Last Updated on February 17, 2023
Have you ever seen a horse chewing at the wood in the stall or pasture? Ever wonder if he’s actually trying to eat the wood, or if this behavior could be something else, such as cribbing? And if cribbing is the issue, can homemade cribbing solutions solve this problem?
Today we’ll be looking into what cribbing is, why horses crib, and how you can help a horse to stop cribbing? We’ve got everything you need to know about how to make the best homemade cribbing solutions, including homemade chew stops for horses and homemade no-chew spray for horses. So, if you’re keen to stop your horse cribbing lumber, keep reading to find out more!
What is Cribbing?
Before we get onto the best homemade cribbing solutions, we need to look at what cribbing is and why horses do it.
Cribbing, also known as crib-biting, is a behavioral vice – this means that it is not ‘normal’ behavior for the horse, and is done because of an underlying problem. This type of behavior is referred to as stereotypy, meaning it is a repetitive behavior carried out due to stress, pain, or anxiety.
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.”
Essentially, cribbing is when a horse clamps onto wood with his teeth and pulls upwards abruptly, sucking in air and making a guttural, grunting sound. While cribbing looks like chewing on wood, it is actually something entirely different. So, while some horses will chew on wood as a habit, crib-biting is a very distinctive form of behavior.
When a horse cribs, it will typically crib for a large proportion of the time, and on any suitable object, it can reach. Think of it as a bad habit, like someone that chews their nails – when they can do it, they’re going to do it!
Why Do Horses Crib-bite?
So, if cribbing is so addictive, why do horses start doing it? There has been a lot of research into why horses crib, but no definitive answer has been found. One thing that is known is that wild horses do not crib-bite – this is a problem that only affects our domesticated horses!
Two potential reasons for cribbing should be investigated and ruled out if your horse starts to crib-bite:
Many horses are cribbing because of anxiety, stress, or mental unrest. Whilst 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.
Horses are naturally sociable, free-roaming animals and extended periods of confinement mean they are not able to express their natural behaviors. This leads to anxiety, and horses will attempt to alleviate these feelings by developing unusual behaviors such as crib-biting. Again, very similar to nail-chewing in people, which many of us only do when anxious or stressed!
Do Horses Get High From Cribbing?
It is not clear if horses get high from cribbing, or if they use cribbing to relieve negative hormonal responses. Studies have shown that horses that regularly crib-bite have higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. However, they also have increased amounts of endorphins, which make them feel happier.
So, horses may initially start cribbing because they are stressed or anxious, as the endorphins released will make them feel calmer. However, they could potentially get addicted to the happy feeling of endorphins, and continue cribbing even when the reason for cribbing has been removed.
Cribbing can also be a sign that your horse is experiencing gastric or ulcer-related stomach 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-bite. Some researchers believe that crib-biting stimulates saliva production, which helps to ease the symptoms of gastric ulcers
However, gastric ulcers in horses are frequently caused by long periods of confinement, lack of turnout, and inadequate forage supply. All of these things can also cause stress-induced cribbing in horses.
So, your horse may have both of these problems, but they could be caused by the same issues!
Why is Cribbing Bad For Horses?
Crib-biting is bad for horses for several reasons. This behavior can lead to weight loss and poor body condition, abnormal development of the neck muscles, and dental abnormalities. Crib-biting can also increase the risk of gastric ulcers, colic, and arthritis of the temporohyoid joint.
Horses that crib bite often spends several hours per day carrying out this behavior, reducing the time spent performing normal activities. Although most horses develop a crib-biting habit when they are stabled, many continue it even when turned out in the paddock. This impacts the time the horse spends grazing and interacting with other horses.
How to Stop a Horse From Cribbing
Stopping a horse from cribbing is not always easy – this is a behavior that is difficult to break once established. Remember that every horse is different; what might work on one horse might not work on another horse.
The vital thing to remember when attempting to stop a horse from cribbing is that the underlying reason for this behavior needs to be removed. If the horse is bored, anxious, stressed, or suffering from gastric ulcers, it will continue to attempt to crib-bite no matter what you do.
The most important thing to do is make sure your horse is not bored, anxious, or stressed. Horses that cannot exhibit their natural behaviors will find a habit such as cribbing hard to break.
