Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cribbing: not just a stable vice?
photo credit John O'Leary

Cribbing (or crib-biting) is a stereotypic behavior seen in domestic horses. It has been an issue of debate in horse owners whether this vice is harmful to the animal or just annoying to everyone else. The action is described as a horse pressing his teeth onto a (usually) wood surface, leaning back and gulping in air into his throat often giving an audible grunt. Many problems have been found and disproved for this behavior but often its neural and learning connections weren't really considered.

Researchers from the University of Southampton in England have conducted a study dealing with the connections of cribbing and learning in a reward based system. They used four horses known to crib and four who did not exhibit the behavior. All were kept on the premises in similar conditions. Each was taken into training sessions to become familiar with the testing apparatus, which included colored lights and metal plates. The idea was that by pushing the plates with their muzzles the horses could get a food reward. Different lights were lit to signal which plate should be pressed for more immediate reward. After this initial training each horse was tested three times over three days, the non-cribbers were able to make decisions and get the rewards, progressing each time. The cribbers were not able to make progress in learning the patterns, and showed no progress over the sessions.

It is known that cribbing is related to a dysfunction of the dorsomedial striatum (other vices are connected to this as well) with these results it is clear that more research is needed, but that this dysfunction could be connected to learning problems in horses with stereotypic behaviors. Owners of cribbers might want to stop putting so much stock in stopping the behavior and think more about their training schedules, especially if they have been finding difficulties in certain areas.

posted by: Erica Damon (7)


At 5:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, is this a learning disorder of sorts? What other vices are connected to the dorsomedial striatum? Is the connection just in horses or in other animals as well?

-Cecelia Hunt

At 9:12 PM, Blogger PWH said...

I live across the street from a farm and I have never seen this before. When you were explaining the experiment I figured they would learn over time to stop doing it, but they didn't. Therefore, it definitely seems like this must be some kind of learning disorder? So, there is absolutely no real answer to the cause of this? Also, has there been anything done to determine if this can hurt the horse in anyway?

Chantal Gomes

At 10:53 PM, Blogger PWH said...

This is really interesting. The cribbers did not make any process in learning the patterns so it does seem like a learning disorder, which the previous posters mentioned. You said that owners might want to try not stopping the behavior, but if they try to stop it might it help the horses to learn better?

-Tara Quist

At 12:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was wondering if this may be a genetic thing, with some but not all of the horses exhibiting this behavior. I also was wondering how badly it affects their learning abilities.

-Amanda Joyce

At 1:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You mentioned that cribbing is a stereotypic behavior seen in domestic horses. So is it shown only in domestic horses? Why might that be the case? I was a little confused by the connection between the experiment and cribbing. Cribbing is related to a dysfunction of the dorsomedial striatum, which inhibits learning? Thus the cribbing horses couldn't learn as well as the non-cribbing horses?

Hanbing Guo

At 1:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is really interesting. I think it must be a learning disorder that correlates with being domesticated. Why don't wild horse do this behavior? Perhaps it is some mutation that is passed on from breeding domesticated animals? Does this behavior harm the horse, cause tooth decay, or jaw problems?

Mia DiFabbio

At 1:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting, do horses in the wild do this? It's interesting that this could be a learning disorder, is there any benefit to the horse for cribbing?

Duy Nguyen

At 6:25 PM, Blogger PWH said...

nice article, is cribbing the only problem these horses have? are they as useful as normal horses?

Hessom Minaei

At 8:38 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Having a cribbing behavior would not be good for horse. This cribbing behavior is affected on horse learning that is pretty bad. Do you know why do horses have this type of disorder? Is there any way to cure this type of disorder or prevent?

So Jin Lee

At 8:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thats funny....a "horse A.D.D" of sorts.
Have any other experiments been done to disprove this finding? When I read about it it makes sense but I think it should be checked to make sure that the two behaviors are linked and that the results are not coincidental.

-Noam Pelleg

At 8:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting article. Besides cribbing do horses have any other behaviors that researchers have connected to the dorsomedial striatum?

- Debbie Theodat

At 11:11 PM, Blogger Dan said...

Heh, that's really interesting. Is this dysfunction developed overtime, or is this more of a genetic factor within the domesticated horses.

~Dan Hong

At 11:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting article. I have never heard of cribbing behavior in horses before. So is this cribbing behavior learned or is this something they inherited? I am still a little lost sorry. Also how was the cribbing behavior introduced to the horses that weren’t cribbing before? Still a little unclear, I probably have to wait until they conduct more research, hua. Thank you for the article.

Tenzing Y. Dundutsang

At 11:58 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Does cribbing cause other awkward behavior? Is this common in all horses or only specific species? Nice article.

-Carlos Varela

At 4:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for the comments everyone. I'll give a brief background of cribbing since many of you asked. Many vets have different opinions as little is really known. The obvious effects are that the front teeth become worn down which can inhibit grazing, also it is very destructive to the surface they are cribbing on. many believe it causes colic (think stomache for horses but more severe), while others say it can help with digestion by adding saliva to the system. There are many devices used to stop cribbing but I’ve never really seen any do more than prevent it. Cribbing is like an addiction. It isn’t learned from horse to horse. It is seen only in domestic animals because it is believed to result from boredom of being confined to a stall. As for being useful, cribbers generally are just as ride able and athletic as non-cribbers. this study is really the first in this area of how cribbing effects learning, so hopefully more is to come to support or refute these findings. I believe that other vices, such as weaving (where a horse shifts its weight back and forth when confined) are related to the same dysfunction.

posted by Erica Damon (7)


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