Any links on this page that lead to products on Amazon are affiliate links and I earn a commission if you make a purchase. Thanks in advance – I really appreciate it!
Recently, a friend looked at a horse he was interested in buying; the horse was put together well and had a solid pedigree, but it was a cribber. He asked me if he should avoid buying a horse that cribs. I wasn’t certain, so I decided to do some research to find out.
It would be best to avoid buying a horse that cribs because there are so many fit horses available. Cribbers have a high risk of colic, dental issues, and other disorders, and it’s challenging to prevent a horse from cribbing once they start.
Many people buy a horse based on its looks. But if you’re considering a horse that cribs, there is a lot to learn about this disorder.
What is Cribbing?
An acquaintance was at our barn explaining how he deals with horses that cribs. After he left, my grandson asked me what the man was talking about; he never heard of a cribber before.
Cribbing is the act of a horse grabbing a solid object with its teeth, most commonly a fence post, arching its neck, and using its lower neck muscles to suck in air.
This action forces air into the esophagus, causing a grunting type noise. The act is repeated persistently without any apparent reason, a compulsive disorder.
Reasons not to buy a horse that cribs.
You may have found the perfect horse to trail ride or can run a perfect barrel pattern only to learn later it cribs. Should you take the bad with the good and buy the horse? Here are my reasons I think you should pass on this horse.
1. Horses that crib develop dental problems.
A horse that cribs grabs a solid object with its teeth and pulls back, oftentimes for hours each day. Their teeth are abused and start wearing unevenly.
Cribbers’ incisors are especially affected. You can click here to learn more about equine dental disorders and treatment.
2. Cribber’s neck muscles are adversely impacted.
The constant strain of the neck muscle results in the overdevelopment of the lower neck muscles. The shape and development of neck muscles affect the way a horse moves its entire body.
Overdeveloped neck muscles can limit a horse’s suitability to perform specific tasks and reflect on his ability to train.
3. Some cribbers develop arthritis in their jaws.
Arthritis can develop in the throat, jaw, and facial area of the horse’s head. The repeated act of cribbing puts repeated pressure on the hyoid and stylohyoid bone.
This chronic pressure on the entire apparatus used to engage the cribbing action is susceptible to arthritis and degenerative joint disease.
4. Cribbers often avoid eating and lose weight.
Some horses that crib seems never to stop. One study found the frequency of crib-biting behavior in horses to occur every 10–20 seconds.
Horses get addicted to wind sucking, and some avoid eating to spend more time knawing on a post, which, of course, leads to poor health and weight loss.
5. Cribbing can lead to colic in some horses.
Its been widely accepted for years that cribbing can lead to colic in horses; however, a recent study has linked a specific type of colic to cribbing, called epiploic foramen entrapment.
Epiploic foramen entrapment is a severe type of colic and can cause death if untreated. To read more about this study, click here. To read more about colic in horses, click here.
6. Cribbing damages wood fence posts and boards.
On my way to work, I pass a horse that cribs, he stands by a post and gnaws it to the first board, then moves to the next position. He is making his way around their pasture and destroying the fence.
Horses that constantly latch on to an object with their teeth and pull in air damage their bodies and wreak destruction on facilities. They will ruin fences, posts, buckets, and just about anything else they use for their habit.
What Causes a Horse to Crib?
Seeing the horse gnawing on a post every morning made me wonder about the reasons a horse would want to crib. So I did some research to find out.
Behavioral disorders are a leading reason for horses to wind sucks, such as boredom, stress, or addiction. There is some evidence that stomach ulcers may result in some horses cribbing.
Some people believe all cribbing is caused by stress and other behavioral disorders, but that’s not wholly accurate.
Cribbing reduces a horse’s stress level.
Studies to determine the root causes of the cribbing failed to reach a definitive conclusion. The one consensus among the studies: the habit of drawing in air, in this manner, decreases stress levels in horses.
How does biting on an object and pulling in air reduce stress levels in a horse? One theory is cribbing causes the brain to release endorphins resulting in the horse feeling pleasure.
However, a 2010 study in the Equine Veterinary Journal looked at horses’ two stress indicators with this condition, heart rate and endorphin levels.
A horse’s heart rate reduces when cribbing.
In an independent study of young horses in the United Kingdom, reported by A. J. Waters, J. Nicole, and P. French (click here to read the results) confirmed the following factors increase the chances a horse will develop these adverse behavioral habits:
- Foals of dominant mares are more likely to be cribbers than offspring to more docile horses;
- Horses that were weaned by confinement to a stable have an increased rate of developing the behavior than horses weaned in a paddock or pasture;
- Horses that were barn kept after weaning are more likely to develop into a wind sucker than horses that are allowed to graze in a pasture or roam in a paddock;
- Horses that were fed concentrates after weaning have a four-fold increase in developing the behavior.
Although coming at the problem from different angles, the above studies concluded that being horses subjected to isolation at specific periods of their life turns to wind sucking for comfort.
