Aside from the cosmetic damage to a stall, cribbing can cause serious issues with the horse’s dental and overall health. Many owners are searching for ways to prevent cribbing and stop the stereotypic behavior as soon as it begins. However, cribbing is often difficult to break once it becomes habitual. Fortunately, there are some options to help discourage the behavior and keep horses safe from further injury.
Some equine behaviorists believe that cribbing and other stereotypic behaviors are related to stress, anxiety, or boredom. Providing horses with more exercise and enrichment, such as turning them out for a full day of grazing instead of a long, solitary confinement in a stable, and spending time playing with them, has been found to reduce the likelihood of cribbing occurring. Additionally, smearing some surfaces with a bad-tasting substance such as cyane pepper or ground up thorns can prevent a horse from cribbing on those particular objects.
Toys that are designed to dispense treats or encourage oral activity, such as licking and chewing, may also be effective at preventing cribbing in some horses. There are also a variety of stable toys available for the horse, from giant plastic treat balls to ones that look like spools and drop out horse treats when they roll them around. However, not every toy will work on every horse, and some may need to be repurposed to find out what works best.
Other options for stopping cribbing include a special collar that prevents a horse from engaging in the behavior and even makes it uncomfortable to do so. Some equine behavioral experts believe that, similar to training, these collars may need to be carefully and consistently used to be effective. Some horses also respond to a cribbing-reduction bit, which is a hollow, cylindrical, and perforated metal device that prevents a horse from making its mouth airtight while it cribs.
The last option for blocking cribbing is to paint certain objects, such as fence boards, with anti-crib coatings. This is a fairly common method of curbing cribbing and can save damage to a stallion’s stall, as well as to the surface of the wood it tries to bite into.
Regardless of what method of prevention an owner chooses, it is important to keep in mind that these methods are only partially effective, and the underlying issue, such as boredom or stress, needs to be addressed. Moreover, if a horse is not allowed to exhibit its natural behaviors, it will likely try to compensate by engaging in other types of problematic behavior, such as chewing, kicking, or running its teeth along a stall wall.
The bottom line is that horses are prone to a variety of vices, and the best way to reduce their chances of developing a problem such as cribbing is to make sure they have something to do with their hands while in their stall. Providing them with a stimulating environment, such as turnout and toys that engage their curiosity, and ensuring that they are properly fed and have access to slow-feeder hay nets will help to reduce their desire to crib.