Tips to Understand & Manage a Cribber

Horse- “HRRRP. HRRRP. HRRRP”

Human, with a pit in her stomach and steam rolling out her ears- “S^%@#!!!!!!!!!” 

We’ve all heard the obnoxious gulping sound in a barn that makes our skin crawl. Cribbing sits at the top of the vice list due to its destructive tendency and general transparency. To add insult to injury, horses who crib typically never completely get over the behavior, despite our efforts to adjust their physical and environmental comfort.

So what on earth do we do??? Personally, I’ve struggled to connect with cribbers in the same way I connect with other horses; as the vice almost interrupts me from valuing the cribbing horse as I can a horse who doesn’t partake in the pleasantry. To help me overcome holding this stigma, I’ve studied some of these guys and done some soul searching to put these horses in a different light. With this, I’ve realized how to better understand and manage the cribbing horse and am excited to share the revelation!

Understanding a Cribber’s Gonna Crib

We don’t know exactly what predisposes a horse to crib. There seems to be some extent of a genetic component to the vice, but because the behavior is typically triggered by environmental shortages, we have inconsistencies in mapping it through bloodlines. To rest some concerns though- horses do not typically learn cribbing behavior from other horses.

We do know why horses crib, why they don’t stop cribbing once they start, and why the behavior is heightened in stressful situations. Cribbing is addictive to horses!

Essentially when a horse cribs, he releases endorphins with each gulp of air. While this is a small release, it offers significant relief for a horse under physical or psychological stress. Ergo, horses get hooked. This explains why they continue the behavior after the stress has subsided- they’ve figured out how to get their fix.

To Manage the Cribbing Horse

Recognize When He Cribs

While a cribber’s gonna crib, each horse will have his triggers. Some horses crib as much of the time as they can, even at the detriment to their nutritional health. Others though, the more reasonable individuals, crib specifically to relieve stress.

Common Cribbing Triggers

Before Meals: Anticipation/ Stress

After Meals: Ulcers/GI Discomfort

In Active Situations: Anxiety

Before Desired Activity: Anticipation/Anxiety

Before Undesirable Activity: Anxiety/Fear

When to Take Action Against the Cribbing

Often, our first instinct after hearing a horse’s “HRRRP” is to strap a collar on his throat. Sometimes blocking the cribbing behavior is the best option. When a horse causes destruction to property, he needs a collar. When a horse’s nutritional needs aren’t being met because he’s cribbing instead of eating, he needs a collar. And most importantly, when his cribbing proves significant enough to put him at risk for colic, he needs a collar.

When to Let the Cribber Crib

What we often don’t consider is allowing the horse to crib at will. This may not be an option, but if the horse cribs only on occasion, or has generally high stress levels at rest, allowing him to get his fix may be better than frustrating him with a collar. Where a horse’s stress levels are shown to be lower immediately after cribbing, allowing the horse his fix also may lower risk for ulcers, colic, muscle tension, and hot behavior.

 

About Madison Maavere

Hello, I am a young professional in the equine industry with a passion for improving horses' physical health and emotional wellness. I grew up riding horses in north Georgia and by the time I was 10, I decided I wanted to ride professionally. This dream grew into the mountain that I climbed every day, striving to reach the top. Until I was 16, I did not have my own horses, so I began diving whole-heartedly into any barn that would allow me to work off rides, training, and showing. While this path may not have gotten me the most blues in the show ring, it opened my eyes and my heart to the vastness of the horse world and how perception based it can be. When I was 16, my family moved out on 6 acres so I could have my horses at home (IE, so my family could see me on a daily basis), and for this, I am truly grateful. Running my own farm, albeit small, was liberating and humbling, and it revealed to me that my passion was not so much for riding sport, but for the love of the horse. Fast forward 6 years, and I am well into my final year as an undergraduate Equine Science/Management major at the University of Kentucky. I have been so fortunate in the opportunities I've received here and the relationships I've been able to build. The cutting edge research, quality horsemanship, and innovative businesses located around Lexington, KY have given me a strong sense of reality, and inspired me to really look at where I can make an impact in today's horse world. What I've realized is that while I like equestrian sports, I love the horse. Moreover, I love to help the horse. I want it to be happy and relaxed, to be sound and comfortable, to eat well and be healthy. I want the horse to have every defense against pathalogical disease, and I want it to have skill sets that people value so it can live a long, loved life. In this love, I feel called to advocate for the horse. I want to learn everything I can about how to improve horses' sustainable wellness, and I want to share what I learn so that horsemen of all experience, backgrounds, and goals can feel inspired and enabled to improve their horses' lives. It is my true desire to initiate and spread a dynamic in which horses are not for the industry, but the industry is for the horses.

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