Sunday, October 26, 2008

Cribbing study: It just "don't seem right"

Thanks to chickenrider whose recent comment on sweet feed inspired this article...

Below are some passages excerpted from an article that appeared in The Horse magazine in June. I have an opinion on this study if you care to scroll down :-)

clipped from
Brain Dysfunction in Cribbing Horses Gives Researchers Something to Chew On
illustration showing the brain of a cribbing horse

"The results of our study found that noncribbing horses made more responses than crib-biters to the red side, and that the number of correct responses increased over three sessions, showing the normal horses learnt the discrimination easily," explained Parker. "In the crib-biting horses, no improvement was observed.

In each session, four normal horses and four cribbing horses were exposed to a
red or green light, each associated with a specific plate the horse was to touch
with its muzzle. During this phase, they could obtain a treat by pressing the
muzzle plate for 10 seconds (red) or 20 seconds (green). The optimal strategy
was to press the red side more often during the course of the procedure.
 blog it

My response
Research, schmeesearch. Dopamine, schmopamine. Let'em do their silly studies and conclude cribbers have messed up brain chemistry. I have incontrovertible evidence that leads me to the opposite conclusion.

The evidence

Now I ask you, is this the face of a brain-injured horse (click for larger picture)?

Why ask why?
Riley does not fit the profile of a cribber -- as a baby he had 24/7 turnout, with buddies, and ample access to hay. I've stopped wondering why he has this tendency. Many experienced horsepeople have told me that some of the best horses they've owned have been cribbers. Riley is terribly clever (and I'm not just saying that because I'm his mom). MENSA all the way, baby.

Can you tell I'm emotionally invested in whether cribbers have a brain dysfunction? My response to these researchers: "Feh!" You're gonna have to do better than that to convince me. Meanwhile I'm trying to shield Riley from this nonsense. He's sensitive that way.


  1. My show horse is a cribber as well... and is a terribly clever horse, too!
    Feh to their research!

  2. There is some research that indicates cribbing can be caused by stomach ulcers. My friend had bred her mare a few years ago and the baby started cribbing (not alot, but definate cribbing) when he was about 8 months. They started him on Gastro Guard and he stopped. It's something to think about.


  3. I do think that stomach distress is a common cause. Riley also started at about 9 months, and he was scoped for ulcers and pronounced "clean." He was raised alone with his mom, no buddies. My best guess is that weaning and moving him to a new home, and throwing him into a herd for the first time, set the stage for cribbing. He was clearly the "odd man out" in the herd, and he's the kind of horse to internalize things.

  4. Stacey, You know I agree 100% with your
    findings" Regal and Riley are smart, talented, and loving horses. To be honest there are many other vices that to me would be far worse than cribbing. I wish people would let it go!! As you know we were even asked to leave a barn because of Regal's cribbing. It was there loss!!!

  5. Riley is also among the few the proud who has been invited to leave b/c of his habit -- not b/c he was doing any damage but b/c of concern other horses would pick up the habit.

    He is healthy and seems happy, and that is all that matters to me.

  6. I just bought a 6 year old, off the track thoroughbred, who cribs quite a bit. I'm alternately thrown into a panic over the vice or rather nonchalant, depending upon which website I have just read. He wears a cribbing collar which is wearing a hole in his neck. Has anybody tried the miracle collar? To me it looks like it wuld cause a migraine, but I'm thinking of a human head and experiencing a thinking-of-cribbing induced migraine myself.
    Please, I am a new horse owner, in need of reassurance and advice.

  7. I sent my yearling to trainer for longe line. She picked up the habit there. She too as others have stated, is the best horse we have around. I put the Miracle Collar on and it does work. It has to be a very tight or it will rub. IT DOES WORK I leave it on 24/7 unless riding or working. She doesn't seem to mind it, but as soon as it is off, she will crib. No brain dysfunction on this very smart and trainable horse.

  8. With my horse, a six year old, who never cribbed previously when stalled, she learned the habit from a kind horse owned by the owner of the stable who taught all the horses in the stable....

    while the owner of the stable billed all the horse owners for the damage to the wood as a result of the cribbing taught other horses by their new horse.

    Go figure. Seems we should charge the owner for paying for having to teach our horses not to crib....

