Cribbing/Windsucking – case study in minimising the behaviour through management. Part 1: Identifying the complex causes

By Wiola Grabowska

Leo over the door

Guess which one of the horses shown is most likely to windsuck/cribbite? 😉 Apparently, “busiest”, most inquisitive and naturally active horses are more likely to develop vices due to confinement…

CASE STUDY:  LEOPOLD THE LAST, 11 yrs old gelding, TB x New Forrest 

Cribbing is considered an undesirable behaviour where a horse grabs hold of an object with his incisors and burps loudly engaging variety of neck muscles. Some sources suggest the horse sucks in/swallows air in the process, some believe the air is pushed out from the stomach in the act of cribbing.
Where no physical object is required for the horse to rest his teeth into, the behaviour is termed ‘windsucking’.

There is no confirmed treatment or cure for Cribbing/Windsucking and the act alone is poorly researched and understood.

It is believed that stress, social isolation, stabling, boredom/frustration, pain, commercial feeds and gastric dysfunction like ulceration can all be the culprit. Some believe the behaviour can be copied between stable mates out of boredom.

Leo’s Cribbing History

Leo as a foal

I learnt from Leo’s breeder that he started cribbing as a foal post weaning and they thought he copied the behaviour from a cribbing Thoroughbred kept next door.
He came to me with two types of cribbing collars. One is known as a “magic collar” and is fully leather and the other one is a metal and leather one. Both are designed to be fastened around the throat area and are thought to make the sucking action impossible. I have not used either of them on Leo as I am personally convinced by the research/studies and veterinary advice which suggests that limiting the behaviour via the collars can be more stressful to the horse and cause more harm than the action of cribbing itself.

In the early days I used Cribbox on his stable door and his paddock fencing. It was very effective in that it repelled him from cribbing on any surface I put the substance on. However, he soon found little bits I missed or he would crib madly the second he was away from covered areas. The damn thing would also stick to everything – his rugs, coat and my clothing.
I decided against buying the second tube once first one ran out and started researching everything I could find on cribbing.

Guesswork

I started from searching for videos online for cribbing and wind sucking horses and comparing their behaviour, management and cribbing patterns to Leo’s.
There isn’t much freely available information on this subject out there but there was enough for me to play with.

One interesting viewpoint was shared with me by a friend of mine who attended this year’s Horses Inside Out Conference. Amongst other topics, the subject of cribbing and ulcers was brought up and cribbing was discussed as a behaviour present in very intelligent and ultra sensitive horses. It was also mentioned that one very well known 4* Event riders favours cribbers as his competition horses! I must say it was possibly the only time I ever heard cribbing considered a positive!

At first I couldn’t quite work out Leo’s pattern as he seemed to crib a lot at seemingly random times and situations. Before and after feeding, before and after receiving a treat, whilst being groomed and tacked up, in his paddock in regular intervals between grazing, morning, midday, afternoon, evening, basically anytime I saw him he was on/off latched onto something.

In order to start somewhere I grouped all his cribbing “times” into 3 possible “causes” : 

1. Gastric issues (any times around food or ‘stress’ and I included being ridden in that category too)
2. Pain/Discomfort (I included grooming time here on the assumptions that having to submit to touch/grooming could cause some stress)
3. Social – he was in individual paddock (able to touch other horses) and stabled for large parts of the 24h (out in the day, in at night or out at night, in during the day depending on time of year)

Having these categories I started making daily notes assigning cribbing moments to each category and after 6 months of this I ended up with most episodes around categories 1 and 3.

PART 2: Plan of Actions and Results coming up 🙂 

LEO FLOWER TREE

Reading list: 

https://www.myhorseuniversity.com/single-post/2017/09/25/Cribbing-Has-Multiple-Causes-Management-Practices-Can-Help

http://igrow.org/news/management-considerations-for-the-cribbing-horse/

https://holistichorse.com/health-care/natural-supports-for-ulcers-cribbing-a-wind-sucking-2/

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.2042-3306.2009.00025.x

https://animalstudiesrepository.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.co.uk/&httpsredir=1&article=1000&context=physio

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