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  • September 08, 2022 4 min read 1 Comment

    Have you ever heard of pregnant women craving things they shouldn’t desire, such as soap and dirt? Well, some horses seem to crave (or instead seek and eat) things they shouldn’t. In some cases, these, sometimes gross tastes, can be perfectly normal, and in others, we should try to deter or manage the behaviour as it could have negative consequences to the health of our horse. In this article, we will discuss the top five unusual things horses eat, why they eat it and what you can do about it, if it presents to be a problem.

    1. Manure

    Yes, you read that right; some horseslove to eat horse faeces. In foals, this is entirely normal, and you will often see the foal ingesting its mother's droppings. The reason why this occurs is so that the foal can cultivate a healthy and robust gut microbiome. However, in mature horses, this practice is a little out of the norm. If you observe your adult horse eating manure, then it may suggest a nutrient deficiency. In any case, an appointment with your vet or equine nutritionist is a must to ensure that your horse is receiving a balanced diet and has a healthy gut function.

    2. Wood

    Oh, if I had a dollar for every horse I owned that chewed wood...I would have $5! Some horses love to chew wood, whether they are stabled or paddocked. Some chew through stable boards, fences, wooden poles and even trees. Horses can chew wood for a variety of reasons, and one of those is thought to be a lack of fibre. Ensuring that your horse has access to long-stemmed hay, preferably 24/7 or receives at least 1.5 to 2% of its body weight in fibre per day will fulfil its fibre requirement. If your horse gets an adequate amount of fibre and still chews wood, then it could be due to boredom or a habit that it has formed. To help reduce your horse’s boredom, you could:

    (a) ensure your horse has a sufficient amount of exercise per day;

    (b) increase turnout time for as long as possible;

    (c) make sure your horse can view and, if possible, touch and groom other horses; and

    (d) put hay in slow feeder nets.

    The above points are suggested to help keep your horse occupied for longer and also to reduce any stress that your horse may be feeling. 

    As mentioned above, some horses also like to eat trees. Again this may be a fibre issue. But talking to an arborist, they suggested that it could be because tree bark is sweet. So, it could be just because your horse has a sweet tooth!

    3. Dirt 

    Some horses will seek out and eat dirt, particularly in the paddock. In some cases, this isn’t generally a cause for concern, but if your horse is ingesting a large amount of dirt and sand, then it would be a cause for concern. Some of the reasons your horse may be seeking out dirt can be due to: seeking out trace minerals (which can naturally be found in dirt), boredom, taste (particularly if it is salty), or just being plain greedy when eating food. If you find your horse seeks out and eats dirt or sand, it is imperative to do a diet check - ensure that it is balanced and enough fibre is fed. It is also recommended to remove your horse from the place it is eating dirt - if your horse is in an overly sandy paddock, then see if you can move it to a grassed paddock and remove any sand from the stable. Also, provide enough fibre (long-stemmed hay) in the paddock and stable to ensure your horse has access to high-quality food at all times. Feeding off the ground will also help to reduce any residual sand collected, and grazing muzzles may also help. 

    We do want to minimise horses eating sand and dirt as much as possible, as some of the complications that can come from this are quite obviously sand colic, but also worm burdens.

    4. Bedding

    Some horses will routinely eat their bedding, whether it be shavings, straw, sand or sawdust. Hungry horses tend to be the culprits (think good doers on weight restriction diets). Eating bedding does pose a problem, however, as it can lead to colic. If you find your horse eating its bedding, then try changing it. Just because your horse eats one particular bedding doesn’t mean it will eat another type. If you find that your horse is eating its bedding due to hunger, then place hay in slow feeder hay nets to slow it down and make the hay last that little bit longer.

    5. Manes and Tails

    Ok, this is a weird one, and I didn’t think it happened until my pony started doing it! This is downright frustrating, particularly if you like your horse to look like a mature steed, as opposed to an overgrown foal! If you notice your horse chewing on its buddy’s tail, then your first step is to check its diet….just in case. Chances are, though, that their diet will be perfectly healthy, as there probably isn’t too much nutrition in hair. Again, if it is out of boredom, then make sure your horse has a sufficient amount of fibre to eat at all times. If all of that doesn’t help, it may be time to separate the culprits from each other!

    Our horses are curious creatures, just like us, and sometimes eating unusual things is perfectly natural and okay. However, some things shouldn’t be eaten and can harm their overall health. Therefore it is always recommended to get in touch with your vet or, if appropriate, an equine nutritionist to determine ways to stop your horse from eating undesirable things. If you find your horse’s diet isn’t balanced and it is time for a change, we stock a wide range of products and can help you choose the right one for your horse. 

    1 Response

    Wendy Robinson
    Wendy Robinson

    October 13, 2022

    I love your quick reads about horses diets etc, Thank you. Very informative and reassuring. :)

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