Stable Vices (Book Excerpt)
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
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