Back in 2011 an equine ethicist suggested that cribbers should be allowed to crib. That it could actually do them some good (provided it’s not causing colic or severe dental damage, of course). That cribbing might be a coping mechanism for these horses, faced with stress, and that stopping horses from doing it might even be cruel.

Now, at the 2014 International Society for Equitation Science conference, held Aug. 6-9 in Bredsten, Denmark, a Swiss research team has brought science-based evidence to support that claim: In a study evaluating the stress parameters in cribbers versus noncribbers, the scientists found significant differences in stress responses. Most of all, they found that the cribbers that did not crib during their test had the highest stress levels.

“Crib-biting might be a successful coping strategy that helps horses gain control over situations and reduces cortisol levels,” said Sabrina Briefer Freymond, MSc, of the Agroscope Swiss National Stud Farm in Avenches. Cortisol is the “stress hormone” that researchers use to analyze stress levels.

“Preventing crib-biters from crib-biting could be counterproductive because this behavior seems to have some beneficial feedback for horses,” Briefer Freymond said.

In their study the researchers investigated 22 cribbers and 21 noncribbers of varying breeds, sexes, and ages. Horses stayed in their home stalls for the full study period (less than four hours). The researchers measured cortisol levels, evaluated horse behavior, and recorded hea