Have you ever seen a horse seeming to eat or horse chewing wood of his stall, or on the fencing in his pasture? Ever wonder if he’s actually trying to eat the wood, or if this behavior could be something else?
Well, if you guessed “something else,” you were correct! Horses “chewing” on wood is actually a behavior called “cribbing.” While cribbing looks like chewing, it is actually something entirely different.
In this article, I’ll be discussing what cribbing is, why horses crib, and how you can help a horse to stop cribbing.
Horse Chewing Wood: What is Cribbing?
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Total Equine Vets defines cribbing as the following: “ The behavior includes the horse grabbing onto something solid (like a fence board, bucket, or door) with his top incisors, arches his neck, and sucks in air. An audible gulping or belching can usually be heard. Some horses can crib without their teeth on anything. This sucking in of air causes a kind of “head rush” for the horse. The head rush is pleasurable.”
When a horse cribs, he typically cribs all the time, and on anything he can reach. I personally know a horse that will crib on cross ties if he can. Think of it as a bad habit, like someone that chews their nails. When they can do it, they’re going to do it.
Horse Chewing Wood: Why Do Horses Crib?
So, if cribbing is so addictive, why do horses start doing it? There have been many researched reasons that explain why horses crib. Some of these reasons are fixable, and others don’t seem to be.
There are two reasons for cribbing that I feel are most important to address, due to the fact that, if true, your horse could be suffering. These are that horses crib out of anxiety or out of stomach/gastric pain.
Many horses crib because of anxiety or mental unrest. While this can be caused by many things, a common cause of anxiety in horses is confinement. If a horse doesn’t have enough access to turnout and open space, he may become anxious and restless.
Just like people, a horse has to cope with their anxiety in some form. Again, think of the nail-chewing example. Nail-chewing or biting is a common outlet for anxiety in people. In the same way, cribbing is a common outlet for anxiety in horses.
Horse Chewing Wood: Stomach/Gastric Pain
Cribbing can also be a sign that your horse is experiencing gastric or ulcer-related pain. While the research on this idea isn’t conclusive yet, there is some correlation between horses that are experiencing gastric ulcer pain and horses that crib.
Think of a time you were living with a constant source of pain. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to keep yourself busy and to keep your mind on something else. Maybe this is what ulcer-ridden horses are trying to accomplish by cribbing? Again, this idea is hypothetical, but it wouldn’t surprise me if researchers find it to be the case.
How to Stop a Horse from Chewing Wood
There are quite a few recommended ways to encourage your horse to stop cribbing. Remember that every horse is different; what might work on your horse might not work on my horse, and vice versa.
First and most importantly, make sure your horse is not bored. A horse could be bored for many reasons. Does your horse have regular or even constant access to forage? Does he have a salt lick or some kind of toy in his stall?
Is he enclosed in an area where there’s a lot of activity for him to watch? Is he isolated by himself? Does your horse get regular turnout with other horses, or is he locked in his stall all day?
The questions could go on and on. But, whatever your horse’s circumstance may be, it’s important to make sure that he has some form of entertainment at all times.
If he can’t have access to turnout every day, make sure he has hay in his stall at all times. If he can’t have hay in his stall at all times, make sure he at least has a toy or a salt lick in his stall, and so on and so on.
Cribbing collars go around a horse’s neck and partially prevent him from wood cribbing; or, at least, they make cribbing very uncomfortable. Many, many cribbers wear cribbing collars, predominantly to save the wood they are surrounded by.
While cribbing collars are effective, they don’t stop a horse from having the desire to crib; they simply prevent him from doing it comfortably. So, cribbing collars work to prevent the behavior, but not to break the habit.
Paint and Other Alternative Solutions
Though none of these can be backed in exact science, there are many people who swear by using certain kinds of paint or coatings on wood to prevent cribbing. There are even some people that say putting hot sauce on wood will stop a horse from cribbing!
