Stop your horse from chewing wood

Some tips from Kim Dyson on how to stop your horse from munching on poles.

Horses love lucerne, which is an excellent source of minerals. Here a beautiful Arab mare and foal are frolicking in a safe lucerne land.
Photo: Kim Dyson

The most ideal horse farm imaginable is one with big beautiful paddocks amid rolling hills. The paddocks are enclosed by long, white, straight wooden poles, offset by the lush green grass and are safe; a place where horses can graze and feel protected. That’s why, when you get a wood chewer, you can understand how frustrating it is to see your lovely poles being munched.

Wood chewing is thought to be caused by three things – boredom, a lack of minerals in the diet and the fact that your horse has acquired a taste for wood. The last, being an addiction of sorts, is the most difficult to remedy. But let’s start with boredom. How can a horse be bored? After all, it has all day to move around the paddock and interact with the other horses. But some horses are really intelligent and need extra stimulation.

Putting toys in the paddock can help provide this. I’ve also found that placing a piece of string through the centre of an apple and hanging it up under a tree can provide a few hours of entertainment. Alternatively, increase the horse’s work load if it’s sensible to do so. Also, any sudden change, such as being moved from one farm to another, or losing a familiar companion, can have a traumatic effect that leads to depression, or a form of inertia, that’s like boredom and may see the horse start chewing wood.

Mineral deficiencies
The most common symptoms of mineral deficiencies are rough, dry, weakly-coloured coats, recurring disease patterns, eating dirt (and/or the tail), below par performance and, of course, chewing wood. To remedy this, add a supplement to the horse’s feed in the evenings. There are many available. Another source of supplementation is the common lick. Purchase a few and place them out in the paddocks. You get three basic types – pure mineral blocks and some that are predominantly molasses-based with or without minerals.

I’ve noticed that most horses don’t like mineral licks and that a safari block is usually better. You can be sure the problem is a deficiency if your horse eats the safari block in record time. A second block will last much longer. An alternative to licks is planting herbs in the paddocks. Horses need the bone mineral calcium, for example, and planting chamomile will help them to add calcium to their diets in a natural way.

Oats, sunflower, millet and garlic, meanwhile, will provide phosphorus, the nervous system mineral. Horses that have a nervous disposition are sometimes lacking phosphorus. Carrots and rock salt provide sodium, which is essential for balancing body fluids. Parsley is an excellent source of potassium, the muscle mineral. Dandelion provides iron and magnesium. Iron helps with energy levels and magnesium is vital for muscle health. Lucerne is another excellent source of minerals. Horses love lucerne. All these plants are easy to plant out in the field.

Desperate measures

The third reason for chewing wood is habit. For this problem, desperate measures might be called for. Running a strand of electric fencing down the pole will be the most affective deterrent. The other option is to paint the wood with bitter aloe or mustard or a paste made of ground up cayenne pepper. However, this is labour-intensive and the horse could develop a taste for the ‘deterrent’.

Contact Kim Dyson on 082 888 6511 or at [email protected]. Please state ‘Horse therapy’ in the subject line of your email.