Stall kept horses have a high rate of cribbing.
Should this coping mechanism be prevented? There is no clear answer to this question; to cut off the horse’s ability to deal with stress may lead to other issues, with worse consequences.
The high rate of thoroughbred and racehorses participating in the habit is likely related to their social system more than a genetic factor. It is more common for racehorses to be weaned quicker and stall kept than other horses.
Cribbing can relieve ulcer pain.
Lastly, when comparing horses, it is worth noting that geldings and stallions are more likely to wind suck than mares. Biting a fixed object and sucking in air provides relief to horses suffering stomach ulcers by producing excess saliva.
The saliva acts as a buffer in the stomach and reduces the pain caused by ulcers and other digestive problems.
Once a horse starts cribbing they’re hard to stop.
Treating a horse with this addiction is a challenge. To begin the process, you need to understand the reason for the behavior. Rule out gastric ulcers or other digestive issues.
A veterinarian can test your horse for digestive problems. If the horse has ulcers, the veterinarian will advise you on treatment options. Once a horse begins the habit of sucking wind, it is difficult to stop.
Feed a horse in a pasture to reduce cribbing.
Adjustments to feeding practices is a way to ease a horse from cribbing. Don’t keep a horse with the habit of wind sucking in a stall when you feed it. Allow the horse to roam and graze, and introduce more fiber to its diet.
If you must feed the horse in a stall, reduce concentrated feeds, and provide more hay, increasing fat intake has been shown to reduce stress. Antacid supplementation of a horse’s diet has proven to provide benefits for treating horses that wind suck.
The success may be due to the animal having stomach ulcers, but antacids also give relief to horses not diagnosed with this illness.
Restrictive devices can cause harm.
These devices are designed to restrain the horse from their habit of biting wood and sucking in air. There is controversy surrounding the humanity and safety of using such tools on horses since they do not address the underlying cause.
If a horse’s habit is due to stress, and the animal is placed in a contraption to prevent him from relieving stress, the device is causing harm. Studies performed on collars showed an increase in the activity after the collar was removed.
I’ve researched different methods to curtail cribbing. The following devices are highly rated by Amazon customers. Here are the links to the Amazon customer review pages so you can read what other customers have experienced:
Cribbing collars apply throat pressure when a horse cribs.
Fit tightly around a horse’s jowls at the throat latch. When a horse attempts to crib, the device applies pressure on the throat and prevents the horse from arching his neck and sucking air.
The collar is effective. However, it must be worn tight and can cause lesions. The horse can eat and drink while wearing the collar. Weaver Leather Miracle Collar
Shock collars activate when a horse attempt to crib.
Just like the name describes, it is a device that fits around a horse’s neck and provides a battery-powered shock to a horse. The shocking mechanism activates by specific movements of the horse’s neck or can be remotely controlled by a person to give a shock when a horse attempts to crib. The success of this device is suspect and not a humane method.
Cribbing muzzles prevent a horse from biting a solid object.
A cribbing muzzle attaches to a horse’s halter and prevents the animal from getting its teeth on a solid object to perform the necessary manipulations required to crib.
The muzzle still allows the horse to drink and eat. Cribbing muzzles successfully prevent cribbing; however, horses will try their hardest to remove the device. Horse Cribbing Muzzle
Cribbing rings are placed on a horses teeth to prevent them from latching on to an object.
These are metal rings placed on horses’ teeth to prevent them from locking their teeth on an object to crib. They are productive while in place; however, they usually dislodge after a short time. They also cause problems for a horse when grazing.
A modified Forssell surgery cuts nerves in a horses neck to stop cribbing.
The most popular surgical procedure used to prevent cribbing is the Modified Forssell procedure. This procedure cuts the muscles and nerves in the ventral neck region.
Removal of some muscle tissue is required. When performed successfully, the horse has difficulty contracting its larynx and therefore can not crib. The success rate for this surgery is approximately 80 percent.
Is Cribbing More Common in Specific Breeds?
Over the years, I’ve noticed more Thoroughbreds cribbing than other breeds I’ve owned. The frequency of Thoroughbreds that crib made me wonder if certain breeds are prone to be cribbers.
Cribbing is more prevalent in certain breeds. Thoroughbreds have the highest rate of cribbing at 13.3 percent. The general horse population is 4.4 percent. Thoroughbred could be genetically prone to crib, or it could be that they are the breed kept isolated more than any breed.
Interestingly the percentage of racehorses that crib is also high at 11 percent, and dressage horses also have a higher rate of cribbers regardless of breed.
The high rate of thoroughbred and racehorse cribbers is likely related to their social system more than a genetic factor. It is more common for racehorses to be weaned quicker and stall kept than other horses.
Male horses crib more than mare and fillies.
Lastly, when comparing horses, it is worth noting that geldings and stallions are more likely to crib than are a mare.