The Famous Tick

The Famous Tick

Stereotypic behaviours are characterized by being repetitive, relatively invariant and functionless (Paul McGreevy 2004).These behaviour are seen in stabled horses. These unwelcomed behaviours “cause more embarrassment then concern (Paul McGreevy 2004). “Other have begun to question the merits of traditional stable management that pushes the horse beyond its limits of adaptation.” (Paul McGreevy 2004). Amir Sarrafchi (2013) talks about that there was many different tests done such as neurological studies to understand the reason behind this behaviour. These behaviours help reduce stress, help captive animals cope with their welfare issues in those stressful environments. These habits can be controlled physical or surgical. These behaviour sighs can be caught early to see problems with the horse’s welfare. These behaviours sighs are seen in more than 15% of domesticated horses. (Amir Sarrafchi 2013) These behaviours are more common in horses that are in more stressful environments and have a lot more on their mind. For example, horses that compete at high level or that just compete a lot which leads them to train more, have higher protein diets and where their owner shades them from being a horse to protect them from potential risk. Horse domestication has gone far back as 6000 years ago (Amir Sarrafchi 2013).  In the wild horses spend 40% of their time eating, 20% standing, 10% lying down and 10% other from where a stabled horse which a restricted diet spends 15% eating, 65% standing, 15% lying down and 5% other. There is a huge difference with these horses. While the stabled horse is standing it looks for something to pass their time with.  (Paul McGreevy 2004)


A guide for veterinarians and equine scientists by Paul McGreevy 2004 points out, “disobedience when stabled horses did not behave as their owners required.” Crib-biting is classed as a “stereotypic behaviour” states Carissa L. Wickens 2010. Crib-biting is seen in certain stabled horses mostly seen in thoroughbreds (Paul McGreevy 2004). Paul McGreevy 2004 writes about a case study based in UK thoroughbreds. Data shows 4.2% of those thoroughbreds crib.  In their case study they state cage-design, isolation-rearing and food- deprivation causes of stereotypic behaviour. “Thoroughbreds are managed a lot more intensively” (Paul McGreevy 2004) then other horses which cause them to crib more than others. This “stabled vice” is looked as “mental masturbation” caused from confinement. This vice can be thought to one other or just start from boredom or high energy diets. No matter what age the horse may be this vice may start any day. A.J.Waters, C.S.Nicol and N.P.French 2002 explains that cribbing can start early as 20weeks in 10.5% of the horses. This vice that seems caused from human error can influence the wellbeing of the horse. Paul McGreevy (2004) records that crib-bitters fed ab hay and are able to see each other spend 40% eating 25% standing, 5% lying down and 30% other. There is still a huge amount of difference between wild horses and stabled horses. This vice is oral and involves the horses gripping a solid object with their incisor and then stretching their neck which then they contract their lower neck muscles to retract their larynx. They then suck in air into their oesophagus which produces their cribbing noise.


            Each person has different views about this vice but in the end it all comes down to the same thing. Stress, boredom, confinement and energy which causes it? As Carissa L. Wickens says “foraging opportunities, social contact, provision of high concentrated diets and abrupt weaning” can all be causes but the “exact ethology remains to be implicated”. Each scientist and horse owners focus on finding the influence leading to this vice. This behaviour is repetitive. To a horse it is like a drug habit, horses must do this action every spare minute they have. Paul McGreevy 2004 says it “ decreases the heart rate” for the horse. It is a stress relief for them. This “development and continued performance of stereotypic behaviour have been linked to sub-optimal environments (Cooper and Albentosa 2005). This is seen in stabled horses which indicates reduced welfare (A.J.Waters, C.J.Nicol and N.P. French 2002). Paul McGreevy 2004 states “ better categorized as redirected behaviours, learned behaviours, physical problems, stereotypies or consequence of inappropriate amounts of stimulation.” This issue intends to “lower the value” of the horse (Paul McGreevy 2004).


