Cribbing. It’s one of the most heated topics I see discussed among OTTB owners on Facebook. I know barn owners who ban cribbers from their property before they would stallions. I know long-time horse owners who don’t give cribbing a second thought.

The nasty habit can lead to wear and tear on stall boards and fences, and can have some serious health effects on the horse. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily an alarming vice. The jury is still out on this.

I’ve met a whole bunch of cribbers through the years, nice horses that were just a little bit quirky or nervous, but never owned one. I recently purchased a new gelding that came off the track, and after a few weeks acclimating to his new lifestyle in a hunter/jumper barn, he started to crib. The first question out of my barn owner’s mouth was, “do you want to sell him?” As if cribbing was an ultimate deal breaker.

I think it started out of boredom. My gelding spent the last two years living out in a field, and was now having to adjust to spending a few hours in a stall everyday. The first thing I did was purchase a cribbing collar for him, add more hay to his diet, drop a salt block in his stall and extend his turnout time. My gelding still tries to crib when he’s not wearing the collar in his stall, but the habit is manageable. I plan to have him scoped by my vet for ulcers or other digestive issues just in case.

Hopefully we caught it early enough that we can curb the habit. I know that’s hard to do — but it’s not impossible.

Horses are destructive whether they crib or not, and my barn owner doesn’t seem to mind having a cribber in the herd. Luckily I don’t think my guy will ever be a severe case —  like the ones who can crib through the collars, wear down their teeth or even crack teeth from it. I can see how a bad experience with a cribber could turn off someone from ever owning or boarding one again. But do I think it’s deal breaker for me? Not yet, at least.

I was reminded of an old article by the esteemed Denny Emerson who asked five legendary riders in the 90s to describe their once in a lifetime horses:

“The words from their riders’ mouths that describe these most elite horses aren’t always what we might to expect. In addition to complimentary phrases like “bold,” ‘honest,” balanced,” “tries his heart out,” “desperate not to hit a fence,” never stops,” “catlike,” cocky,” “feisty,” and “confident,” they say things like “wasp-waisted,” “sensitive,” “tough on the flat,” “nervous,” “aggressive,” “tense,” and “sharp.” One of them was a weaver. Two others were cribbers.

I think that very often the greatest horses, in the hands of lesser riders, simply vanish into oblivion and obscurity. Great horses are not often easy horses. They’re arrogant. They have big egos and idiosyncrasies and quirks and foibles. Most riders aren’t able to cope with their difficulties and the magnificence within remains undiscovered.  

Horses of a lifetime do exist, but only for riders so skillful, tactful and courageous that they can unlock and reveal the brilliance of their equine partners.”