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!
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.
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.
Before Meals: Anticipation/ Stress
After Meals: Ulcers/GI Discomfort
In Active Situations: Anxiety
Before Desired Activity: Anticipation/Anxiety
Before Undesirable Activity: Anxiety/Fear
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.
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.