Wednesday, September 28, 2011
A horse who cribs bites down with his front teeth on a stall door, fence rail or other firm surface and, with his neck arched, he pulls back while sucking in air. Although many people consider cribbing a vice, the horse is not performing this to be naughty; it is the equivalent of a human with obsessive-compulsive behavior trying to soothe anxiety through repeated action.
Regardless of the reason for cribbing, it is an undesirable behavior. Not only is it hard on stall walls, doors and pasture fencing, but it also harms the horse. A horse who cribs will wear down his front teeth, often so badly that the teeth don’t meet when the mouth closes. If this is the case, the horse may be unable to eat a proper diet or even graze in a pasture. Another problem associated with cribbing is colic, an intestinal illness caused by ingesting air, which can result in serious illness—or even death.
Researchers aren't sure exactly why some horses crib. Some may begin out of boredom, but others may have a genetic predisposition to chronic stress. Many people believe cribbing is contagious, and stabling a horse near a cribber is a sure way for that horse to “catch” the bad habit.
Once a horse begins cribbing, it is very difficult to get him to stop. Even a change of lifestyle probably will not be enough to break the habit, so collars are available for the cribber to wear in his stall. This collar applies pressure to the neck if the horse arches his neck to crib. When the horse is not cribbing, it’s painless. Some of these methods, however, can cause tissue damage, so it’s important to research any product before use.
You can curb your horse’s cribbing by keeping him in a pasture with compatible companions as much as possible so he won’t pick up the habit from another cribber. Providing a padded bar for him will reduce the wear on his teeth and may even direct his behavior from buckets or fence rails.
Some veterinarians believe altering your horse’s diet can curtail his desire to crib—painful upset stomachs can lead to cribbing. A diet lower in grain and higher in highly digestible fiber sources may ease some gastric upsets and make the horse less prone to seek out a fence post.
Another option is surgery: A surgeon clips the two muscles that the horse uses when he cribs. Although this procedure would seem to put an end to cribbing, it's not always effective because horses who have spent more than a few months cribbing have recruited muscles throughout the neck to crib. They also have the cribbing behavior firmly ingrained; thus, the surgery is much more effective if the horse has not been cribbing for long and if the owner changes the horse’s lifestyle after surgery, such as by giving him additional turnout.