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Strange Eating Habits

January 7, 2009

An America’s Horse Daily reader submitted a question about a horse who eats bark. Tom R. Lenz, D.V.M., M.S., Dipl. A.C.T., offers some sound advice that can apply to many horses who eat unusual things. Dr. Lenz is an American Association of Equine Practitioners member veterinarian and a regular columnist in The American Quarter Horse Journal.

Question:

I have a 14 year Red Roan Quarter Horse on 15 acres that eats the bark off my hardwood trees. She’s killed 15 of my trees so far. What can we do to stop her from eating the bark? Please help.

Answer:

Eating bark is usually a sign of two things. Either your horse is not getting enough roughage in her diet or she is bored.

It’s not uncommon for horses kept in paddocks or dry lots where they don’t have access to grass to start eating the bark off of trees. Horses typically graze 16-20 hours per day and when they are unable to do that, they find alternative sources of fiber and something to occupy their time.

My recommendation is to increase the amount of hay you are feeding her. If you’ve feeding very high quality hay like alfalfa, you may want to switch to a higher fiber hay with lower nutritional value such as a grass hay. If you are not able to keep hay in front of the horse most of they day, I’d split your feedings up so she is provided hay at least three times a day.

If your horse is chewing the bark because she’s bored, you might increase your riding time or introduce a companion such as another horse, a pony or even a goat. Horses are herd animals and need another animal with which to bond. To protect the trees you can put woven wire around the trunks up to a height the horse cannot reach above. This doesn’t solve the horse’s problem, but prevents damage to the trees until the problem, be it a lack of roughage or boredom, can be resolved.

Dr. Lenz offers more horse health advice in AQHA’s “Your Horse’s Health” DVD series.