What is cribbing in horses? Cribbing, or crib biting, is an abnormal behavior a horse displays that is considered to be a stable vice. The horse will grab a solid object with its incisors, arch its neck, and then pull against the object while sucking in air. Many horses will make a “gulping” sound as this occurs and then they will repeat the action several times in a row.
This may occur on a stall door, their feeder, fence posts, or even stall toys. The good news is that cribbing does not generally occur because of an underlying illness or a nutritional disorder. It’s usually associated with feelings of boredom or anxiety.
What Are the Symptoms of Cribbing?
Most instances of cribbing stay fairly minor in nature. The behavior is more of a concern because of its destructive nature to property rather than it being a health issue to the horse. You can spot cribbing by looking for gnawing marks on stall doors, walls, fence posts, and other pieces of wood the horse may be able to access.
In some horses, when cribbing is an ongoing problem, there may be issues with their incisors becoming prematurely worn down because of the constant biting. Sometimes it may also lead to an enlargement of the throat muscles as well.
The only real danger to the horse is if it happens to breathe in too much air too rapidly. This may rarely cause the stomach to rupture.
7 Steps to Stop a Horse from Cribbing
These are 7 methods to stop a horse from cribbing are effective, easy to implement, and will often produce fast results. You can use each method individually or in combination with the other methods listed here.
#1. Prevent the horse from becoming bored.
Because horses often start cribbing because they are bored, the easiest way to stop the behavior is to limit the boredom. Turn the horse out more often if you can. Give the horse some stall toys that can help pass the time. Having access to hay or other foraging items can help as well. This tends to work when you catch the cribbing early. If the horse has been cribbing for some time, there may be a preference to crib instead of eating or playing.
#2. Add a cribbing collar to your tack.
These collars will attach snugly around the neck of the horse. It does not impede their ability to breathe, but it does prevent the rapid, deep breaths that occur during the cribbing process. Some horses will stop cribbing altogether because they can no longer get the deep breaths they want. Others may resort to even more chewing when the collar is in place.
#3. Use a feed supplement.
If you think the cribbing might be due to a nutritional deficiency, then try adding an anti-cribbing supplement to the horse’s feed. Most only need to be fed to the horse 1-2 times per day. Once the deficiency resolves, then the cribbing behaviors may stop. If a nutritional deficiency is not the cause of cribbing, however, this method will not do much to modify the inappropriate behavior.
#4. Modify the areas where the cribbing behavior occurs.
Horses will keep cribbing because they have access to their favorite spots. If you modify those spots, then you may be able to modify the behavior. There are anti-chew treatments that can be applied to wood that may cause the horse to think twice about biting. Some owners recommend placing bristles on the wood to prevent cribbing, though a swallowed bristle can do a lot of damage to a horse’s stomach. Lining the surfaces with a metal barrier may also prove to be effective.
#5. Change the foraging habits of the horse.
One of the best investments you can make for a cribbing horse is a hay net. Horses feel the need to almost always be chewing something if they aren’t involved in some activity. If you cannot turn the horse out to a viable pasture, then the hay net will force the horse to gets its hay in a much slow fashion. This can then help the horse stay chewing longer, which may resolve the behavior.
A note of caution: Some horses are smart enough to figure out that if they chew on the net, then they can create holes which allow them to access the hay. You may end up stopping one type of cribbing behavior, but then unintentionally starting another one.
#6. You can decide to add a muzzle to your tack.
For a horse that will stubbornly keep cribbing, there may be no other choice but to put a muzzle on the horse while it is in the stall. Of course you’ll need to take the muzzle off during meal times. You will also likely need to supervise meal times, because a horse that cribs excessively will just as likely chew on its stall instead of the feed once the muzzle has been removed.
A muzzle should not be on a horse that has been turned out. With the muzzle on, it becomes almost impossible for the horse to grab onto anything. They’ll be unable to graze in the pasture as well.
#7. Move the horse closer to others.
Sometimes boredom comes from a lack of physical activity. At other times, it occurs because of a lack of social interaction. Many horses have a “stall buddy” which helps keep them entertained when they cannot be turned out. If a horse is cribbing and in the end stall, then consider bringing them into a busier spot so they can be more social.
If you don’t own any other horses, then the cribbing behavior may be occurring due to loneliness. Even if you are giving the horse plenty of attention, you’re not a horse. You may wish to speak with other horse owners in your area about setting up a “play date.” Stables which offer rental spaces can also be a good place to let your horse interact socially a few times per week.
Knowing how to stop a horse from cribbing relies on understanding why the behavior has occurred in the first place. If you can resolve the issue which is causing the negative behavior, then you can often stop the cribbing.
But cribbing does act like an addiction for a horse. If they have been cribbing for some time, then it will be a lengthy process to stop the behavior. Be patient with a horse like this. Although their behavior is damaging and potentially expensive, it is also something that cannot always be rushed.
Every day is a new chance to be better. Follow these steps and you’ll be able to give a cribbing horse the chance it needs.