Monday, January 4, 2016

Cribbers And Termites

I’ve only owned two horses in my life, but I’m thankful for the experience. I once read a quote somewhere that (paraphrased) said that there was something more noble about a man on a horse than in the sum total of the two of them separately. In other words, it was a case where the total was more than the sum of its parts. I’m not really smart enough to explain why, but maybe it has something to do with the co-operation of the two species, or the ability to focus energy for a cause. I don’t know exactly what the reason, but I agree with the statement.

The ownership of any animal, though, comes with certain responsibilities and potential problems. Having been raised around cattle, and having a neighbor who fancied himself a cowboy, I was familiar with most of the responsibilities of keeping a horse. One unknown factor, though, was how my new ride would handle confinement. Being kept in a cattle stall, instead of a stable, there were times when he had to be confined to that stall, rather than running in the paddock with the cattle. He didn’t deliberately try to hurt them, he just assumed they’d like to run and play like a herd of horses, rather than the herd of cattle that they were.

Now I’d seen “cribbers” and “termites” at the neighbors, and hoped that my horse wouldn’t be either. I was blessed that neither he, nor the one that I traded him for a few years later, had developed either habit. Cribbers, as I understand it, swallow air as they clinch their teeth on the top edge of the stall or a fence board. They don’t really chew on the board, but it gradually becomes rough and splintered from the activity anyway. Unfortunately, the air in their stomach keeps their innards in an uproar and keeps them from ever performing at their best. Many folks get rid of horses that crib, especially if they use them in competition. I believe that you can buy a collar that is supposed to prevent it, though.

Termites, on the other hand, simply “chew the stall down,” by chewing on every wooden surface available. They don’t crib, and they don’t swallow the splinters, but they sure can destroy a stall in short order, and even board fences at times.

I believe that it’s boredom that causes both habits to develop. They run out of hay or grass and start looking for something to do. Like with human teenagers, the results are often negative. I simply kept plenty of coarse hay in the stall for my horse. When the good hay was gone, he could start eating the coarse stuff if he got bored. I once saw him start chewing on the small end of a six foot tall dried ironweed and keep chewing until he’d reached the other end, eating it as he went. I’m sure it didn’t taste that great, but it allayed his boredom. Of course, he had a “hay belly,” but that didn’t bother me, since he wasn’t a show horse. Understandably, those folks who try to keep hay bellies from developing on their horses, by weighing their feed and limiting roughage, often end up with cribbers and termites.

I was reminded of all this when a distant neighbor finally got a second horse, to replace the one she’d sold a year or two earlier. The sorrel she’d kept hadn’t chewed anything up, but the first week the little buckskin was in the pasture, he chewed the bark off the bottom three feet of a poplar tree in the pasture. He didn’t bother anything for a while, but the ennui must have overcome him again and he took another three feet of bark off the same tree. Granted, the inner bark is nutritious for him, but the tree will now die. So far, he hasn’t bothered any other trees. I included a photo so you can see his handiwork. © 2016



Gail said...

Horses are herd animals. Boredom is a problem when alone. Even with a herd they like to play or mine did. Their favorite toy was an milk jug which I kept replaced as it wore. Good handle, easy to toss, and fun to play keep away with, they enjoyed it. But I know nothing of horses, mine were never tested with confinement of a stall. A round pen was as small as they got.

I do love horses.

The tree could be boredom or a lack of proper minerals. If this horse is that eager to chew it may become a sad victim of colic or even simple accidental poisoning.

I wish your neighbor much success but it's not looking good to me. It's certainly not good for the now "girdled" tree.

Mary Ann said...

I agree with every thing Gail said. :-)

Gorges Smythe said...

I wonder if it might happen when the owner "forgets" to feed them, Gail.

Duly noted, Mary Ann!