A Case of Crib-Biting
As featured in Welsh Rider Magazine. Jenni Nellist is an Animal Behaviour and Training Council Registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist specialising in horses. She helps horse owners across south, west and mid Wales solve behaviour issues.
Boris’s owner contacted me after an episode of colic. Boris was a crib-biter and there is increased risk of “epiploic foramen entrapment” colic in crib-biting horses. The risk is increases as winter stabling progresses.
Crib-biting horses are predisposed to it through their DNA; they are literally wired differently to other horses. Crib-biting emerges when horses are subjected to intense or prolonged stress. Weaning and box-rest are the usual triggers. Once started, it rapidly becomes a habit – crib-biters are compulsive by nature and quickly form habits.
Day to day, crib-biting occurs after feeding and in response to spontaneous feelings of excitement. Stabling is highly restrictive compared to the free-ranging world the horse evolved in. Chronic frustration plus a highly significant event such as feeding combine to exacerbate crib-biting.
Boris was stabled for 16 hours a day, fed coarse mix twice a day and hay had usually run out by morning. To give Boris more meaningful and satisfying occupation I advised feeding a wider range of forage based food, mimicking natural selective grazing. New food was sensitively introduced over 7 to 14 days, including grass chaff, different hay/haylage types and sliced root vegetables. His coarse mix was phased out and a fibre and oil based feed introduced (as per nutritionist advice). Because crib-biting is also linked to horses eating concentrate feed quickly, we slowed Boris down with a treat ball instead of a bucket.
With more natural and meaningful ways to eat, Boris started to spend less time crib-biting, reducing his risk of colic.
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