            Another case study by S. Briefer Freymond, D. Bardou, E.F. Briefer, N. Fouche, J. Fleury, A. L. Maigrot, A. Ramseyer, K. Zuberbuhler, I. Bachmann in 2015 focused ACTH challenge test on 22 horses that crib and 21 non-crib horses. In their study they explain what is a stereotypic behaviour is. They “occur when environmental demands produce a physiological response that, if sustained for an extended period, exceeds the naturel physiological regulatory capacity of the organism, particularly in situations that include unpredictability. One hypothesis is that stereotypic behaviour functions to cope with stressful environments, but the existing evidence is contradictory.” In their study they measured the saliva every 30 minutes and their heart rates for a period of 3 hours. There was no difference in each horse’s heart rate but they did notice in crib-bitters, they had a significantly higher cortisol responses. In the end their results suggests that crib-biting is a coping strategy that helps stereotypic individuals to reduce cortisol levels caused by stressful situation. ( S.Briefer Freymond and company 2015). As we see all these tests are done on stabled horses. There was not one article on pasture horses. Theses stereotypic behaviours are caused from confinement. These confinement situations limit the horse from interaction with other horses. In these stalls horses are fed on a certain diet. High quality diets with low amounts of forage given daily, which leave them vulnerable to gastrointestinal problems. (Amir Sarrafchi 2013)


            Crib- bitters are different from non-cribbers. A survey was given from Krisztina Nagy 2009 to 50 horse oweners of each category of horses (cribbers and non-cribbers).  They classed the horse in 3 different groups, ‘Anxiety’, ‘Affability’ and ‘Trainability’. In their survey they noticed cribbers had less anxiety then non-cribbers. Trainability and affability did not deffer between each group. All these horses were different gender, age, breed and training level. Competition horses are exposed to a lot more stressful environments then pleasure horses. They also learned that cribbers reacted less when challenged due to be very calm due to their unwelcome behaviour as their stress relief. In the end their results came up with that crib-biting did not affect performance in training.


            Krisztina Nagy (2007) explains that unwelcomed behaviours are more likely to happening if another horse that does not have the behaviour is exposed to one that does have it. She also explains that aggressive behaviours are likely to happen between each other “increase the odds of stereotypy in the aggressor.” These behaviours are determined by health or performance of the animal. These behaviours are difficult to change one the horse’s mind is set.  She also explains that even if a horse does not do these unwelcomed behaviours on a regularly basis they may do them when impatient. For example, when their companion was fed before them. The breed, feeding regime, housing and management conditions have a strong effect on developing abnormal setreotupi behaviour. (McGreevy et al., 1995b, Waters et al., 2002, Bachmann et al., 2003 and Christie et al., 2006)


            Horse’s diets also play a huge role in their behaviours. Horses that are feed proportional and concentrated feeds are more likely to be stabled. (Becky Hothersall 2009) In her article she states that stabling horses “reduces opportunities in foraging and other normal behaviours in horses.” Behaviour changes are most likely due to diets.  In her trial horses fed libitum diets which consists of 10 meals a day 3 hours apart were less likely to have any unwelcomed behaviours. Horses fed a more concentrated diet where more involved in unwelcomed behaviour due to having less feeding times. They also observed nervous behaviour and restless in the horses that had the lowest intake. The horse with the concentrated diets where more aggressive during feeding time due to less food.


            Crib-biting has consequences for every horse. “Archaeologist have used erosion on the incisors of equine skulls as an indicator of crib-biting. (Paul McGreevy 2004) They also affect the “performance of the horse, weight loss and a special form of colic resulting from entrapment of the small intestine in the epiploic foramen” (Archer et al., 2004). “Crib biters are also believed to have a lowered learning ability compared with nonstereotypic horses” (Parker et al., 2008b; Nagy et al., 2010). “When the stomach is completely empty and there is no alkaline saliva in the gut to buffer the stomach acid, the pH of parts of the digestive system (stomach or large intestine) decreases and ulceration of the protective stomach and/or intestine tissue, squamous mucosal lining, occurs” (Moeller et al., 2008; Wickens and Heleski, 2010).“Oral stereotypies, such as crib biting and wood chewing, are suggested to be an adaptive response to stomach acidity aiming to raise pH by an increased flow of alkaline saliva” (Moeller et al., 2008)


