Q: My two young mares have started chewing the wooden fence railings, much to my husband's annoyance! They live out together, and have access to grazing 24-7. They get hard fed a breeding mix at a level that is appropriate for them, and they also get hay in the morning and again in the evening. They are turned out in paddocks that range from one and a half to two acres, so they have plenty of room. My husband and I bring them in and groom them every day (they are not yet broken in as they are rising three).
I’ve read that many horses chew wood due to boredom or lack of some nutrient. But I can't see this being either a nutrient problem or a boredom issue, so I now think it must be behavioural. One started before the other one. We have two cats who like to climb on the fences, so I’m hesitant to add electric wire. Can your experts offer other suggestions to discourage or eliminate this bad habit?
Sally, via email
Hi Sally and thanks for sending your question about your fillies.
You’re obviously doing your best to look after your fillies.
Feed companies will tell you that their feeds won’t “heat” your horses but all mixed feeds are grain based. One of the biggest problems in the horse world is well meaning people over-feeding their horses. Horses need very little grain to keep them in good condition and doing well. You can save yourself a lot of money by cutting down your breeding mix.
Horses fed a high grain diet can become very nervous and worked up. They often can’t stand still and may become easily bored.
Horses aren’t designed to live in small paddocks. It would be beneficial to turn your fillies out into a much larger paddock- say ten acres or more. In such a paddock, the fillies can run and play and graze and rest whenever they want. In a ten acre paddock, they won’t stand at the fence and chew the rails.
I’m a great believer in starting horses under saddle as soon as they’re strong enough to carry a rider. I’ve started hundreds of two year olds under saddle and never had one go lame from carrying me. And I’m no lightweight. A well-grown two year old horse can carry a rider at the walk, trot and canter. It’s up to the rider not to overdo it.
The benefits of starting your horses early far outweigh any risks. The main benefit is that you’ll start your horses thinking and learning in the manner you want. The older the horse is, the more set in her ways she’ll become. A two year old is far easier to teach than a three year old. Horses become more set in their ways as each year passes. At four years old, it’s sometimes very difficult to gain the confidence of horses that have been unhandled or badly handled. Why waste your horse’s best learning years? The sooner you start your horses thinking and learning, the better off you’ll both be.
My suggestion would be to turn your fillies out with good grazing for a month or so, then bring them in and start them under saddle.