A horse could be bored or stressed 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?
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. The aim here is to mimic the lifestyle of a wild horse as closely as possible – remember, horses in the wild do not crib-bite!
Cribbing collars go around a horse’s neck and partially prevent it from wood cribbing; 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 prevent him from doing it comfortably. So, cribbing collars work to avoid the behavior, but not to break the habit.
Homemade Cribbing Solutions
While there are commercially-available products you can use to stop horse cribbing, some homemade cribbing solutions can be equally as effective. Most of these homemade cribbing solutions are painted or wiped directly onto any wood surfaces that the horse uses to bite onto. The aim is that the unpleasant odor or flavor will put the horse off from crib-biting.
Some of the best homemade cribbing solutions include:
- Attaching something to the top of the stable door to stop the horse from grasping onto it, such as the bristle head of a yard broom or a metal strip.
- Use electric fencing to stop your horse from cribbing on wooden fencing in the paddock.
- Paint wooden surfaces with unpleasant-tasting substances such as mustard or hot chili and garlic sauce.
- Some horse owners swear by rubbing Irish Spring soap onto wooden surfaces to stop a horse cribbing.
While some of these solutions can help to break the habit of cribbing, remember that it is highly likely that your horse will also need some drastic lifestyle changes too. Using slow-feeder nets can help ensure your horse has a constant supply of forage, and it can be worth considering if a 24-hour turnout might be a better choice for your horse.
Summary – Homemade Cribbing Solutions
So, as we have learned, cribbing can be a very detrimental habit for horses to get into and is often a sign that the horse is stressed, anxious, bored, or in pain. Crib-biting can have long-term negative effects on your horse’s health, so it is worth trying everything possible to encourage your horse to drop the bad habit. While homemade cribbing solutions will put your horse off from crib-biting, it is also essential to modify your horse’s lifestyle to ensure it is as natural as possible.
We hope that this article has helped you better understand cribbing, why horses crib-bite, and what you can do to encourage your horse to stop cribbing. If so, please share this article, and tell us about 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 crib-biting or wind-sucking. The cribbing collar applies pressure around the neck just behind the jaw, which prevents horses from cribbing. However, cribbing collars do not address the reason why horses start to crib-bite in the first place, and should not be used unless steps have been taken to alter the horse's lifestyle.
What is the difference between cribbing and windsucking?
Cribbing and windsucking are similar forms of behavior with common causes. Both cribbing and windsucking involve the ingestion of air by gulping air into the esophagus, which sometimes causes a gurgling sound in the throat. However, when crib-biting the horse needs to grasp an object with its teeth, whereas windsucking can be done without grabbing an object.
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. Chronic crib-biters also spend many hours each day cribbing, leading to reduced food intake and loss of condition.
Cribbing may also contribute to poor nutrition and insufficient feed intake due to wearing down horses' teeth so far that grazing becomes a problem. Gastric ulcers and recurrent colic are also linked to crib-biting in horses, which can contribute to weight loss.
Do muzzles 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 as they provide an alternative form of entertainment for the horse. Using mineral blocks and other forms of environmental enrichment, such as treat balls and slow-feeder hay nets, can help to prevent boredom and stress. Mineral blocks can also provide essential nutrients for the horse.
What herbs can help with cribbing?
Herbs can be used in two different ways to help stop cribbing. They can be fed to the horse to ease the symptoms of cribbing, or they can be applied to surfaces to deter a horse from cribbing.
Any type of herbal supplement aimed at calming and relieving anxiety can help stop a horse from cribbing. If the horse also has gastric ulcers, there are also useful feed supplements to help with this.
Many crib-stop products are designed to be applied directly to the stable door, and these often include bitter-tasting herbs such as horse chestnut or peppermint oil.
Michael Dehaan is a passionate horse owner, horse rider, and lover of all things equine. He has been around horses since he was a child, and has grown to become an expert in the field. He has owned and ridden a variety of horses of different breeds, and has trained many to compete in shows and competitions. He is an experienced horseman, having worked with and competed many horses, including his own. He is an active member of the equestrian community, participating in events and teaching riding lessons.