Stable Vices (Book Excerpt)

A stable vice is an undesirable behavior shown by horses that are stall bound but also in pastures or small paddocks.

No account yet? Register


Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Understanding Basic Horse Care by Michael A. Ball, DVM. 

A stable vice is an undesirable behavior demonstrated by horses that are stall bound but also in pastures or small paddocks.  The most common stable vice is probably “wind sucking,” commonly known as “cribbing,” followed by wood chewing, stall weaving or walking, and fence line pacing.  The stable vices are classified as “compulsive” behaviors and termed by some as true addictions.

There is scientific evidence that the compulsive vices cause a release of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that act like opiate narcotics, such as morphine.  The endorphins cause a general feeling of well-being, which long-distance runners often note when they reach a point where these chemicals are released by the body.  It has been demonstrated that drugs that block or reverse the effects of the endorphins will halt the stable vice temporarily.  Researchers do not know what factors lead to the development of cribbing, but it is often attributed to some degree of boredom.

Cribbing is the act of sucking air into the throat.  The horse usually rests its teeth on an object such as a board, feed manger, or bucket, and arches and contracts the neck muscles while letting out a belching type of sound as the air is gulped. Cribbing raises several concerns. Some people think that a cribbing horse might “teach” the vice to other horses in the barn.  To my knowledge, no research supports this and there is rarely a barn full of cribbing horses. Another concern is that cribbing can lead to colic, although no scientific evidence suggests that cribbers are predisposed to health problems.  The chronic cribber can cause a good deal of damage to its incisor teeth and destroy stall doors, feed mangers, buckets, and almost everything else it attacks in the effort to crib.  Some horses are so obsessive about cribbing they will attempt to do it on people if given the chance

Create a free account with to view this content. is home to thousands of free articles about horse health care. In order to access some of our exclusive free content, you must be signed into

Start your free account today!

Already have an account?
and continue reading.


Written by:

Michael A. Ball, DVM, completed an internship in medicine and surgery and an internship in anesthesia at the University of Georgia in 1994, a residency in internal medicine, and graduate work in pharmacology at Cornell University in 1997, and was on staff at Cornell before starting Early Winter Equine Medicine & Surgery located in Ithaca, New York. He was an FEI veterinarian and worked internationally with the United States Equestrian Team. He died in 2014.

Related Articles

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with

FREE weekly newsletters from

Sponsored Content

Weekly Poll

sponsored by:

What lameness issues has your horse experienced? Select all that apply.
160 votes · 311 answers

Readers’ Most Popular

Sign In

Don’t have an account? Register for a FREE account here.

Need to update your account?

You need to be logged in to fill out this form

Create a free account with!