Chewing is essentially self-medication for the horse. Chewing, or self-medicating, is most likely due to discomfort - stemming from physical and/or mental stress from lack of forage.
Chewing activates saliva production, which buffers gastric acid. The stomach produces acid 24/7 to prepare for constant uptake of food. Approximately 75% of foodstuff passes through the stomach within 30 minutes of consumption. Once feed stuff travels to the small intestine, the stomach continues to produce acid with or without food present. Chewing effectively buffers gastric acid - and can give some relief even without food.
Prior to providing my horses with free-choice forage, any object within reach was subject to mastication and destruction including lead ropes, halters, fly masks etc. Thankfully, post-free choice forage objects remained intact!
Remember - Horses are innately oral. They are mentally and physically designed to chew 18-22 hours a day. Young horses may require a firm surface to assist in exfoliation of baby teeth such as a log.
Common Causes of Discomfort, Stress & Vices
Common causes of physical - and/or mental - discomfort, stress, and vices include:
Providing free choice forage, a mentally and physically healthy environment, resolving the source of pain and a well-balanced diet should keep your herd entertained and preserve your objects for their intended purpose.
Helpful How-to Resources for Slow Feeding
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Monique Warren is the owner of Hay Pillow Inc.