When a horse cribs, it grabs hold of an object with its mouth, particularly the top teeth, and pulls. The horse also appears to be swallowing/expelling air and the motion includes a grunting type sound. Cribbing is not the same thing as chewing wood. Many horses chew on wood but cribbing is characterized by the pulling motion and the audible grunting sound. It is uncertain exactly why horses crib. For years it was thought that horses were swallowing air and experiencing pleasure…now it is believed that the horse may be experiencing discomfort and is cribbing to relieve the pain. As you can see there are a wide range of thoughts on the subject.
Many other factors may play a part in cribbing such as stress, stalling, restricted access to food, lack of minerals or limited interaction with other horses…but there are horses who crib without any of these factors.
Although experts can’t agree on the causes there are some side effects that are easy to observe. Some of the negative things associated with cribbing include: increased chance of colic, weight loss, and damage to the teeth. Cribbing is also the only vice I am aware of that is required to be disclosed when selling a horse at auction.
Check out this video of a horse that came through a rescue situation. The owner is unsure of the horses age because the damage to the teeth is extensive and the most common method of determining a horses age is by looking at their teeth…which is useless in this case. The horse is in good weight because it is fed soaked pellets for easy chewing. If caught early cribbing often be managed with a cribbing collar but this horse was well past that point when she entered the rescue.