Chewing on objects is typically 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. The stomach begins to empty in 20 minutes to 2 hours or when 2/3's full - depending on the type of feed and rate 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 16-20 hours a day. (Learn more about How Forage Buffers Acid and Safer Always Have Hay Sources.)
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 any 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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About the Author:
Monique Warren invented the Hay Pillow® slow feeder and is the owner of Hay Pillow Inc.
Warren has been an equine guardian for over forty years and slow-feed advocate for over 10 years. She contributes equine nutrition and digestive and hoof health articles to publications such as Equine Wellness, The Journal, The Naturally Healthy Horse, Natural Horse Magazine, Nicker News, Horse Back Magazine, The Horse's Hoof, and Miniature Horse World Magazine. Equine nutrition and horses feet are her passions. She resides in Southern California.
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