Mary Kate McCaughey
Updated: Oct 16, 2020
Cribbing is the bane of a barn manager's existence. Normally thought of as a neurotic behavior, there is an association between stalled horses and cribbing. Horses are social creatures and are constant grazers. Stalled horses lack stimulation from grazing and social behaviors such as grooming and playing.
Cribbing is often described as "obsessive compulsive behavior" in horses and is worrisome for the physiological and psychological problems that can arise (Gantz, 2015). Physical effects include weight loss, poor athletic performance, higher risk of colic, and abnormal tooth wear (Gray). Ranger's, one of our school horses, teeth are pictured below, top and bottom. Note the excessive wear of his top teeth from cribbing.
Ranger was an abandonment case. For most of his life, he was kept in a stall. This is likely when he started to crib. Then, his previous owners moved him outside and abandoned him. His cribbing was likely exacerbated once he was outside since he was alone, bored, and starving.
Treatment depends on the cause of the behavior. Recent studies have shown that cribbing could be caused by digestion upset caused by a lack of foraging and an unbalanced diet (Gray). Treatment may involve feeding hay before grain and making sure the horse has access to a grazing paddock (Gantz, 2015). The use of certain mineral/vitamin supplements may also help (Gray).
Cribbing, from what we have observed, is most often from boredom due to limited social interaction and mental stimulation (Gantz, 2015). Treatment plans may include the use of cribbing collars and, if necessary, a cribbing bar. Once a horse becomes a cribber, it's almost impossible to fix the habit. Surgery has become more common and has a decent success rate. Although, it is more successful if done as soon as possible when cribbing habits start to develop (Gantz, 2015).
Regarding Ranger, he has cribbed the majority of his life, and as a senior horse, he will continue to do so. Our goal has been to significantly reduce his cribbing, which was successful. He was fitted with a cribbing collar and he was introduced into our main herd. Now that he gets to enjoy being a horse, he has improved.
Cribbing is important to fix for the health of the horse and the safety of others. The cribber can damage fence lines enough for other horses (or themselves) to get injured (Gantz, 2015). There are many treatments available, but likely, the horse will need to be monitored for the rest of its life.
It's important to give your horse social interaction and good foraging behaviors to minimize the risk of the horse becoming a cribber. Here at Over the Top Equine, our horses are kept in different herds depending on personalities. Allowing them to relax and utilize natural instincts maintains sound and sane horses that are eager to do their jobs. Remember, the best way to help cribbers is to prevent them from forming.
Gantz, Tracy. "Taking a Bite Out of Cribbing." TheHorse.com, The Horse Media Group LLC, 15 Dec. 2015, www.thehorse.com/articles/36878/taking-a-bite-out-of-cribbing.
Gray, Lydia. “Cribbing in Horses - SmartPak Equine Health Library.” SmartPak Equine, SmartPak Equine LLC, www.smartpakequine.com/content/cribbing-horse.