To humans, wood chewing by horses might feel like this cartoon depicts – as part of a conspiracy to annoy humans. But it’s not. Honest.
So why do horses chew wood? For a number of reasons. Part of the horse’s natural diet includes browsing and nibbling on bark and small branches that provide woody fiber. When horses are denied the ability to perform this behavior, they may resort to chewing on fence boards, barn siding, or anything else they can reach – particularly in the wet winter months. Horses who chew wood may also do so when they aren’t getting an adequate amount of daily fiber. The fiber content of hay and pasture can vary, and if the forage the horses are eating doesn’t have enough fiber to satisfy the horse’s needs, he may resort to chewing wood.
Horses that are fed a diet high in concentrates, or those who eat pelleted foods (such as hay pellets or cubes) to replace long-stemmed hay or pasture are more likely to chew wood, as are those who are fed set hay ‘meals’ (i.e. 2-3 times a day). Horses have evolved to eat for 14-20 hours a day, and their GI tract is designed to be continuously processing forage. Set meals and pelleted foods don’t satisfy the horse’s physical and psychological need to select, chew (over 50,000 times a day), and process forage, and can lead to wood chewing. Unlike pica (ingesting non-food items such as soil or clay) it is not believed that wood-chewing is a sign of a nutrient deficiency – contrary to what some supplement manufacturers may tell you.
Horses may also chew wood when they are under-stimulated or under-exercised. Being confined to a stall or small paddock with nothing to do doesn’t allow the horse to fulfill many of his natural behaviors. Being ‘turned out’ for the day in a small paddock does not allow the horse to fulfill his need to move about, almost continuously. Turn out should allow the horse to freely walk, trot, canter gallop, buck, fart, roll, and play with other horses. Riding and schooling the horse may allow him relatively brief, controlled exercise, but horses sill need to be able to choose how and when they wish to move in order to fulfill their behavioral needs.
So, what can you do to reduce or stop wood chewing in your horse?
McGreevy, P, Equine Behavior: A guide for veterinarians and equine scientists Saunders:Edinburgh p 195, 200-201,, 2004.
Willard JG, Willard JC, Wolfram SA, Baker JP: Effect of diet on cecal pH and feeding behavior of horses. J Anim Sci 45:87-93, 1977.
Houpt KA, Perry PJ,, Hintz HF, Houpt TU: Effect of meal frequency on fluid balance and behavior of ponies. Physiol Behav 42:401–407, 1988.
Jackson SA, Rich UA, Ralston SL: Feeding behavior and feed efficiency in groups of horses as a function of feeding frequency and use of alfalfa hay cubes. J Anim Sci 59 (Suppl 1):152-153, 1984.
Salter UE, Hudson RJ: Feeding ecology of feral horses in western Alberta. J Range Manag 32:221-225, 1979.
Krzak WE, Gonyou HW, Lawrence LM: Wood chewing by stabled horses: Diurnal pattern and effects of exercise. Anim Sci 69:1053-1058, 1991.
Lauren Fraser, CHBC offers relationship-based horse training that blends the art of horsemanship with behavioral science and the practical application of learning theory. She provides horsemanship coaching, behavioral consultations, solutions to problem behaviors, foundation training, clinics, and educational presentations.
Not believing everything you think may be one of the...
Many horse training methods claim to be kind, and in...
Clicker training horses - it uses positive reinforcement,...
Not believing everything you think may be one of the...
Fear is counter-productive to horse training.
To minimize fear, you need to learn to recognize subtle signs of arousal, and adapt your training accordingly before it escalates. Many horse people can only recognize the obvious signs of fear - flight or 'fight' behaviors, like pulling away, bolting, rearing, swinging sideways to avoid the fearful thing, balking, kicking, striking and so on.
When a horse has reached this level of fearful arousal it's really too late in the game to train anything. At this point horses aren't capable of learning the good things we want them to learn, and they can also become dangerous to handle. This usually results in people then applying more pressure, or resorting to punishment to attempt to get the task done and to try and keep themselves safe. People may also feel they need to follow through with the task otherwise the horse will 'win', but no one wins in this situation: the horse isn't learning to do the task, he's just learning to escape; the human hasn't taught the horse anything other than to fear them and the training situation.
But this is not necessary. It's just not necessary to trigger fear in order to train a horse to do ANYTHING. Triggering fear in training situations also carries a very real side-effect of worsening the fear, or having the horse start to become fearful sooner in the training process.
Thanks to The Equine Observer for the satirical commentary on this important topic. ... See MoreSee Less
Horse Wonders What he Needs to Do to Demonstrate Fear "I hate going in that trailer”, said a visibly shaken Mack. “I get all tense, my eyes are out on stalks and my poo turns to liquid but they just tell me I’m being stupid rather than scared. What more do I have to do?” A recent poll of human onlookers confirmed that Mack was indeed naughty and stupid. Spokesman, Terence Digby-Jones, said, “If he was really scared then wouldn’t he bolt or something?" Mack ruefully shook his head. “Well, hindsight is great isn’t it? But right there in the heat of the moment I’m not exactly analysing my options in a thoughtful and logical manner. I did try a rear and that scared them for a moment. But then they went back to standing at the top of the ramp with a bucket of chaff and someone else with a broom up my arse. Pegasus wept…. In the end I caved, but I will try to remember the bolting thing for next time."
2 weeks ago ·