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Horse Problem - Biting Trees - Horse is biting bark off trees

 

 

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Question: My husband has noticed that one of our horses is eating the bark off the trees. Do you know any way to get them not to do this and why do they do it?
 
Reply: There are several reasons a horse will do this/chew on trees/bark. Either:
  • The horse simply likes the taste, or
  • The horse is a "cribber" (likes to chew on things because it releases endorphins in the brain, giving a sense of well being jolt - cribbing is a nasty, addictive habit though that is hard to break if they are doing it for that reason! (The horse gets addicted to the endorphins.), or
  • The horse may lack the minerals in his diet and is trying to attain those on his own, or
  • The horse may have parasites, or
  • The horse is just bored.
Make sure the horse has good quality grass or hay to graze on at all times. Horses are grazing herd animals, is the way nature designed them for their digestive systems to work right and to feel best emotionally, so they need to have free access to roughage around the clock (not leaving them without that roughage some of the time, which is not how natured intended for horses). If they don't get that free access to roughage at all times, they might try to replace that chewing need with wood, chewing on trees, fences, etc.
 
If you're already providing that around the clock, maybe think about adding into the pasture area a mineral block if needed (designed for horses).
 
And always make sure there is a salt lick block there as well at all times!
 
You can get a 50-lb salt block at any feed supply store to keep in the pasture (if you haven't already). Is a basic required nutrient need for all horses. And make sure they have lots of fresh water available at all times as well. The salt lick will make the horse thirstier and this is okay/good, you want a horse drinking a lot. In fact, not a bad idea to keep the salt lick near the water supply. The horse will lick as much as he needs there.
 
During really cold weather (below 32 especially) in winter months, it's also not a bad idea to toss a small palm-sized amount of table salt over the horse's supplement feed. I use with my own horses the Purina Equine feeds or Triple Crown feeds for supplementing my horses' hay. They come in 50-lb feed bags which you can find at many feed/supply stores, & horses love it, and it contains all the vitamins & minerals a horse might be missing in their grass or hay. There are many other fine equine feed supplements out there as well. Check with your vet if you're not sure what to feed/supplement.
 
For much more detailed information on horse nutrition, feed and health, check this Equine Health page on my web site here (the left sidebar of that page especially has helpful feed/nutrition links to learn far more):

http://www.naturalhorsetraining.com/EquineHealth.html

Adding salt to the feed during very cold months encourages the horse to drink more and drinking more helps to prevent colic, which is sometimes more common in winter. Horses often don't want to drink water in winter because the cold water makes them colder (and do keep ice off the water supply!). Salt encourages them to drink more just like it would you after eating a salty bucket of popcorn! There are water warmers and de-icers out on the market you can check out for use during colder months if you wish, which does help a horse to drink more.
If you still see the bark chewing problem after doing all the above, think about putting chicken wire around the trees to discourage this behavior. Chewing the bark will damage the trees and isn't really the best thing for horses. And some trees are toxic to horses! To learn more what's toxic for horses, what's not, check out this link on my web site:

http://www.naturalhorsetraining.com/PoisonousPlants.html

If you have any of these poisonous plantings or trees in your pasture, have them removed immediately!
 
To rule out parasites as a problem, make sure your horse is on a regular year-round de-worming program (dewormed at least every other month with a paste dewormer, or part of a daily deworming/added to feed program). Follow your vet's advice about what dewormer regimen is best for your horse.
 
To purchase de-wormers online (sometimes the most economical route), go to www.valleyvet.com
 
If you've explored/ruled out all the above solutions and boredom is the problem (especially common in younger horses) you might think about tossing some horse toys out there in pasture for the horse to play with instead with his mouth. Plastic orange highway-type cones make great horse toys, by the way (see below for more on where to get them). If you'd like to get your hands on a large cone, like highway or electric company crews use, I've found this route works: take a plate of warm, fresh homebaked cookies to a highway crew you see surrounding a "herd of cones." Ask politely for an "unneeded cone" that needs a "good adoptive home" that they could donate to play with your young horse (bringing a photo of your cute horsey helps!). Works every time! ;-) You can also, of course, buy those larger highway-sized cones at your local Home Depot or Lowes type mega hardware supply stores. But I just think the cookie route is sometimes way more fun.

Here are some pictures of 6-month-old Annabelle, a PMU Belgian foal I gentled/started for a client, as she plays with her new cone I donated to her to discourage her from chewing on other things she shouldn't be. I brought her a big one because, as a Belgian, she was going to get pretty big -- and fast! She's had great fun with it!

 
And horse balls can also help keep your young horse busy, too, and is something that is acceptable to put his mouth on -- here are some more great horse toys from:

Equi-Spirit Horse Training Balls, Toys & Tools™
 

Equi-Spirit™ balls                Equi-Spirit™ cones            Equi-Spirit™ tetherball      Equi-Spirit™ catch balls
     
 
 
Try some or all of the above and you should reach resolution of the tree chomping problem.
 
 
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