Study: Cortisol and Noncribbing Cribbers

When cribbers did not crib, their salivary cortisol levels were up to 38% higher than those of horses that don’t crib.
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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

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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