    I usually keep mine in a pasture. Horses are much happier there. The stall is a pacifier for us, not for them, unless they are injured.

  9. It is very unfortunate that when you read the findings of the scientific study, you responded the way most people do, which is to worry about the stigma instead of listening to the science. First, the study looked at a discrimination task, which is only one of the many ways in which learning can occur (there is observational, trial-and-error, cognitive, insight, etc.) and not the most useful type for a horse. It is not, for example, a test of memory. There is a problem with the study's use of green and red, as these are not colors horses see well, so they may have been responding to something else about the paddles they had to press. But, there is no question that these horses respond differently to environmental cues, as they show this stereotyped behavior even when other horses around them do not.
    There is (now) no question in people's minds that if you are a type 1 diabetic (do not make enough insulin) you have abnormal pancreatic chemistry. However, before the underlying cause was figured out, pepople with such a problem were judged to be lazy, drunkards and retards when they exhibited the tiredness and mental confusion of low blood sugar or the ketotic breath that alcoholics also can have.

    The impetus behind the studies on cribbing is to find out how these horses react to their environment (including how they learn) and what it is they need to improve their welfare - they are more sensitive to the impositions we put on them. This has nothing to do with whether they are good or bad horses (please remember that Secretariat was a cribber...), but their emotional responses are different, and the point is to find out as much as possible about how their brains work.

    There is most surely a genetic component (we know it runs in family lines) and that some environmental factors make it more likely to occur or not. We do not know what gene or genes or what exact combination yields the range of behaviors - from only occurring when confined, to occurring regarding the best, most horse-friendly upbringing and management [24/7 turn out, pasture buddies, variety of forage, low concentrate diet, etc.]
    By the way, all those collars sold out there do not help the horse, they just mechanically stop the behavior, and it has been shown that if you take it off, they will crib more for a while (this is called "rebound"). They are more stressed because they cannot do the behavior that let's them feel better... so yo are punishing your horse instead of helping. Ever had someone tell you numerous times to relax when you were highly stressed and worried? Did all their harping help you? How did you feel about that?
    The study about GI upset is closer to the mark, but keep in mind that 2 things happening together does not mean that one causes the other: association is not causation.
    AND, horses will eat wood if stalled long hours and they are provided with little roughage - a behavior often confused with cribbing, particularly by barn owners who have to replace the woood (it'd be cheaper to deed more hay, but some do not see it that way.)

    All of this said, horses that crib should not be kicked out of barns - that reflects ignorance on the management's part. The worse a cribbing horse may do is wear down wood surfaces: covering preferred cribbing surfaces with rubber allows the horse to crib without damage to the wood; the only legitimate complaint a barn owner can have. The rest (other horses will "catch it", they are hard keepers, they clic, etc., have all been proved wrong by the same science you are poo-pooing. believe me, as both a veterinarian and a scientist, we are on the horse's side.


  10. I have a horse that started cribbing at 4years of age. He, also, does not fit the profile. He is turned out every day from 12-15 hours. In the winter he is turned out 6-8 hours a day afed hay 4X a day. I drove me crazy. I tried the collar, but noticed he seemed to hurt where it touched. Probably because it has to be so tight to work. I took it off. After reading a bunch on the web, I decided to try a supplement to help. It made sense to me that it could be something missing in their diet that leads them to do this. I read some horses stopped completely after changing something in their diet. I chose to start feeding my cribber "Parelli Essentials". After a couple of months my horse greatly reduced the amount of cribbing he did. It has not stopped completely, but even my husband noticed a difference - he didn't know I was feeding the new supplement. If anyone is interested you can go to to learn more.

  11. Eight is not a large enough sample size for any conclusive scientific study. 30 subjects would have been a more reasonable start.

    We have an AQHA that cribs, he started apparently because of poor nutrition before we got him. He's a great kids horse, learns well, is smart, is the lowest horse in the heard, and in general doesn't expend any unnecessary energy. But, if he looses his miracle collar he will crib to the neglect of food, 20+ acre pasture and herd buddies! With the collar, he's great. It is a mechanical fix, but we have not found anything else wrong with him, and there is no Cribbers Anonymous that I know of!


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