Cribbing in Horses

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cribbing horse at tie rail

Michigan State University experts take a closer look at cribbing.

Many people have horses that crib, but there is still some confusion as to what exactly is cribbing and why it happens. Cribbing is not a disease nor contagious, but merely a behavioral habit. So, what exactly is cribbing? Cribbing is the act of a horse sucking in air through its mouth. The horse will bite onto something solid such as a fence, edge of the stall, water bucket or anything else available, then flex its neck and suck in air.

While cribbing doesn’t provide any direct health issues, a horse’s teeth can become abnormally worn by biting on the objects in order to crib, and dental issues can lead to serious problems if gone unchecked. It can, however, be an addictive behavior that is mostly impossible to eradicate.

There are things such as cribbing collars and muzzle-like devices you can buy for your horses to help discourage the behavior, but these don’t always work. The muzzle is worn like a halter with a metal and nylon structure that covers the horse’s mouth to prevent it from getting a grip on a solid object. It does not interfere with grazing or drinking and poses no danger to the horse’s health.

The collar is just what it sounds like and is placed around the throatlatch tightly. The collar does not affect the horse’s ability to breathe, eat or drink while the horse is not cribbing. The idea behind the cribbing collar is that it is pulled tight so when the horse tries to flex its neck to suck air, discomfort and pressure is felt and this will discourage the behavior. A poorly fitted collar may cause lesions to the area where the collar sits, so be sure it properly fits your horse.

These inventions help manage cribbers, but why do horses crib to begin with? We can’t be certain as to what causes cribbing, as horses from around the world in varying conditions and lifestyles present this behavior. However, it is believed some horses crib out of boredom or if stalled for extended periods of time without exercise. Other theories include bad diet, ulcers and heredity.

Although cribbing is not completely understood yet, there could be different causes for each horse. While it is a bad habit, it is not dangerous. You can go love on your cribber just the same as the other horses.

This article was written by Taylor Fabus, Michigan State University Extension, and Chelsea Southard, MSU student. For more information, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu. To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu/newsletters.