Cribbing is has often been labeled as a stable vice and linked to boredom, but other factors may contribute to the formation of the cribbing habit.
“We are moving away from the stable vice terminology. The behavior appears to have a physiological or psychological basis and is not merely the result of boredom,” explained Carissa L. Wickens, PhD, assistant professor and Extension Equine Specialist in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Florida.
The exact cause(s) of cribbing remains unknown. Recent research indicates a horse might use cribbing as a coping mechanism for excess stomach acid, ulcers and stress.
In addition, cribbing might also be associated with feeding, stabling and management practices, including feeding high quantities of concentrate, low-forage diets, and limiting horses’ turnout, grazing and/or opportunities to socialize with other horses.
“Cribbing is hard to eliminate and it is destructive,” added Fernanda Camargo, DVM, PhD, an Equine Extension Professor in the Animal and Food Science Department at the University of Kentucky. “It destroys property, it ruins their teeth, and it may increase a horse’s chance of epigloic foramen entrapment colic.”
Here are some things you can do to reduce a horse’s impulse to crib.
- Reduce Ulcers. “First and foremost, investigate if the horse has gastric ulcers,” Camargo said. “if so, treat the horse and maintain the horse ulcer free.” Your veterinarian can create a management program best suited to your horse.
- Eliminate cribbing surfaces. “Remove buckets and use metal edges as some horses don’t like to crib on metal,” Camargo said. “Install electric fence on wood fencing or cribbing rings on top of incisor teeth.”
- Use a cribbing strap or topical deterrent. Other prevention methods include “fitting horses with cribbing collars or applying distasteful substances to preferred cribbing surfaces, although these methods often yield varying and only temporary results,” said Wickens.
- Enrich your horse’s environment. Provide toys and multiple slow-feed hay nets to reduce boredom. “Try adding a mirror to the stall so the horse doesn’t feel lonely, especially if he must be brought in for stall rest,” Camargo suggested.
Once a horse begins to crib, it’s difficult to convince him or her to stop. Rather than relying on physical prevention alone, consider implementing management practices that address the most likely underlying causes of cribbing.