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Help for the cribbing horse

Your horse presses his top teeth against a solid object, arches his neck, and swallows air in a rocking motion. A grunting or gulping noise emerges. This is cribbing. Its true cause is unknown but genetics along with stressful circumstances appear to be the underlying problems. Cribbing is such a seriously addictive habit that many horses will actually prefer it to eating and will slowly waste away.

Early weaning can lead to this negative behavior later in adult horses and while there's nothing you can do to change the past, you can take measures to reduce the physical discomfort and mental strains that contribute to cribbing. Cribbing collars are tormenting. They may discourage the behavior but they do not relieve the urge. Managing your horse's conditions will help lessen the behavior. Here are some suggestions:

--Provide freedom to graze and roam. This will have a remarkable effect on stopping this habit. If this is not feasible, give him as much outdoor space as possible.

--Keep hay in front of your horse. This one simple change will calm your horse's demeanor.

--Do not isolate your horse. Isolation increases a horse's stress. And be assured: Non-cribbers will not "catch" the cribbing habit by seeing another horse do it.

--Consider ulcers. Stress, forage restriction, and stalling can lead to ulcers. Cribbing is often a result. Basic nutritional management to cure ulcers includes free-choice hay, water consumption, avoiding starchy feeds (such as oats and corn) and sweet feeds, and restoring microbial populations through probiotic use.

Dr. Juliet Getty has taught and consulted on equine nutrition for more than 20 years. Her website, www.gettyequinenutrition.com, offers a library of helpful articles, a forum on nutrition, and a calendar of appearances, teleconferences and interviews. Dr. Getty's comprehensive reference book, Feed Your Horse Like A Horse: Optimizing your horse's nutrition for a lifetime of vibrant health, is available in hardcover and CD-ROM (pdf file) through her website or at Amazon.com. Dr. Getty offers a free (and popular) monthly e-newsletter, "Forage for Thought;" sign up through the website. Contact Dr. Getty directly at gettyequinenutrition@gmail.com or at 970-884-7187.

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