Why Does My Horse Chew Wood?

Why Does My Horse Chew Wood?

Check out these helpful solutions and find ways to encourage your horse to stop chewing wood for good.

gray horses look out stall doors (Credit: Impulse Photography/Mallory Beinborn courtesy of Farnam)

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Here's a common sight: a beautiful, well-constructed stable surrounded by attractive paddocks and pastures. And here's another familiar sight: equine chew marks all over the stalls, walls and fencing! Why do so many  horses chew wood? This bad habit can leads to severe dental and digestive health issues for your horse as well as unsightly damage and costly repairs to your stable. And just as important—how can you keep your Quarter Horse from chewing wood before it becomes an issue?

Why is it so common for horses to chew wood?

First of all, equine wood chewing is a widespread problem – your horses aren't the only ones chewing wood. When horses are kept in depleted grazing environments or stalled for lengthy periods, they commonly chew on wood fence rails, gates, fence posts, stall doors and especially stall partitions. Horses also frequently chew on any accessible tree bark or branches.

It's not a hunger issue; horses aren't browsing animals like deer or moose that use the soft shoots of trees as a food source. Instead, horses are attracted to wood chewing because of boredom, stress, frustration or even a vitamin or mineral deficiency. Even happy horses without these issues sometimes still chew wood – it's just a widespread horsey trait.

Why should I stop my horse from chewing wood?

Your horse's wood-chewing habit isn't one to let slide by; it may have negative elects on your horse's health:

  • Wood chewing places unnecessary wear on a horse's front teeth, which can make chewing less effective and hinder digestion.

  • They may ingest sharp wood fragments, which can injure your horse's digestive system.

  • They may get uncomfortable splinters in their mouth, which can lead to infection.

Stopping your horse from chewing wood not only helps keep your horse healthy (your number one priority), it helps keep your stables and trees free of significant damage caused by this bad habit.

Solutions to Wood Chewing

Clearly, wood chewing isn't beneficial to your horses—not to mention your and pasture fencing. But you have several options to help you curb your horse's wood-chewing tendencies. Let's take a look at some ideas.

Provide quality grazing when possible.

As mentioned, the wood chewing habit may be exacerbated by boredom. Horses are first and foremost grazing animals with a natural desire to graze for much of every 24-hour-day. If you can mimic this lifestyle with your horses, it may go a long way towards minimizing unwanted behaviors like wood chewing. Of course, it's not always possible to achieve this, but even shorter periods of pasture turnout can help lower your horse's stress and frustration levels, decrease boredom and help stop wood chewing. If quality grazing is possible, that's a great place to start.

Install chew guards.

Sometimes called stall edge protectors, chew guards are physical barriers (often metal) installed on the edges of posts, walls and stall doors to make it essentially impossible for horses to chew the wood. This technique is commonly used in stables. But there is a downside: installing chew guards on all available surfaces might be expensive. (But then again, so is replacing barn wood!)

Use a hot wire for wood fencing.

It may be impractical to install chew guards across acres of wooden fencing; instead, some horse owners choose to install one or two strands of electric fence wire along the inside of their wooden fencing. It most likely won't affect the fence's aesthetics very much, but it might discourage horses from hanging out near the fence for long chewing sessions.

Make the wood taste unpleasant.

Apparently, horses don't mind—and may even enjoy—the taste of wood, but you might be able to help them change their minds. No Chew or Chew Stop from Farnam are chewing deterrents with a safe but bitter taste; products like these can be sprayed or wiped onto wooden surfaces to discourage chewing.

Try an anti-chew supplement.

Many Quarter Horses have active lifestyles, and sometimes you may need to stable your Quarter Horse in an unfamiliar stall. Perhaps you're showing and stabling for a night or two in a show barn, or maybe you're hauling your horse to a distant campsite or trail riding venue for an overnight stay. In situations like these, you may not have permission to use a spray or wipe-on chew-deterrent product since you're only borrowing the stall.

Likewise, you may not have permission to make physical modifications to the stall, like installing chew guards (and you probably don't have these materials with you, anyway). A product that discourages the animal's craving for wood chewing might be an option for on-the-go horses, and products like the Farnam Quitt Wood Chewing Supplement can help. Quitt provides essential vitamins, minerals and fatty acids to help satisfy a horse's nutritional requirements and decrease their craving to chew wood. (Of course, it can also be used for horses that stay close to home too.)

Feed hay often in winter.

It sometimes feels like winter does its best to thwart our efforts to minimize equine wood chewing. In the winter, Quarter Horses may be indoors more due to inclement weather, leading to additional boredom and, in turn, increased wood chewing. With grass dormant or buried in snow, outdoor pasture time is suitable only for exercise, not grazing. You can help mitigate these challenges by feeding more forage and feeding it more often. Multiple small meals throughout the day can mimic grazing more accurately than a larger “breakfast" and “dinner."

Fence off trees.

Trees offer wonderful shade for pastured horses, but if your horses won't leave the bark alone, you may be able to install fence partitions around trees to keep the horses from reaching them. A bu!er of only a few feet will be necessary, and the trees will still o!er shade. Another possibility is to cover the trunks in a chew-protector material.

Provide entertainment.

If your animal's wood chewing can be attributed to boredom, why not offer him some diversions? Some Quarter Horses love to play with horse-safe toys, while others get extra entertainment from eating out of a hay net (some like to bat the hay net around like a punching bag). A hay net also increases the time it takes for horses to consume the forage, resulting in less boredom. You can also spend extra time grooming your horse (nothing wrong with that!) to keep him busier during times of stall rest.

Ask a vet.

Of course, there's nothing like professional advice from an expert, so be sure to ask your horse's veterinarian about the wood chewing issue and for help in ruling out any physical or mental health issues that may contribute to your horse's habit.

Armed with these solutions, you can help mitigate your Quarter Horse's wood chewing—and protect their health (and save your barn!) at the same time.

What about cribbing?

Cribbing is a similar but distinct issue, and some people may confuse the terms or use them interchangeably. Cribbing isn't the same as wood chewing; instead, a cribbing horse rests their incisors (front teeth) on a flat, horizontal surface like a stall divider or fence rail, then contracts muscles in their neck to force air down their esophagus. This habit may start as a coping mechanism for stress or a health issue but can develop over time into a compulsive behavior, often associated with mealtimes. Discuss the issue with your animal's veterinarian to decide whether steps should be taken to discourage the cribbing.