Research shows cribbing is NOT a learned behavior

An article published today in The Horse, Cribbing is Not a Learned Behavior, supports many of the conclusions that I’ve come to as the owner of a cribber.

While many people assume that cribbing is, essentially, contagious and don’t want their horses to be stabled near one, the research shows that genetic predisposition is a factor, especially among Thoroughbreds.

The research conducted at Cornell University by Julia D. Albright, MA, DVM and her colleagues, which included a survey of horse owners showed that while 49% of owners thought cribbing was a learned behavior, only 1% of cribbers actually started cribbing after exposure to another cribber.

“Cribbing seems to start at a fairly young age, and after the horse begins to display the behavior the initiating factors probably aren’t contributing,” Albright said. “In other words, if you have a young horse, we recommend weaning in groups in a pasture and with little creep feed. However, if you have a 10-year-old cribber, lots of pasture time probably won’t make a difference.”

Social isolation and being housed next to an aggressive horse might aggravate a crib-biter.

“Horses are social animals whose natural ecology is grazing at least 16 hours a day in groups. It just makes sense that to have healthy, less stressed horses, we should try to mimic this situation,”
she said.

“Cribbing is complicated and probably caused by many factors,” said Albright. “These horses aren’t ‘bad,’ and we should stop physically and verbally punishing, shocking, and isolating them. For the health of the cribbers (and barn), the behavior should probably be stemmed with a cribbing collar, a diet low in concentrates and high in roughage, and pasture time.”

But don’t call it a vice. “These horses have a true neurologic pathology, comparable to obsessive compulsive behaviors in humans,” she said.

The study, “Crib-biting in U.S. horses: breed predispositions and owner perceptions of aetiology,” was published in the May issue of the Equine Veterinary Journal.

Read my previous series on cribbing:

Cribbing: Presumed Causes

Does Cribbing Cause Health Problems?

Cribbing: Prevention

2 thoughts on “Research shows cribbing is NOT a learned behavior

  1. I too am an owner of 6 year old Thoroughbred Pony gelding who is also a cribber. I know that there really is no way to stop it, but I try to do everything I can. My pony lives all-year round in spacious paddock witha shelter, and always has some hay to munch on. As a result, his cribbing definetly has decreased, versus being stalled or turned out in an area with fences that are able to be cribbed on. As much as I hate this habit, I know my horse can’t stop it. He was abused and neglected a while before I got him, and I think that the poor guy got very bored in his shared stall. But now, with regular exercize, paddock life and plenty of hay, cribbing is not as big a deal for him, or me.

  2. Thank you for sharing this research information! It has always broken my heart to see people punishing cribbers for their behavior. Assuming that this predisposed genetic response is triggered by stress, punishment should never be resorted to. A far better response, now that the proof is in, might be a gentle, walking graze or increased pasture time with other, non-dominant horses.

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