You’re about to see our shepherdess Cowgirl display a behavior called “cribbing” which is the scraping of the upper incisors on metal. Horses will also perform cribbing behavior on other hard surfaces such as wooden slats on a stall or fence.
Now, before anyone jumps in to tell us her teeth are going to be ruined or need to be checked, etc. – her teeth are fine. Cowgirl is not obsessive about this cringy behavior. Instead, she strictly does it when she’s excited and wants to get attention. And most of the time, she craves attention when it’s time to eat!
Horses that have a severe and compulsive habit of cribbing may wreck fences, stalls, and other objects. It is NOT an uncommon behavior, but it’s good to keep your eye out for it happening all the time – because that can wear down their teeth and cause them to lose their appetite. Some veterinarians say the behavior is a sign of listlessness or boredom. Others say you can’t keep them from doing it so try to keep them busy with wholesome activities and feed hay in several places to keep them interested.
The term “cribbing” derives from a centuries-old description of horses who “crib-bite” – that is raking (biting) their teeth along the edges of their stalls or cribs. So it’s been going on for a long time and experts have still not figured out why they do it. Some research indicates in may be an inherited trait. Other research points to the idea that it is not a learned behavior that a horse picks up from another.
Regardless, it is interesting to see that Cowgirl only displays the behavior when she is excited or about to feed. Here in this video I ask her if she wants her breakfast. She responds with a big, loud scrape of her teeth. This is followed by a big stretch. Both behaviors seem to be an stress-reliever for her as she gets worked up about chowing down.