Pony eating willow trees, ?deficiency?

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Pony eating willow trees, ?deficiency?

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    09-07-2013, 05:53 AM
Question Pony eating willow trees, ?deficiency?

Hi, our pony Rose has been with us for four months now.
She is on pasture 24/7 and a couple of handfuls of oaten chaff, twice a day, which we use to give her a dose of magnesium chloride to help with her behaviour.

It's spring here in Australia, so she's gotten a bit chubby and I put her in a smaller paddock ( which I've grazed short with a couple of sheep first ) on Wednesday to restrict her grazing and slim her down.

There are several small willow trees in this paddock, and she has started chewing the bark and eating the new shoots and small twigs.

Firstly, is it harmful? I suspect not but you all might know better
Second, is this boredom, trying to eat more cause she's hungry, or a mineral deficiency?

I'm suspecting a deficiency, maybe calcium seeing as we are increasing her Mg and it could be messing with her Ca:Mg ratio. Cows will eat bark, but that's usually a copper deficiency.

And if its a deficiency, what products should I give to correct it, bearing in mind I want to keep her on the Mg, and I'm in Australia so we may not have your brand names.

Wow that was long! Hope you might have some ideas?
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    09-07-2013, 06:46 AM
In my experience, in the spring, new growth on trees just taste good to them. Around here, with 'sweet' tasting trees (e.g. Maples), many horses will wind up stripping the bark off young trees in the spring and killing them.
    09-07-2013, 06:47 AM
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I would say they just love eating them and hungry. Mine do it in winter when grass is low (but I don't have willow).
    09-07-2013, 07:51 AM
I expect your mare just likes the taste. Of all the trees our horses potentially have access to, it's only the solitary willow that they strip - though never enough to kill the tree.

Of course, it's possible that Rose could have a headache and is self-medicating with the willow's salicylic acid (I jest ).
EvilHorseOfDoom likes this.
    09-07-2013, 12:37 PM
Twigs and bark are a part of the natural diet of horses. I used to get willow branches in early spring for my horses. They also loved " stripping" the Xmas tree( without decorations or snow sprays of course).
If given the chance, she'll most likely kill the trees if they're still small, so fencing them off and " rationing" them that way might be a good idea.
Offering hay in a slowfeeder of any kind will keep her busy and avoid overeating too
    09-07-2013, 12:55 PM
Your pony may be needing more fiber (grass or hay). Did your vet, after bloodwork, prescribe the magnesium chloride? If your pony is fractious it could be because it is outsmarting it's handlers. Ponies are very smart, they make horses seem dumb.
    09-07-2013, 08:37 PM
Thanks for the ideas, guys

Saddlebag, pony is on magnesium on the advice of our trainer and equine podiatrist. She had a lot of the signs of deficiency, including nervousness, spookiness, being twitchy, tight muscles etc and as magnesium is not harmful in itself, we elected to start her on it and see how she went. There's been quite a dramatic difference, she is so much more settled and focussed and the twitchiness and tightness in her muscles is no longer an issue. We are also doing a lot of work on the ground with her to iron out any training kinks, under the supervision of an experienced trainer.

I'll look at giving her a haynet of meadow hay to up her roughage and see if that helps.

Maybe they are tasty trees
deserthorsewoman likes this.
    09-07-2013, 08:43 PM
I have seen horse here that would strip the bark off of trees due to a calcium deficiency. I keep out loose calcium and other mineral mix (Purina 12:12 horse mineral) as well as a red salt block.
VickiRose likes this.
    09-08-2013, 04:08 AM

I'm with the mob who say it's just tasty! There is also apparently evidence to suggest that it is not likely to be diet related - a nutritionist was telling me of studies, but can't remember the details.

But... Firstly, if she's not getting enough roughage, then it could well be because she's just hungry. Even dieting horses need around 2% of their bodyweight daily in forage & it's not good for them to be left hungry.

If you're worried about obesity/IR (which is a very common problem), you can soak the hay first, to leach off some of the sugars, &/or you can provide hay free choice but in a 'slow feeder' small holed hay net. Grazing muzzles are also another great option, for reducing grass intake without making them go hungry. Safergrass.org & ecirhorse.com are 2 good sites to learn more.

Re nutrients in general, yes, if she's just on grass & Mg, then IME chances are she will be deficient/imbalanced in at least a few things. But every feed mob wants you to think their feeds & supps are the necessary one, some are far better than others, and it depends on what your horse gets now as to what she may need(or not) supplemented. So I do believe it's important to do a basic diet analysis at least, before you buy. FeedXL Horse Nutrition: The D.I.Y. Equine diet planner is a great Australian service/resource for helping with diet & nutrition.

Re Ca:Mg balance, while I do know that Ca is one of the 'biggies' that has been considered necessary, there has recently been a lot of research done on Mg & it's been suggested that the accepted Ca:Mg is far from ideal & that a lot more Mg is beneficial. The more I learn about it & the more I've experienced horses supped with Mg while Ca is kept lowish, the more I'm inclined to agree.

So... as you can see, I'm not qualified or well read enough to be sure of the answer, but IME it's well worth looking into more & considering that a Ca free or low supplement may be the way to go, along with providing more Mg. Gravelproofhoof.org is one place to learn more magnesium website is another.
    09-08-2013, 04:08 AM
Willow is very good for horses. Short green grass however is NOT!!
Make sure you are feeding her salt every day - they don't get enough from a salt lick and the best supplements to use are those formulated for the conditions of the country you live in such as Supreme Australian Horse Vits & Min available from the Calm Healthy Horses website. ( Calm Healthy Horses )
This website also has a wealth of information about horse nutrition and the problems we run into with certain types of grazing
Good Luck

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