Learn About Horses Cribbers or Wind Suckers

Suggested Causes of Cribbing and Ways to Control It

Horse crib biting on fence

Ken Gillespie Photography/First Light/Getty Images

Whether it is called cribbing, crib biting, wind sucking, or aerophagia, this is an obsessive-compulsive habit in horses that is likely caused by boredom, stress, or possibly stomach acidity that can lead to equine ulcers. It is a behavioral disorder, and like any other harmful addiction, a cribber needs help controlling itself.

Once the habit is learned there is no sure remedy for breaking it despite what you may read on websites selling herbs and gear. If you have a cribber, it’s certainly worth trying different things to control the habit, but at best, curing a cribber is hit or miss. You probably won’t be able to stop a horse from cribbing in every situation. And, even if you do control it well, and then sell the horse, it many start cribbing gain in its new home. So, if you’re selling a cribber, you must tell the new owner that the horse has this vice.

Foals can learn to crib from their mothers and young horses may learn it from others. Before you buy a horse, foal, donkey, or mule that cribs make sure you are willing to deal with the damage to fences, trees, and stables and cope with some health risks that may come with cribbing.

What Is Cribbing?

Cribbing is characterized by a horse grabbing an upright object with its teeth and pulling against the object with an arched neck and sucking air.

Interestingly, cribbing is not a habit seen in wild horses. The thinking is that cribbing has a lot to do with how a horse is maintained. Boredom, temperament, stress, diet, and genetics may play a part in developing the vice. Some people believe it’s a learned behavior, but that may or may not be true.

Cribbing seems to start mostly in younger horses about several months old or so. To reduce the risk of cribbing, you can make sure the young horse has an increase in time spent outside, a lot of social contact with other horses, and you should feed foals solely grass throughout the weaning process. There is some evidence to suggest that certain grain diets, like sweet feed, may increase the risk of this habit-forming.

Can Cribbing Hurt the Horse?

There is no doubt that cribbing can have a negative impact on a horse's health. It can increase a horse's risk of getting colic or stomach ulcers. Also, excessive tooth wear may also affect the ability of older cribbers to eat properly.

How to Control Cribbing?

There is no 100-percent-sure way to stop cribbing, beyond surgery, but there are ways to cope. Here are some suggestions that have been tried by those who have cribbers.

  • A cribbing collar or a cribbing strap makes it uncomfortable for the horse to do the cribbing behavior by preventing the horse from flexing his neck muscles as he pulls back to gulp air. It doesn't harm the horse, but it is not pleasant.
  • Diets that contain more forage and less grain, especially during the foal weaning process, seem to have less cribbing implications
  • A toy has been shown to reduce cribbing rates, as has more outdoor activity and socialization.
  • You can eliminate cribbing surfaces or you can electrify cribbing surfaces.
  • Medically, you can get prescribed medicines, oral antacids for foals, or perform surgery. Surgery is rarely done since it's practically cost prohibitive requiring general surgery and a special horse surgical facility. Also, the procedure is rather extreme; it involves scarring the throat muscles so that the horse cannot flex them.

Buying a Cribber?

"Does the horse have any vices?" should be a question on your list of questions for the owner of any horse you are considering buying. If you want less of a hassle starting out, you will probably want to avoid buying a cribber. If a horse is a cribber, it may actually be illegal to sell a horse and not disclose it is as cribber beforehand. Even if it is not illegal where you are, it is certainly unethical.

If you do buy a cribber, be prepared to deal with the habit the entire time you own the horse. Usually without drastic measures, such a surgery, a cribber will continue being a cribber for its entire life. If you are persistent and try enough methods of control, however, you may be able to manage the habit so that it’s not destructive to the horse or its home. But, it might be a long, uphill battle to get there.