I reply willingly to H. R.'s letter relative to his mare, and also make such observations as I conceive may be found interesting-among others, on wind-sucking in general H. R. states he has a "Loudon vet. of some note" at hand; he has, therefore, the command of information no doubt far more to be depended on than any I could give on subjects of a pathological nature-as, for instance, whether wind-sucking arises from indigestion or any other derangement of the stomach. Of course I entertain private opinions on the subject; but, though I may be a tolerably fair journeyman vet. in my own person, and have played such part to considerable extent in my own stables, I should hold it most arrogant in me giving any opinion where a professional one is to be had.
So far as this objectionable trick goes, I do not think stable-mates likely to contract the habit from a horse that has it. Now a horse disinclined to feed will often be induced to set to work on hearing others do the same. He hears them, and possibly sees them, feeding. Here are two direct acts that encourage him to do the same. They are natural acts. But I cannot conceive, because a horse may see or hear, or both, another make an unnatural noise and perform an unnatural act, that he would be induced to do the same. I am a little sceptical about horses learning cribbing from each other. Horses are not, like monkeys, animals prone to imitate what they see. We will say a horse is a crib-biter or windsucker; there must exist or have existed some original cause for his becoming such. I should say, therefore, that a somewhat similar cause must occur to induce another horse to the same habit. The origin or cause of crib-biting has never been clearly ascertained; windsucking the same. Consequently we are quite in the dark as regards any measures we could take to cure the propensity. A variety of contrivances will stop crib-biters; but not one has been found to do away with the inclination.
H. R.'s vet. is quite correct in saying horses will wind-suck in various ways; and it is highly probable that even if the mare is observed in the act of deglutition, she may not, as a necessary sequitur, swallow any wand. The acts of the particular mare in question appear to me, from description, to be more the result of playfulness, restlessness, or excitement, or, in short, the want of something better to do, than a direct tendency to windsucking. The latter says, she does not often make these motions when the stable is quiet. Now, I should infer that if disposed to windsucking, such would be precisely the time when she would practise it. Horses have seldom become crib-biters or windsuckers without its progress having been perceived; and very probably they have been corrected for it; they are, therefore, far more prone to practise the trick when all is quiet, than when they are aware they will be observed. H. R. remarks his mare is apt to commence her evolutions-which, it appears, are somewhat multifarious-when any one approaches the corn-bin. This is evidently excitement from pleasure or anticipation; and I should say, when a horse was expecting a feed of oats, would be a somewhat extraordinary moment to begin windsucking. Most horses have some peculiar habits, either vicious or playful. H. R.'s mare appears of the latter sort; it is stated she will at times, as it were, smack her lips. I had one that, when being ridden, would, the moment he got excited, very audibly grind his teeth; when he saw a leap before him, he invariably did so.
I have said I was not quite satisfied of the fact of one horse teaching another to crib. I believe it is quite clear that the first crib-biter could not have learned it from another horse: he must have been induced to it from some cause affecting him personally. We do not know what that cause was, or what is the cause of others taking up the habit; probably the same cause exists to influence present crib-biters as induced the first horse to crib. Why, therefore, should we entertain an opinion in favour of what strikes me as an improbability when I doubt not the animal is induced to it by some existing cause? It may be argued that many instances have occurred of a horse, no crib-biter himself, being put into a stable where there was one, and coming out sooner or later a confirmed cribber. This is no confirmation of the fact of his having learned to crib from another. We will suppose a man to enter a room that was exceedingly cold, he sees another sitting by a small fire, warming his hands; the other does the same thing, not from imitation, for, if he felt warm, the other might warm his hands to all eternity, without the man feeling comfortably warm following his example; but the fact would be about this, the first man warmed his hands because they were cold; the second, if he is cold, does the same thing-cold is the inducement to both; and I have no doubt but that some similar circumstance that first induced the one to crib, causes the other to crib also. It may be objected that if it was anything in the treatment of the horses that caused two to crib, the same cause would make all the horses in the stable cribbers, if there were several. In the first place, I am not supposing it might be anything relative to treatment that caused the habit; but if I had done so, be it remembered that in the human species different persons are affected differently by the same thing; for instance, some persons cannot bear heat, others cold; some cannot bear being curtailed as to quantity in what they eat, others cannot bear repletion; some require frequent refreshment, others are capable of, and prefer, long abstinence; some delight in acids, others cannot make use of them with impunity. Thus, supposing we were to hold treatment as having an influence, it does not follow, because one or more horses become cribbers from any peculiar treatment, that every horse in the stable would be affected by the same circumstance.
I have heard it alleged that long abstinence, as in the case with troop-horses, has been found to lead to cribbing. This may probably be the case; and, if cribbing is merely a trick or habit, I can easily con ceive a horse not suffered to lie down, and having nothing to eat for many hours, might learn to crib by way of amusement. But, in such case and in such stables, the supposition of horses learning cribbing from each other falls to the ground; otherwise in such stables nearly every other horse would learn the habit.
Whatever may be the cause of cribbing, and whether horses learn it from each other or not, I think H. R. may make himself quite easy as to the apprehension of (supposing his mare to windsuck) her teaching it to her stable companions. The act is not definite enough to cause it to be imitated; and, depend on it in a general way, horses will not readily be forced into learning unnatural acts, much less adopt them from imitation.
I have had very little-indeed nothing-to do with cribbers, and never had but one windsucker in my life; he did it so slightly, I had him some time before I found it out. He was a very fine four-year-old thorough-bred horse; and on the late Tom Ferguson, the owner of Harkaway, seeing the horse, he recognised him. He very coolly said: "If I had kept him, I should have cut a bit of his tongue off, and stopped his sucking; but, as I got my price, I sold him." I put him in training; but, as in the case of Tom Ferguson, as I got my price, I also sold him. Of the efficacy of the apparent cruel operation of cutting off part of the tongue, I cannot speak; the reader has it as I had.