A recently published analysis of nearly 20 years of research on cribbing will provide horse owners with valuable information about the behavior and ideas for management practices that could reduce the frequency of this undesirable equine habit.
“Owners of cribbers seem genuinely interested in the behavior and are eager to learn about how they may better manage their horses,” said Carissa Wickens, assistant professor and equine Extension specialist at the University of Delaware. Wickens conducted the cribbing research analysis as a part of her doctoral program at Michigan State University (MSU), which she completed in 2009.
Cribbing is a behavior in which horses anchor their top teeth onto some fixed object, such as a fence or stall wall, pull backward, contract their neck muscles, and take air into their esophagus, resulting in an audible grunt.
The behavior is known as a stereotypy–a repetitive behavior without any apparent reason or purpose. Viewed by many horse owners as problematic, cribbing can lead to dental problems, weight loss, and poor conditions in horses exhibiting the behavior. Estimates put 4.5% of U.S. horses, or as many as 414,000, as cribbers.
“I think if we can better understand cribbing behavior, especially the cause(s) of cribbing, we may be able to identify horses that are at risk and make improvements as necessary to their management, which would ultimately allow us to further reduce the number of horses that exhibit this and other stereotypic behaviors,” Wickens said.
Through analyzing the vast amount of research conducted on cribbing since the 1990s, Wickens found that the behavior likely h