Cribbing is a stable vice, a repetitive behavior where the horse grasps an object firmly with his teeth, sets his neck in an exaggerated arch, displaces his larynx and forces a rush of air into his mouth, resulting in a distinctive, grunt-like noise. Cribbing is more annoying than harmful, although cribbing on hard objects can wear or chip teeth and can cause overdevelopment of the muscles involved in this action. It also, of course, damages fences and stalls.
Cribbing can be more difficult to break than pawing, weaving or pacing because the horse seems to feel a need to do it. Cribbers have elevated levels of the naturally occurring narcotic beta-endorphin, which some experts believe causes the behavior.
Others think, and we agree, that this may be caused by the behavior and then results in it being so addictive. High levels of beta-endorphins elevate mood, raise the threshold for pain and can ease spasms in the intestinal tract. Pain like this may be a trigger for some horses that start the habit later in life.
An interesting study performed at the University of Bristol, England, prevented or limited cribbing for 24 hours by use of cribbing collars then watched what happened after they were removed. All the horses showed more intense cribbing behavior immediately after the collars came off than they did before they went on.
These horses may be experiencing anxiety, even mild physical withdrawal symptoms similar to those of narcotic addiction, as a result of being unable to constantly stimulate their endorphin levels by cribbing.
This conclusion is further supported by the 1998 study at the Veterinary Clinic Wahlstedt, Germany, which showed cribbing lowers heart rate (stress reduction) and increases threshold to temperature pain (stress reduction and endorphin production). Cribbers have three times higher baseline endorphin levels than those found in noncribbers.
The odds of being able to permanently stop a chronic offender from cribbing are slim, but you may be able to effectively minimize it:
• Maximize pasture turnout with a companion.
• If the horse goes out of his way to also crib in the pasture, use a grazing muzzle, which will make it more difficult for him to crib.
• Keep hay available to the horse all day and night, and feed grain only if the horse truly needs it.
• Be sure deworming is up-to-date and consider larvicidal treatment, such as five-day double-dose fenbendazole, and deworming for tapes, if horse has been on pasture.
• Consider treatment for gastric ulcers in a horse that starts cribbing as an adult, especially if he interrupts eating to crib.
• Remove feed buckets from stalls between feedings and install a broad, flat collar around water buckets that’s too wide for the horse to grasp.
• Consider an anticribbing collar for worst offenders.
• Remember that exercise also causes a natural endorphin release and is a great stress-buster. Make sure the horse gets plenty of it.
The horse center at Oregon State University has a neat rigging that helps prevent cribbing in the stall. It also gives the horse something to play with to help relieve boredom and release excess energy.
A length of four-inch PVC-type pipe is mounted on a conduit pipe and placed horizontally on the inside of the stall just above and to the inside of the ridge where the conduit upright grills are mounted.
Because the pipe is a larger diameter than the conduit, it rolls when the horse tries to bite it or pushes it with his chin. Because of the movement and the size, there’s no way it will hold still long enough for a horse to bite down and do any damage.
A cribbing strap must fit well to work. It must be tight enough to restrict motion and not allow the horse to move his muscles to crib but not so tight it causes discomfort. The horse must be able to eat and drink freely, but the strap must not spin or slide. If you’ve never adjusted a cribbing strap before, contact your veterinarian or someone experienced for help.
Most straps cause rubbing and hair loss, which becomes worse if the collar is too tight or too loose. Fleece padding and frequent checks are often required to minimize irritation.
The smooth leather strap is the classic cribbing strap, and it works just fine for many adult horses. However, over time, most horses experience chaffing and hair loss.
The French-style cribbing strap has a leather-covered U-shaped steel plate fitting over and around the horse’s windpipe. This strap has little flexibility or adjustment in it, making it difficult to fit comfortably, especially on very thin or very fat horses. However, if you can get a good fit, many people consider it a reasonable next step after a smooth collar.
The nutcracker-style strap is constructed with a hinged aluminum center section with sidepieces for buckling it around the throat. It’s adjustable to fit around the windpipe and allows for precise tightening. However, the pinched waist of the metal portion could lie too high up on the horse’s throat where it could either be less effective or apply too much pressure. It also has the potential to pinch. We’d skip it.
Our favorite is the Miracle Collar from Weaver Leather ($40, www.weaverleather.com 800-932-8371), available in several different sizes and with a fleece cover. It’s durable and adjustable to an effective, comfortable fit for a variety of throat conformations. Keeping the bridle path trimmed and using fleece padding will minimize rubs.
We’d apply the Miracle Collar, a constant source of hay, maximum turnout and exercise. If this fails, we’d just live with the cribber but keep a close watch on his teeth.
Also With This Article
Click here to view ”Cribbing Facts And Fallacies.”