Trees offer many benefits---not only do they provide shade and shelter for the horses who live in pastures, but they can help prevent soil erosion and provide picturesque scenery. When the behavior of horses begins to threaten the health of pasture trees, then, it’s wise to take steps to protect them.
Horses rarely damage trees but when they do, they usually strip the bark. They may begin to eat bark out of boredom or lack of adequate forage---both of which can be remedied by providing free-choice hay. At the first sign of tree-nibbling, make sure your horse has access to lots of quality hay---that may be enough to halt the behavior.
Some horses, however, develop a taste for specific trees and continue to strip bark even when hay is available. In those cases, you’ll need to take other steps. Wrapping the tree trunk in snow fence or chicken wire is one option, but both materials pose entrapment or injury risks to the horses, particularly those who are determined to reach the bark. A better solution is to build a sturdy fence around the tree, far enough away so the horse can’t stretch his neck over to reach the trunk. Of course, you’ll need to maintain the fence and mow around it, but that effort may be worthwhile to protect a useful or admired tree.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #470, November 2016.