Wood chewing not only damages stables and fencing, it can
also be bad for the horse’s health. Wood splinters can get
stuck in the gums or teeth. If swallowed, the splinters can
damage the stomach or intestines, or cause impaction colic.
Fortunately, the habit of wood chewing is usually not difficult
to correct and the short term health risks are low in most
The first step is to confirm that the problem is really wood
chewing and not the more serious issue of cribbing. In wood
chewing, the horse is nibbling on the wood. Cribbing is completely
different; the horse does not eat the wood but instead grabs
the wood with its front teeth, arches its neck and then sucks
in air. As the two activities are very different, observation
can confirm which problem your horse has. Alternatively, examination
of the wood should show if it has been damaged by nibbling
or damaged simply by a firm bite.
The most common cause of wood chewing is boredom. Horses
which are left in their boxes most of the day with nothing
to do simply do not have enough mental stimulation, so they
start chewing on wood to occupy themselves. Another cause
is stress or nervousness; just as some people chew their fingernails
or pencils when they are stressed, a nervous horse confined
to its box with nowhere to direct its nervous energy may start
chewing on wood to distract itself. The third possible cause
of wood chewing in nutritional deficiencies; if the horse’s
food does not contain all the minerals they need they will
start to chew on other items (such as wood or earth) in an
attempt to obtain the missing minerals.
The first step in fixing the problem is to address the underlying
cause. Since it is not always possible to know which of the
three possible causes is the problem, the easiest solution
is to address all three. Provide the horse with as much pasture
time as possible, as this provides mental stimulation and
also an outlet for nervous energy. Give it chewy food such
as grass and hay, which will occupy it and meet its natural
desire to chew better than fast foods such as grain or musli.
Companion horses, exercise and an interesting environment
all help. In case the problem is nutritional, ensure that
it has good access to a salt lick and a mineral stone. Try
to identify anything which may be causing the horse stress
(e.g. bullying by another horse) and address the issue.
With the above steps, one should quickly see a reduction
in wood chewing activity. Unfortunately, once a horse has
been chewing wood for some time, it becomes a habit and continues
even after the original cause is removed. Consequently, in
addition to fixing the habit, one also needs to take steps
to break the habit.
One stops the habit by making it unpleasant or impossible
for the horse to chew wood. There are a number of products
which are designed to taste terrible which one can paint onto
wood surfaces, so the horse does not want to chew on them.
For fencing, adding an electric fence wire (under current)
to the top of the rails will keep the horse from chewing them.
Within the stall, one can place metal strips onto the top
of wood (e.g. on top of wooden stall doors).
It is important to do both these steps: address the cause
and discourage the activity. If one treats the cause (e.g.
boredom) but not the behavior (e.g. with unpleasant tasting
paint) the habit may diminish but is unlikely to stop. Alternatively,
treating the behavior (with unpleasant paint) but not the
cause may stop the horse from chewing wood but the horse may
then develop a different behavioral problem in response to
the continuing underlying problem.
Author Resource:-> Doug Stewart is the author of http://www.wowhorses.com/Wood-Chewing.html