Chewing And Weather Changes

Does your horse have unexplained, occasional cravings for woody snacks? Gourmet items such as Fence Board Flambé, Stall Door Surprise, and Tree Trunk Tantalizers? If so, it could be the weather!

Explained Wayne Loch, PhD (Animal Science), associate professor of animal science, University of Missouri-Columbia, "When it's cold, there is often less grass, and if people don't feed enough hay, then horses will definitely chew on wood if they don't have enough roughage. Horses depend upon fermentation from the digestion of roughages to keep them warm in the winter. If they're short on roughage and it's cold, they may chew on wood."

Gary Heusner, PhD, extension service equine scientist, University of Georgia, noted, "Here in Georgia in January and February, when the weather is its coldest, we get a lot of calls about horses chewing on wood and trees. Although not totally conclusive, we believe the dampness softens up the wood. The fact that it's colder, the horse has a little higher requirement for energy to maintain body heat, so they go to chewing on wood that's been softened up and gives them a source of fiber."

Additionally, cool season forage might not provide enough roughage, as it's high in moisture content and low in fiber.

The solution? More hay.

"We suggest owners provide all the hay they can and see if that doesn't eliminate the chewing," said Heusner. "We've also found that these cool season grasses and some of the hays are low in potassium. In that case, we recommend more potassium in the diet to see if that alleviates the wood chewing. Most of the time, once it starts warming up and the grasses get a little more growth and fiber content to them, and the wood isn't as soft from the wetness, these horses stop chewing."

But cold weather doesn't just affect appetite changes; it can affect behavior. Cold weather, especially when combined with wind or with a sudden downward turn in temperatures, can make a horse a little more flighty.

"When it's colder, horses feel better and like to play a little bit more," Loch said. "They're more energetic."

Heusner says that might be due to a couple of factors.

"It could be that when a cold front moves in, their nutritional requirements to maintain body temperature changes and we don't allow for that change in their diets."

Throw in a little extra wind, with all the extra noise and movement of bushes, branches, weeds, blowing items, etc., and you've got a horse which is more likely to spook because of the extra motion and commotion. If your horse acts up when it's cold and windy, back off if you can.

"If I'm trying to train such a horse," says Loch, "I just forget it for that day. It's hard getting their attention and you might not get much done anyway."

About the Author

Marcia King

Marcia King is an award-winning freelance writer based in Ohio who specializes in equine, canine, and feline veterinary topics. She's schooled in hunt seat, dressage, and Western pleasure.

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