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Medical Index
First Posted: Dec 18, 2007
Updated: Sep 24, 2013

Cribbing or Windsucking

by Debora Johnson

Update: "Feeding hay before grains appears to reduce the intensity of cribbing episodes, said Louise Nicholls, MSc candidate specializing in crib-biting at the equine science program in Warwirckshire College in England. She described her study during a poster session at the 9th Annual International Society for Equitation Science, held July 18-20 at the University of Delaware, in Newark."
Does Feeding Hay Before Grain Reduce Cribbing?

Update: Cribbing: Can You Stop It? Laser surgery information. "To date the laser surgery is the most permanent solution to cribbing."--Dr. Daniel J. Burba

What Is Cribbing/Windsucking?

An Update: "'Post-mortem studies have illustrated that crib-biting horses have differences in some brain areas,' explained Matthew Parker, MSC, a doctoral candidate in the School of Psychology at the University of Southampton."

The study, "Impaired instrumental choice in crib-biting horses (Equus caballus)," authored by Parker; Redhead, PhD; Goodwin, PhD, and; McBride, PhD, appears in the current edition of Behavioral Brain Research (Volume 191, pages 137-140).

Do you know someone who has to touch every fence post in a picket fence or not step on a crack on the side walk? This is obsessive-compulsive behavior and is much the same as cribbing in horses. You will see a horse latch on to a structure such as a board fence, stall bar, or some such object with his teeth, arch his neck, lean back, make noises and swallow air or windsuck (aerophagia) The terms cribbing and windsucking are used interchangeably. I am sad to say that I have actually seen a horse crib on its own leg when nothing else was available. Cribbing is not a vice. It is an unsoundness. Wood chewing, pawing, weaving, blanket-chewing, and head-bobbing, although repetitive behaviors, are considered to be vices. They are different. Vices, with proper training, can be modified or eliminated. Cribbing is an unsoundness. Many horse insures will not write a policy on a cribber. A cribber can be identified by looking at the front teeth. When purchasing a horse, always look for this. The teeth are excessively worn down. Cribbing also increases a horse's chance of colicing. The sucking of air can cause digestive disorders that lead to colic. Splintering from wood can enter the horse's digestive system and cause a myriad of problems including difficulty in holding weight (unthriftiness).

What Causes A Horse to Crib?

There are many thoughts as to what causes a horse to crib. The following is a list of potential causes:

  1. Boredom
  2. Stress
  3. Loneliness
  4. No turn out
  5. In a stall 24/7
  6. Genetics or predisposition
  7. Improper diet (not enough roughage)
  8. Lack of exercise
  9. Imitating learned behavior

It has been noted that horses living in the wild do not seem to crib. They are not confined in a stall or small paddock. There is no time for boredom. The anatomy of a horse is such that he should actually graze all day. A horse's stomach is small. In the wild, horses eat constantly. They forage, continuously moving about. It has been noted that they graze up to 90% of their day. Confinement in a stall completely disrupts this natural way. A stabled horse may be fed 2 to 3 times a day. This eating process only takes a fraction of the time a horse would spend eating in the wild.

A cribbing horse gets many personal rewards from his action. One of them is much the same as a drug addict. Endorphans are released in the pleasure center of the horse's brain. The horse feels a sense of calm and pleasure. You might actually see a horse lick his lips after he has cribbed. To date there is no known cure for cribbing. There are several deterrents, but no cure.

Suggestions To Minimize Cribbing

  1. Reduce boredom
  2. Reduce stress (for example, over training)
  3. Provide turnout
  4. Allow natural grazing
  5. Reduce confinement time
  6. Provide toys in stall
  7. Make sure horse has proper diet
  8. Keep cribbers away from other horses so that the behavior will not be imitated
  9. Always have a companion
  10. Reduce grain
  11. Increase fat ration
  12. Cribbing straps
  13. Pepper sprays, vinegar, etc. on cribbing surfaces
  14. Herbal potions (calming)
  15. Low acid feeds
  16. Mineral supplements
  17. Anti-acids
  18. Electric fencing
  19. Surgery
For More Information:

Cribbing Horse

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