Here’s why modifying your horse’s behavior can help eliminate cribbing.
At some point, many horse people will deal with or own a horse that cribs. Simply put, cribbing is when a horse grasps onto a fixed surface and pulls backwards, producing a grunting noise caused by sucking air into his stomach. In some locales, cribbing goes by the name “wind-sucking”. The act of cribbing has been associated with colic, weight loss, oral infections and a laundry list of other health issues, as well as property damage (it should be noted that cribbing is not the same as wood chewing).
The root cause of many stable vices such as cribbing, weaving or stall walking is stress. Stress is the emotional and physical way in which the horse’s body responds to pressure from the outside world. The acute stress response is necessary for survival and helps prepare the horse for flight or fight. Under stress, the horse’s nervous system releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream. These hormones give the horse the extra energy and strength he needs to escape from a perceived threat.
A Little Stress is Good for the Horse
It keeps his immune system under control, speeds up soft tissue repair, and acts as an anti-inflammatory. But when a horse is chronically stressed, it’s bad news for his health.
Chronic stress leads to health and behavior problems such as stall vices, digestion issues (colic), and reproductive conditions (miscarriage). The immune system becomes impaired, leading to illness, chronic muscle tension, increased blood pressure, heart disease and more. These problems may lead to serious life-threatening illness such as colic, kidney disease, muscle damage, etc.
Causes of Stress
There are four main causes of stress in horses:
1. Boredom is the main source of stress-based behavioral problems in horses.
2. Pain can be caused by an injury, illness or other activities. A lame horse is prey for predators.
3. Fear is one of the greatest stressors of all, in both people and horses.
4. Isolation is a huge stressor in horses. Like people, they need the companionship of their own kind.
It’s not proven if horses can learn to crib by watching others doing it. As I was developing my training program, I was never able to prove that one horse could learn from another, even though it seemed as if it could happen. Since this seems to be traditional folklore, however, you may have problems stabling a cribbing equine near other horses in a boarding setting.
Pinpointing the Problem
At some point, your horse was stressed out and developed a stable vice. Stable vices are like human habits, so once they’re learned, your horse may continue to exhibit them even if the stressor is removed. So how do you solve the problem?
First, you must identify what conditions led to the cribbing. Eliminating the stressor is part of solving the issue. If your horse has begun cribbing since you acquired him, you can probably pinpoint what was going on in his life when it started. If he was already cribbing when you acquired him, then uncovering the problem might be more difficult.
When I did a demo at the Maryland Horse World Expo, I spoke to an owner whose horse had started cribbing after she was acquired. The mare had been sent to a trainer who abused her, and the cribbing started after she was returned.
Before we pinpoint when a horse picked up a stable vice, it is very important that everyone understand that the horse did not wake up one morning and say, “Today I am going to learn how to crib.” The same goes for people – no one wakes one morning and says, “Today I am going to learn how to do drugs, or today I am going to start smoking.” Just like people, horses develop stall vices as a way to deal with stress. And like dealing with a loved one who has succumbed to a vice, we need to get our horse treatment in order to save his life. Putting a Band-Aid over the problem will not solve it; it only covers it up so it can come back and haunt you later.
Anti-Cribbing Devices Verses Training
Most anti-cribbing devices cause pain. Pain causes stress. Using an anti-cribbing device is like putting a Band-Aid on the problem. I believe that while these devices may prevent cribbing in the short run, they only add to the problem in the long run.
The Crib-Free™ method takes care of your horse’s cribbing problem without anticribbing devices, by attacking the root cause of the problem. Teaching your horse how to deal with stress is the key.
Welcome to Crib-Free Ten years ago at Penryn Oak Stables in Penryn, California, I conceived the idea that I could solve cribbing problems through training. After several years of hard work, I developed a program that successfully stopped cribbing behavior in the horses I was training.
There are two steps to the Crib-Free™ program:
1. Breaking the habit.
2. Using training to eliminate the problem.
The second step involves teaching your horse to deal with stress through training. It is the training portion of the program that creates a long-term change in your horse’s behavior. But that is another article in itself!
Now that you understand your horse’s vice from a psychological and behavioral standpoint, you can begin to think about how you will approach its correction from a slightly different viewpoint. Wouldn’t it be great not to have to use a cribbing collar on your horse every day, or spend time repairing fence boards? Deal with the root cause and address your horse’s stress, and you can begin to eliminate the behavior completely.
Mike Hughes has been a horseman since birth; a family friend gave his parents a horse for him the day he was born. Mike grew up next to a poorly managed cattle ra nch where his early exposure to horsemanship was rough handling and intimidation to create submission. Even as a young man Mike knew there had to be better way. Mike has specialized in problem solving, training for the Sacramento Mounted Police Association, and he has done demonstrations in the U.S, Ireland, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Mike has spent the last seven year s specializing in solving stall vices such as cribbing, weaving, stall kicking/walking etc. after a dear friend’s horse ultimately died from colic brought on by cribbing. crib-free.com, 916-218-8136.