Wind Sucking

What is Wind Sucking?

By nature, horses want to nibble and graze. In the wild, they keep themselves occupied by wandering and grazing. Unfortunately, the domesticated horse may be stabled most of the time, eating and drinking only when he’s fed or watered and exercising only when taken out of the stable. In such scenarios, the horse’s natural grazing instincts are somewhat satisfied by substitute behaviors, such as chewing wood in the stall.

Other less common behaviors that are thought to be linked to domestication are “cribbing” or “crib biting” and “wind sucking”. The symptoms of these are easily recognized and may actually prove a shock to a stable owner if he witnesses them for the very first time.

A cribbing horse will anchor his upper front teeth onto the stall door, partition or post. Then he tenses up his neck and facial muscles, retracts his larynx (or voice box), and gulps down air. In a similar manner, a wind sucking horse flexes his neck, gulps air, and emits a grunting sound.

Cribbing or wind sucking is a horse’s way of managing his innate desire to nibble, after he’s been fed. Veterinarians caution stable owners to avoid putting a horse on pellets, hay cubes or grain. This particular diet can actually worsen the situation. With this feeding method, the horse will be able to consume his food in a relatively short span of time. As a result, his need to nibble isn’t satisfied.

Wind sucking is thought to be primarily a result of boredom, which can also motivate a horse to crib. A horse with nothing to do may learn to amuse himself by wind sucking or gnawing the stall or any other wood that is accessible. Studies have shown that less exercise actually worsens the horse’s odd behavior such as wood chewing. But a direct link between exercise, cribbing, and wind sucking has not been properly established.

Once a horse starts to crib or wind suck, its hard to stop cribbing, he can become addicted to this behavior. Some veterinarians believe that when a horse cribs or wind sucks, narcotic-like substances are released in the horse’s brain. These morphine-like substances, such as “endorphins” and “enkephalins”, suppress pain and activate the brain’s “pleasure center”.

This endorphin release is almost like getting a narcotic high and so the horse keeps going back for another dose. While factors such as diet or boredom can get a horse started, the behavior may persist when the horse experiences the endorphin release.

Cribbing and wind sucking are bad habits and should be discouraged. Cribbing can result in excessive wear of the incisor teeth. Both wind sucking and cribbing can result in overdevelopment or enlargement of the neck muscles and poor performance.

Moreover, a cribbing horse can do considerable damage to a barn or stall. You should take steps to curtail the problem the first time you see any inclination in your horse towards cribbing or wind sucking. Here are some suggestions:

Make cribbing less enjoyable

Paint fences, gates and partitions with creosote or an anti-crib liquid to make them less appetizing. Note that there are several commercial mixes available on the market. It’s probably best to check with your vet about potential side effects of these products before applying any home remedies.

Remove objects from the stall

For instance, don’t leave any racks or wooden feeders in the stall that your horse could get a hold of. Keep the top of the gate closed and cover their favorite gnawing edges of the stall with metal trim. But be sure the sharp edges are turned under.

Heighten your horse’s world

Raise your horse’s water bucket and feed tub up to the level of his chest and remove all edges up to that height. For a horse to crib, he needs to be able to arch his neck. He won’t be able to do this if his chin is above his chest level.

Keep your horse busy

So if the underlying cause for these odd behaviors is boredom, turn him out more frequently or for longer periods to allow him more opportunities to exercise. You may also want to provide him with stall toys to help him occupy his time when he has to be confined in his stall. Some people even try to have companion animals for their horse, whether it is another horse or a different type of animal altogether, such as a goat.

Leave a Comment