My mare was especially mouthy from age 1-5 and would chew on the lead rope when tied to a tie rail. I hang a slow feed hay net on the fence for her to eat while I groom her. I put a large tub trug below it to catch the mess. She is a smart, curious and high strung Arabian who is very attached to one person-me! She does not like being tied, so the hay net is the best/easiest solution for tying her for longer time periods.
I made my own pellet dispenser which is a highlight of my mare’s day. I hang it in her stall from a water bucket hook with baling twine so it hangs about 12 inches above the floor (on rubber matted area in a corner without bedding) with a cup or two of timothy hay pellets inside, as a treat which lasts about 15-20 minutes. She would eat the pellets in two minutes if put in a bucket! To make it, I cut two small pellet-sized holes along the bottom edge of a hard plastic half-gallon vinegar bottle. She absolutely loves shaking the bottle to get the pellets to come out! It is a little noisy! She has free access to a paddock and is turned out a lot, but her busy mind needs something to do. If I groom or blanket her while she’s eating her pellets, she is so engrossed that she barely knows I’m there! Back to the cross tie issue…
I don’t use cross ties because I have seen so many horses get into trouble if they are nervous types. Trainer/behaviorist/author Linda Tellington Jones says that some mouthy horses respond well to having a “mouth massage.” You can do this safely by putting your hand inside the upper/lower lip against the gums and rubbing side to side with your outstretched index finger and thumb pressed upward or your pinkie finger/edge of palm pressed downward-also good practice for dental work. There are some calming energy points on the gums that actually help with shock and stress. My mare enjoys it, it does not make the chewing worse in her case and only takes a few minutes. This is not the same as playing with a horse’s mouth-which does promote the behavior by making a game out of it!
Horses do better during a ride if they eat some food first to prevent stomach acid irritation-since they are grazing animals and need continuous feed to buffer acid production. You could get a feed nose bag that attaches to the halter (find a way to attach it that doesn’t interfere with the cross ties-maybe hook it to the halter rings attached to the crown piece with some string and small clips, thus freeing up the halter hardware that attaches to the cross ties. You may have to cut holes in the sides of the feed bag that line up with the halter hardware for the cross ties). Put it on before you even go to the cross ties so you aren’t directly rewarding your horse for chewing the ties! The nose feed bag will keep your horse from grabbing anything, thus breaking the mental habit and freeing you to relax and concentrate on the grooming and tacking up. The food will serve as an incentive to a satisfying grooming session and may help prevent stomach ulcers! You could use grass hay pellets (rather than grain), which won’t promote high energy. If your horse can handle alfalfa pellets, they have higher calcium levels, which buffers acid. Familiarize the horse with the nose feed bag while holding on to the lead rope in the paddock or stall first. You could use the nose feed bag at other times just to let the horse know that it isn’t just for cross tie time-keep a smart horse guessing or they get very demanding.
I like the ideas of using bit guards or plastic PVC pipe over the cross ties. The chains may work on some horses, but others will bite them anyway-very hard on the mouth and teeth, and they could be dangerous when they go flying if they break! Ground tying is always a good skill, but not practical if you have to walk away to do something. Some horses will always try to outsmart you! The loose salt option is always a good idea. I provide loose salt and various types of natural and standard salt blocks so the horses can choose. My senior gelding (today is his 35th birthday!) likes loose coarse celtic salt-he’s a gourmet, but also licks the iodized and himalayan blocks. My mare likes the plain white and himalayan blocks. They also have free choice loose mineral feeders-after eating a lot initially, they only eat some occasionally now.
This is a great forum-so much experience! Thanks for the opportunity to share!