Horse Breeds at

Why do horses crib?

Research suggests that when it comes to fixing stable vices, we've been doing it all wrong.

November 15, 2013

Printer Friendly

Stabled horseNearly every horseperson has encountered a devoted cribber. These are horses that engage in the practice of cribbing, pressing their incisors into a stall door, fence post or whatever immobile object is convenient, and inhaling sharply. This habit can lead to chewed-up barns and fences, worn down teeth and health complications in horses.

Cribbing is one of the most common stable vices, which are known as stereotypies by the scientific community. There are a lot of myths and misunderstandings about this behavior that persist in the horse world. For example, it was once widely believed that horses would learn to become cribbers by watching other horses do it. Although this has been soundly disproven, some boarding stables will not allow cribbers for fear of the behavior spreading.

A new study by Swedish researchers Amir Sarrafchi and Harry J. Blokhuis suggests that there is a more harmful myth at the root of the way many horse owners manage horses that exhibit cribbing and other vices. The study, published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, points to research that shows that such behaviors can be linked to the way in which a horse's environment is managed. Feeding practices, housing conditions and even weaning methods can have an impact on a horse's potential for developing stereotypies.

The research shows that cribbing and other vices, such as stall walking or weaving (moving side to side at the front of the stall) are done by horses to cope with stress. Owners of horses with vices tend to treat the behaviors directly rather than fixing the cause of stress. Cribbing collars are put on to make it mechanically impossible for a horse to achieve the sharp inhale of cribbing. Kicking chains are put on stalled horses to provide negative reinforcement against excessive motion in the stall. But these types of treatments don't address the stress that is believed to cause stereotypic behavior in the first place.

There is still a lot of mystery behind how stable vices develop and what causes horses to display them. In their study, Sarrafchi and Blokhuis conclude that in spite of the unknowns, growing evidence points to the importance of addressing the underlying causes of vices instead of trying to suppress the behaviors. To do otherwise, they point out, could compromise horse welfare.

Cribbing collar
Cribbing collar
Anecdotally, horses who are confined to stalls with little or no turnout and are fed at set mealtimes rather than being allowed to forage throughout the day seem more likely to develop vices. Keeping horses in as close to a natural state where they can move freely, graze almost constantly and interact with other, amiable equines is believed to reduce the stress that might lead to stereotypies. However, even these management changes will not solve all cases of cribbing or other problems. More research is still needed to uncover the causes of stable vices.

Further Reading
Manage your horse's environment to curb cribbing
The stresses of easy living

Sarrafchi, Amir; Blokhuis, Harry. Equine stereotypic behaviors: Causation, occurrence, and prevention. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research - September 2013 (Vol. 8, Issue 5, Pages 386-394, DOI: 10.1016/j.jveb.2013.04.068)

Printer Friendly

 Give us your opinion on
Why do horses crib?

Submit a Comment   Join Club
Earn 1,000 points! What's this?
Reader Comments

Melissa    Cresson, TX

11/22/2013 3:13:02 PM

My horse is pasture kept (10 acres) with a herd of 4 others and he learned how to crib from a mare in an adjoining pasture. Yes, it is "Monkey See, Money Do"! My horse is only stalled during storms and has access to a round bale of hay 24/7/365 with riding of 3-4 days a week. Cribbing has an unknown cause and an unknown cure.

Emil    Aynor, SC

11/19/2013 4:09:37 AM

In every magazine and here horse channel read about cribing, and that show me that all of you are too leazy to study or don't have brains in head.
Now, what animal is the horse, solitary or heard animal?
That mean your sientiests don't know, and for that take your sientiests and you too and lock in a 6x6 feet cage ( individual ) for a month,and all of you will understand why a horse start to crib, kick, disrespect and so on.
A horse have to be 24/7 on pasture with other horses and not in stall by him self. Emil

Gee and Haw    Northern Part, CA

11/17/2013 5:39:03 AM

Cribbing, I believe starts when a grazing animal, is forced to stay in a stall. They need to be out eating, which is natural for them. If not they can think of all kinds of trouble to get into.

Galadriel    Lothlorien, ME

11/16/2013 12:02:20 AM

While the cause and prevention of these vices is obvious, treatment is not as easy as this article is making it seem. A horse that has developed a bad habit is not likely to change years of stressful behaviour even after a change in environment and abolition of the stress.

View Current Comments

Top Products