Your stall windows are smeared with dusty gobs of foul-smelling goo. Your braider sighs audibly when she gets to the worn spot in Dusty’s mane where she could’ve fit two more braids. Your feed room has at least three unfinished containers of supplements that promise to fatten Dusty up.
Who are you?
You are the frustrated owner of a horse that cribs (or crib bites). You’ve been searching for answers to curtail your horse’s feverish desire to hook an incisor on anything solid … and su-u-u-uck wind. Well, guess what? So have veterinarian and researchers.
Despite the efforts of researchers at universities around the globe, no one has discovered an absolute cause for cribbing, but they are getting closer. According to a 2010 review article, the causes of cribbing boil down to three categories:
In this blog post, I’ll discuss the environmental factors that can cause horses to crib, and what you can do to mitigate these risks.
Home on the Range
Free-ranging wild horses simply do not crib, nor do zebras. Domesticated horses live a different life. We bed them down in sweet-smelling pine shavings. In some places, they can graze part of the year, but not if you live in Arizona or Alberta, Canada. If your farm is on a limited amount of property, your paddock’s grass probably was trampled within a month. Large farms and vast amounts of grassy pasture have been sold into subdivisions. Open space is a hot commodity: real estate. We do our best, but some of us cannot turn our horses out on grass.
Feeding and Turnout Practices
Yet, our horses, by nature herd animals, are born to walk, graze, eat, repeat. If they cannot fulfill this biological imperative, something must give. Some horses weave. Others stall walk. In a study, 80% of stalled performance horses had gastric ulcers. Research shows a correlation between feeding an antacid and a reduction in cribbing. In addition, feeding concentrated grains leads to an increase in various repetitive stable vices. Horses’ need to eat forage (ie: grass or hay) is instrinsic to their need to live on large amounts of acerage in a herd setting.
One study looked at young, Dutch warmbloods who had previously been on pasture in a herd setting. Researchers assigned half of the horses to live in individual stalls while the other half lived with a buddy (in a large stall). None of the horses stalled with a buddy developed stereotypic behavior (defined as weaving, stall walking, and cribbing), while 67% of the individually stalled horses developed a stereotypic behavior. Notably, the study also found that the stereotypic behaviors were still reversible after twelve weeks of living in isolated stall environment.
- Make forage the largest possible and grain the lowest possible proportion of your horse’s diet.
- Turn out! Turn out! Turn out!
- Buddy up.