Cribbers Learn as Well as Noncribbers When Stress is Well-Managed

But, while the cribbers learned as well as the noncribbers, that doesn’t mean they’re the same as noncribbers when learning, researchers cautioned. They’re sensitive to stress and need particular attention to stress management, especially in a new environment, they said.
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how cribbers learn
Researchers showed that cribbers learn tasks in the same amount of time as noncribbers. That’s in contrast to what some previous studies have shown. However, there was one significant difference in their study compared to others: they let the cribbers crib. | Photo: iStock

Horses with stereotypies, such as cribbing or windsucking, sometimes get a bad rap. Some equestrians think they’re problem horses, and even scientists contend that they have difficulty learning. But Swiss researchers recently confirmed that cribbers learn just as well as noncribbers, as long as their stress levels are well managed.

“Crib-biters and windsuckers seem to be more sensitive to stress, which might mean it takes them longer to get used to a particular learning environment, but their cognitive function is clearly intact,” said Sabrina Briefer Freymond, PhD candidate, a researcher at the Agroscope Swiss National Stud Farm, in Avenches.

In their latest study on stereotypical horses, Briefer Freymond and colleagues showed that cribbers learn tasks—and even task reversal (doing the opposite of what they’d just learned to do before)—in the same amount of time as noncribbers. That’s in contrast to what previous studies have shown, she said. However, there was one significant difference: she let the cribbers crib

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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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