There are plenty of home remedies on the internet that you are free to try to help stop your horse from cribbing; as I said, every horse is different. But, most of these can’t be backed in exact science.
So, there are ways to encourage horses to stop cribbing! Cribbing can be a nasty habit and, though I didn’t get into it during this article, it can have negative effects on your horse’s health. So, it’s worth your while as a horse owner to encourage your horse to drop the bad habit.
Some horses will take your advice and give up cribbing with the right encouragement, and other horses will never stop, in the same way, that some people will never stop biting their nails.
I hope this article helped you better understand cribbing, why horses crib, and what you can do to encourage your horse to stop cribbing. If so, please share this article, and share with us what you have done to get your horse to stop cribbing!
Can a horse eat with a cribbing collar on?
Most horses can eat easily while wearing a cribbing collar. Cribbing collars are designed to stop horses from cribbing or wind sucking. This helps prevent possible injury to the esophagus and digestive system. The cribbing collar applies pressure around the neck just behind the jaw, which prevents horses from cribbing. However, cribbing collars are not without controversy. There is limited scientific data that shows cribbing collars affect eating for some horses.
What is the difference between cribbing and windsucking?
Cribbing and windsucking are two different things. Both cribbing and windsucking involve the ingestion of air. The horse gulps air into the esophagus as it breathes, which sometimes causes a gurgling sound in the throat. However, cribbing and windsucking differ in the way the horse uses its tongue. In cribbing, the horse protrudes its tongue while it cribs. In windsucking, the horse holds its tongue back so that only a small amount of air comes into contact with the tongue.
While cribbing and windsucking are both considered abnormal behaviors, cribbing is more common. Both cribbing and windsucking can lead to potential health issues if the behavior becomes chronic.
It's important to get help for your horse if it cribs or windsucks excessively, but cribbing is generally easier to treat than windsucking.
Can cribbing cause a horse to lose weight?
Cribbing can cause weight loss in horses since it may interfere with digestive processes and lead to indigestion. Cribbing may also contribute to poor nutrition and insufficient feed intake due to wearing down horse's teeth so far that grazing becomes a problem. Gastric ulcers and colic may also occur. All of these conditions contribute to weight loss.
Do muzzles help with cribbing?
Muzzles may not help with cribbing. Muzzles do a good job of preventing a horse from eating hay and grass, but they don't prevent cribbing or wind sucking. Although cribbing may be reduced, it is still possible for horses to crib while wearing a muzzle.
Does mineral block help with cribbing?
Mineral blocks may help with cribbing or windsucking. A mineral block is a type of cribbing deterrent that releases bitter-tasting pellets when the horse licks it. The minerals in a mineral block may result in discomfort, but it is difficult to judge whether this approach really helps stop the cribbing.
What herbs can help with cribbing?
There are some different herbs out there, advertised as cribbing deterrents for horses. These include horse chestnut, peppermint oil, horsebalm, and horse rolls.
Horse chestnut is an herbal extract from horse chestnut trees. It's a traditional European herbal remedy for horse hoof pathology and varicose veins in humans. It can improve blood circulation and relieve swelling in the horse's hooves, but it seems to have no effect on cribbing or wind sucking.
Peppermint oil has been used for humans for years as a natural remedy to soothe upset stomachs and help with nausea. It has been used as a horse cribbing deterrent as well, but the benefits of horsemint oil for horses haven't been scientifically proven.
Horse balm is commonly advertised as a horse cribbing treatment, but there are no studies supporting the claims. Some horse owners report using horse balm successfully, though. However, horsebalm can also be used to calm horses, so it may work to decrease cribbing if the horse is agitated or stressed.
Horse rolls and horse roll supplements do not appear to be effective horse cribbing treatment, even though they contain horse chestnut extract and peppermint oil.
It's important to note that there is limited horse research on herbs and supplements. You should never use horse supplements without consulting your veterinarian.