horsepeople consider cribbing to be a misbehavior – even likening it to addiction in humans – it is, in fact, a symptom of a lifestyle so depressing it has driven the horse to distraction. If we want to liken stable vices to a form of human behavior, we’d be better off comparing it to self-harm.

Horses crib because they are stressed and bored. As a flight animal, the horse typically seeks solace in movement. When he’s trapped in a small space for too many hours every day, the horse feels confined and is unable to express himself naturally, so he turns to odd behaviors to keep his body busy and attempt to feel better. Cribbing is one of these behaviors.

This stable vice is also one of the most harmful to the horse’s health. For a start, over time, the cribber’s upper incisors can become worn down to almost nothing from all the pressure he places on them. Another problem is that the ingestion of air can cause bloating, ulcers, and other forms of gastric problems – all of which eventually lead to colic, which can be deadly. To add to this problem, the stress of the cribber’s lifestyle already predisposes him to gastric ulcers, so once he starts cribbing he is almost guaranteed to suffer from this painful condition.

Once a cribber has learned the habit, he will never forget it. It’s almost impossible to actually cure a cribber of his condition, but it can be mitigated to the point where he only does it so rarely that it has almost no impact on his health.

Cribbing Solutions

The first and most important step to helping a cribber is to see his vice for what it really is. Your cribber is not misbehaving or trying to be naughty any more than a depressed teenager is taking a razor to their arms for attention. See cribbing for what it is: an expression of profound mental illness.

Addressing the Cause

The only way to really help a cribbing horse is to fix the cause of the vice, which is, quite simply, the fact that your horse is miserable. While most horses are quite happy to be stabled overnight, your cribber might be staying inside for too long – either now or in some past home. The simplest solution and the one that is best for your horse’s welfare is to make him a happy horse.

To do this, consider the horse’s natural lifestyle. He lives in a large, open space with a group of other horses. So your cribber would do best when turned out in a big pasture with plenty of friends all day and night. In most climates, horses can be quite happy when living out full-time if they have access to a run-in shelter and are appropriately rugged up in inclement weather.

In order to really put a stop to the habit, you can also ensure that there is nothing in the pasture that the horse can brace his teeth on. Use a water trough with thin sides and feed your hay on the ground or in a haynet. If your horse still cribs on his water trough, you can try attaching old dandy brushes or brooms to the edges to discourage him. For fencing, avoid the use of post and rail. Instead, Field Guardian Polytape is a safe and cost-effective option that your horse can’t use for cribbing.

Field Guardian Polytape, 1.5-Inch, White

Field Guardian Polytape

Cribbing Collar

If your horse has to be kept in for some reason – such as severe thunderstorms or requiring box rest for an injury – there are some steps you can take to prevent the vice from occurring. One of the most effective is the use of a cribbing collar. This collar has a metal
attachment over the horse’s throat that allows the horse to breathe and swallow normally, but squeezes the sides of his throat if he attempts to gulp air through his esophagus.

The cribbing collar must be used with great discretion and only when no other option presents itself. Whichever collar you purchase, ensure that it is made of leather or has breakaway points so that your horse can’t accidentally strangle himself with it overnight. Also, bear in mind that the collar is a kind of straitjacket for horses: it will prevent him from hurting himself, but it won’t help him to feel
better emotionally.

Weaver Leather Nylon and Aluminum Cribbing Strap

cribbing collar

Feed Enough Roughage

Often, stabled horses are bored because they have nothing to eat –
something that also contributes to the overproduction of gastric acid and, thus, the formation of ulcers. Horses should have access to hay or grass 24/7. A single haynet in the stable just isn’t enough. Having something to chew on all night will help keep your horse’s mouth busy, as well as helping his mind and body to feel better. It will even save on your concentrate bill as your horse will maintain condition better on fewer concentrates.

Weaver Leather Slow Feed Hay Net

Feed Hay Net

The simplest solution is to provide your horse with enough hay that he always has a bit left over in the morning. However, some chubby equines – especially those on box rest – will become obese if given access to ad lib hay. For these, use a Slow Feed Hay Net or hay bag to make your horse’s hay last longer.

 

Derby Originals Fiesta Slow Feed Nylon Hay Bags

hay bag

Conclusion

Cribbing is a tragic problem that is all too prevalent in the stabled horse. When helping your horse to get rid of this habit, always keep in mind where it’s coming from. You can make a huge difference in your horse’s life if you listen to what he’s trying to tell you.

About The Author

<a href="https://www.equiniction.com/author/firn-hyde/" target="_self">Firn Hyde</a>

Firn Hyde

I'm a young horsewoman living in a tiny home on a horse farm in South Africa with three dogs, two pigs, a longsuffering man, and God's grace. I run a stableyard and compete in dressage with two kind geldings who keep me happy and a psychotic mare who keeps me humble. For the past two years, I've been writing for a living, and I enjoy every opportunity to combine my two passions.

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