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,”
“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: