Many horse owners are familiar with that sucking noise that can occur after a bored horse attaches their mouth to a stall wall or fence, pulls back with their neck and inhales air, creating a unique grunting noise. This acquired vice, known as cribbing, aerophagia, or windsucking, is an addictive behavior that a horse may develop out of boredom. Some believe that horses can actually pick up this behavior from other horses. This is why horse owners who are familiar with it are QUITE familiar with the sound, and those that aren’t familiar, well …. they are just lucky.
Why Do Horses Do It?
A horse may initially pick up the behavior out of boredom in the stall and continue to do this on a fence line in a pasture, even when food is available. This may be because the action of windsucking can be a pleasurable sensation for horses, causing the release of endorphins that contributes to their addiction.
Is There Harm in Cribbing?
Cribbing behavior is associated with several health issues in horses. It can result in poor performance, weight loss, erosion of the front teeth (incisors), and issues with colic. Studies have shown that horses that crib have an increased risk of colic as a result of a colonic obstruction or gas distension, gastrointestinal ulcers, and a specific entrapment of the small intestines known as an epiploic foramen entrapment. However, often the most troublesome issue is that the behavior is irritating to owners and can be destructive to property.
Can We Prevent It?
The best way to prevent this behavior is by catching the problem early and taking action. Simple management changes such as allowing more pasture turnout can prevent cribbing behavior. Additionally, a recent study showed that feeding hay before grain instead of after can reduce the amount of time in a horse’s cribbing episode.
Probably the most effective preventative measure is the use of a cribbing collar or strap. Cribbing collars come with or without a metal piece that fits snugly around the throatlatch of the horse and are worn at all times except during exercise.
For horses that don’t respond to the management changes, there is a surgery called the “Modified Forssell’s procedure” that has had some success in reducing the behavior. This surgery transects the muscles involved with the cribbing behavior. Like all surgical procedures, there is risk associated with anesthesia and surgery. Many have also tried alternative and integrative therapies (e.g., chiropractic, acupuncture) to reduce the behavior with varying success.
If you have any questions regarding cribbing or other issues with your horse, please contact us at Badger Equine Veterinary Services.
Auer & Stick. Equine Surgery: 4th Edition. 2012. “Cribbing and Aerophagia.” 1186-1187.
Bohanon, T. “Cribbing” Thehorse.com. The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care. Blood Horse Publications. May 1, 1996. http://www.thehorse.com/articles/10792/cribbing