Chomp! Incisors lock onto the edge of the board, and the horse arches his neck as he inhales. You’ve caught a cribber in the act. This horse is practicing what is known as a stereotypic behavior. Behaviors such as cribbing, weaving, and stall-walking might appear as nuisances, but behaviorists estimate they’re seen in 10-20% of the population of domestic horses. Such behaviors can become problems, as they can affect a horse’s well-being and his serviceability as an equine athlete. They even can render him unfit for use.

Although these behaviors have bothered horsemen for centuries, little research has been conducted into this area. Most studies have been funded by racing interests, because stereotypic behaviors often affect racehorses.

Definition

These are learned behaviors. Carolyn Stull, PhD, University of California, Davis, defined them as "stereotypic behaviors that are repeated without any apparent or obvious purpose or function. Such behaviors involve a need-related drive that develops in an environment with inadequate opportunities for satisfying the need. Once established, a stereotypic behavior may become a need in itself."

Also called a stereotypy, this behavior is relatively invariant. The animal repeats the sequence over and over.

Behaviorists observe many types of stereotypies practiced by domestic animals and wild animals in captivity. Horses uniquely indulge in the oral-based stereotypy of cribbing or crib-biting.

A cribber hooks his incisors onto an object, such as a fence rail, post, door, feeder, bucket, or any other item he can grab. Grasping a surface with hi