Two of the most common vices found in horses are cribbing and windsucking. Both of these habits affect the value of the horse, its health, and the ability to find a livery yard. The terms cribbing and windsucking are often used interchangeably to describe the same habit. However, while similar, these two vices have differences.
What is cribbing
Cribbing is a vice that usually develops in young horses. The exact cause is still a mystery, but research has revealed several possible triggers. When a horse cribs, it grabs hold of a solid object with its front teeth and sucks air into its throat. The horse makes a distinctive sound, similar to a grunt when it sucks air in.
Cribbing is impossible to cure once the horse develops the habit. The best way to stop cribbing is to implement good stable management and prevent it from starting in the first place. Some horses crib more often than others. However, it is possible the reduce the frequency for all horses.
Horses that crib will use any solid object. This means that stable doors, fences, water buckets and troughs all end up damaged. Because of the damage caused, many livery yards will not accept a cribber.
Since cribbers repeatedly grab onto something, it wears their teeth down. When the horse gets older, this tooth wear can have an effect on the horse’s ability to eat. Horses that crib tend to have higher stress levels, which may have led to the habit starting. It is important the stress levels of cribbers are kept as minimal as possible. This can be achieved by plenty of turn out, exercise, and socialization with other horses.
What is windsucking
Windsucking is when a horse sucks air into its throat by arching its neck. Horses that windsuck do not use their teeth to grab hold of something. When a horse windsucks it makes the same grunting sound as a cribber. Horses that crib are mistakenly referred to as a windsucker because the behaviour is so similar
Windsucking stems from the same things that lead to cribbing. Horses with little access to turnout, forage, boredom, and stress are at higher risk of developing a stable vice. High grain diets are also thought to increase windsucking and cribbing. Lots of grain and not enough forage increases stomach acid. An increase in stomach acid can cause ulcers.
The health issues associated with windsucking and crib biting are not as bad as once thought. For cribbers, the biggest issue is tooth wear. It was once thought that windsucking and cribbing increased the risk of colic. However, research has shown that the link between the two is not as clear cut.
Another issue that some horses face is difficulty maintaining weight. Part of this is caused by the horse choosing to windsuck or crib, instead of eating.
Managing a cribber or windsuckers
While it is not possible to stop horses from cribbing or windsucking completely, it is possible to reduce. To do this, ensure the horse has plenty of time in a paddock with good grazing. Provide more forage and reduce hard feed. Make sure the horse gets enough exercise, so it can burn off excess energy, which can lead to stress.
Provide the horse with distractions, such as toys. Good toys include balls with handles that the horse can pick up and treat balls. Horses are social animals that need to interact with each other for their mental well being. Don’t isolate a cribber or windsucker, as this can exacerbate the problem. An old fashioned belief is that other horses will pick up a cribbing or windsucking habit by watching it. However, research has shown that this is not the case.
Finally, cribbing or windsucking isn’t the end of the world for a horse. If you take one on, you should know that it will affect the value of the horse. It will also make finding livery difficult. However, with good management, the horse can have a happy life.