Cribbing is one of the most obnoxious and destructive behaviors a horse owner will encounter. Cribbing is when a horse places their upper front teeth on an object and sucks in a large amount of air. Horses that do this over many years actually wear their teeth off.
Cribbing has NEVER been encountered or evidenced in wild horses. Therefore it is quite obviously a problem we humans have created.
It used to be thought that cribbing was hereditary and also was a “catching” behavior. Owners were extremely paranoid about their horse being around a cribber, for fear that their horse would pick up the habit.
What we now know is that cribbing is caused by a variety of factors. The act of cribbing releases feel good endorphins from a horse’s brain. Often cribbing is a result of chronic pain or discomfort. The endorphins act as a pain reliever for the horse. Extensive studies have found that ulcers frequently lie behind a cribber’s behavior. Laminitis and Navicular feet have also been found to start the behavior.
Cribbing can also come from boredom. Horses who lack the natural environment of herd time, the ability to graze when they want to, and lengthy periods of time locked in a stall, are the ones who most often manifest the behavior. Cribbing can also begin when a horse is feeling particularly stressed, such as when a best friend has died or a barn change has occurred.
People tend to worry about a cribbing horse choking. Most of the time this does not occur unless the cribber is taking in particles of wood or plastic while doing it.
Changes in your horse’s environment as well as an investigation into whether your horse is experiencing some health condition are what needs to happen for the cribber. Perhaps ulcer medication, a switch of feed, or more turn out time will be all he needs to drop the vice.