What would become my work of rehabbing senior horses began by accident with a bay gelding in his twenties who cribbed constantly at the farm where I worked. I first met him when he arrived there at 18 years old to do therapy work with at-risk youth. He came as a cribber, and his name was Chaco. The farm tried putting tobasco sauce on the railing on which he cribbed. They tried putting a cribbing strap around his neck. None of it slowed him down or stopped him from cribbing. Over the eight years he worked as a therapy horse, his cribbing gradually increased until he was cribbing every moment of every day.
The year before his retirement I worked as the barn manager at the farm. Everyone wanted to try and figure out a way to get him to stop cribbing. I agreed, but another question was forming in my mind: “What drives him to crib?” If we could answer that question, then we could resolve his need to crib.
Because he usually spent more time cribbing than eating, he had trouble maintaining his weight. Therefore, he was fed senior horse grain daily along with hay. As the barn manager, I fed the farm animals several times a week and began to notice that he started cribbing after eating for about 10 minutes.
So one day I did an experiment. I led him out into the large fenced yard, put his grain bucket in the middle of it, and let him eat. Sure enough, after about 10 minutes he left his grain bucket and walked 15 feet away to find a place to crib at a hitching rail.
Another person at the farm that morning saw what I saw. We were both putting two and two together.
She asked, “Did he just leave his grain bucket to go crib?”
“Yes,” I replied.
This marked the beginning of a several year journey of unwinding the mystery of why he cribbed, but one thing was for sure: within 10 minutes of eating grain he had a need to crib that was stronger than his need to eat.
Clue #1: Grain causes Chaco to crib.
If you have a horse that cribs, the most comprehensive article I’ve ever read on the subject is in The Horse Journal. http://seniorhorserehab.com/cribbing-article-from-horse-journal/ While I don’t agree with the use of a cribbing strap there is excellent information on ways to manage cribbing.