            There are different was to manage crib-biting. Such as surgical and physical changes. Surgical was to prevent this behaviour which is not as popular because of the chances it stops this behaviour are slim (Paul McGreevy 2004). The ways to prevent this physically is with a cribbing collar that fits around the neck at the jowl. It must be tight enough to make effect. This collar does not put the horse at risk. By having this collar tight enough is prevents the horse to arch its neck and suck in air. But in recent studies, the cribbing collar had the least effect on preventing this behaviour. (J. Hockenhull 2011) “That virginimycin also increased the feeding time because of a reduction of the palatability of the feed, and this could also have decreased the crib biting behaviour”. (Amir Sarrafhi 2013) Another case study suggest that a diet of antacid supplementation may also reduce crib biting. Due to it decreasing the stomach acidity and subsequently decreases gastrointestinal irritation. (Mills and Macleod, 2002) Many scientist and equine behaviour scientist agree on equestrians focussing on finding the cause of this unwelcomed behaviour instead of trying to physically prevent it from happening. (Carissa L. Wickens 2010) This behaviour could be caused from their next door neighbour which could lead you to change around places of these horses to prevent another horse from learning that behaviour.


            In this whole article we talk about how this behaviour is found in horses that are in confinement and under stress. Why are these the cause’s people don’t think of? Those are the problems. Instead of trying to fix it physically or surgically just listen to your horse and let it be a horse sometimes. Even tho your horse is your prize possession it would be easier to keep it happier and get more out of your horse if you let it be an animal. The horse’s wellbeing is the most important issues for the horse. That is your number one priority, to make sure your horse is healthy and happy. In the consequences of this behaviour you put your horse’s health at risk and it can lead to deadly consequences. “A low- forage diet has been linked to the performance of stereotypical behaviours and health problems including gastric ulceration and impaction colic. ( J.B.Thorne, D. Goodwin, M.J. Kennedy, H.P.B. Davidson and P. Harris 2005) This is another welfare issue that causes these behaviours to start. Changes in equine behaviours occur from “confinement and limited choice merit particular consideration.” (Paul McGreevy 2004) Each horse needs the 5 freedoms. Freedom from thirst, freedom from physical and thermal discomfort, freedom from pain, freedom to express and freedom from fear. (Paul McGreevy 2004) These 5 things influence the hoses wellbeing. “ the stable should be viewed not simply as a source of physical confinement but also a limitation on behavioural choice.” (Paul McGreevy 2004) Even if this tick may not affect the horses performance in the show ring it will affect their performance if unhealthy due to this habit. (Krisztina Nagy 2009 and Archer et al., 2004) Diets must be considered for each horse and their behaviour when being feed. Aggression during feeding time indicate that something is not well with your horse. Every aspect of your horse’s behaviour has a reason for them doing it.








-A guide for veterinarians and equine scientists by Paul McGreevy 2004

- Amir Sarrafchi (2013)

- Carissa L. Wickens 2010

- A.J.Waters, C.S.Nicol and N.P.French 2002

- Cooper and Albentosa 2005

- S. Briefer Freymond, D. Bardou, E.F. Briefer, N. Fouche, J. Fleury, A. L. Maigrot, A. Ramseyer, K. Zuberbuhler, I. Bachmann in 2015

- S.Briefer Freymond and company 2015

- Krisztina Nagy 2009

- Archer et al., 2004

- Parker et al., 2008b; Nagy et al., 2010).

- Moeller et al., 2008; Wickens and Heleski, 2010

- Moeller et al., 2008

- J. Hockenhull 2011

- Mills and Macleod, 2002

- J.B.Thorne, D. Goodwin, M.J. Kennedy, H.P.B. Davidson and P. Harris 2005

- Krisztina Nagy 2009 and Archer et al., 2004

- Krisztina Nagy (2007)

- McGreevy et al., 1995b, Waters et al., 2002, Bachmann et al., 2003 and Christie et al., 2006

- Becky Hothersall 2009


Back to blog