old horse cribbing

Q.One morning I decided to braid my 17-year-old Thoroughbred eventer in the wash stall instead of the aisle. While I was braiding he started trying to crib. In the 14 years that I have had him, I have never seen him crib! Why would he start now? I guess braiding is just too stressful for him!

—Shawna, Georgetown, Kentucky

A.You are right, it does seem odd to see your horse trying to crib when you have never seen him do it before. Without a detailed description, I would wonder if it was, in fact, cribbing. If your horse truly was trying to crib, I would guess that he had cribbed at some time before this event. I agree that braiding the mane in the wash stall in and of itself should not be stressful, and if it were so stressful I would expect him to show other behavioral indications of discomfort with the situation before or along with the cribbing attempts.

Believe it or not, sometimes behaviors go on for a long time without anyone noticing. We find that to be the case with horses in our hospital that are videotaped or monitored. That’s likely because horses can—and many do—behave very differently when people are present. When they’re alone, it’s clear they are uncomfortable or doing a stereotypy, but as soon as people are nearby, they look perfectly content and normal. The people go away, and the horse is back at it. If your horse was, in fact, cribbing, I bet if you set up a video to record his behavior when you are not there, you will see some cribbing.