Cribbing is an addictive behavior in horses that involves bracing the teeth on the edge of a surface and can be mild to severe. A typical cribber begins by chewing on a ledge of wood in the stall or pasture out of boredom or agitation. The chewing then progresses to pushing the top front teeth down onto a surface while gulping air in through the mouth (also known as wind sucking). For a long time it was widely believed that the horse swallowed air during cribbing, increasing the risk of colic and putting the horse off of its food. Recent research has shown that the air does not pass into the stomach and that the characteristic grunting heard in a “cribber” is the air escaping. It is also debatable that “cribbers” are more prone to colic. There is evidence that cribbing releases endorphins and other neurochemicals. The “high” that horses feel in response to cribbing is one of the factors that make the habit so insidious and hard to break.
Horse people have a range of opinions about cribbing. Some may believe cribbing is a minor nuisance not worth trying to stop, while others will not allow cribbers in the barn. We find the truth somewhere in-between.
Cribbing certainly damages the walls, doors, fences, etc. and also has the potential to cause health problems. Cribbers typically need extra attention for dental issues caused by the wearing and loosening of the teeth. Cribbers may also exhibit more problems associated with the neck muscles. Some veterinarians believe that cribbers are more prone to colic, although recent research does not support this view.
On the other hand, many wonderful horses have long, useful lives despite cribbing. Cribbing is often a result of boredom and also seems to relieve boredom. It is more common in stabled horses than pastured horses. There is no cure for cribbing, but a common practice is to use a “cribbing strap” around the throat or a muzzle to discourage the action. The horse is still able to eat and drink but cannot get purchase on the wood or gets a mild negative reinforcer when they try. There are also “shock collars” on the market…I will decline comment.