Horses can become bored and frustrated, especially when their exercise or interactions with other horses are limited. They are often at their happiest when they are out roaming and grazing with their friends, feeling safe and comfortable to rest and sleep in their herd.
Knowing when your horse might not be able to exhibit these normal behaviours as much as they would like, such as when in the stable or on restrictive grazing, is key to being creative with how you enrich their environment to help improve their wellbeing.
Luckily, there are lots of ways to get horses to use their minds, as well as senses, to help enrich their environment and reduce boredom and frustration.
Indoor enrichment for your horse
An old broom head or a scratching mat can help horses to relieve that unreachable itch, they also help reduce stress.
Music or reading
Playing music or reading to your horse can provide interesting new sounds for them and an opportunity for companionship and bonding. Studies have shown that classical music can even lower their heart rate.
Get creative with their favourite foods by:
- wrapping non-poisonous plants, such as cow parsley or willow, around the bars of the stable and hang from the ceiling so that they can nibble away
- hiding fruit and veg in the stable which is a great way to keep horses busy and introduce them to a variety of flavours and textures. There are many horse-friendly foods such as banana, beetroot, watermelon, cucumber or celery. Remember, some might be high in sugars, so not suitable for laminitic’s or those on a restricted diet.
- using treat balls with small amounts of chopped up feed to encourage horses to use their bodies and their brains
- creating a forage box using an old cardboard box, filling it with hay and tasty treats that they can dig to find. These can be full of new tastes and smells to enjoy.
- feeding them herbs, like mint and parsley, or plants such as dandelions and stinging nettles that are fragrant and tasty. Horses often enjoy picking out the ones that appeal to them most.
Companionship is important to horses and you can help them with this need by using one of the following tips.
- A bit of DIY to lower stable doors, where safe to do so, or creating enough space for your horse to reach their companions over the stable can increase their opportunities of grooming and feeling safe. This can also help them sleep better, and we all know the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep.
- Fixing a horse-safe mirror to the stable can give the illusion that another horse is there. Many horses enjoy exploring the image of their own reflection, which can be a huge mental stimulation for them.
Outdoor enrichment for your horse
Enrichment doesn’t have to be restricted to the stable or a smaller area. You can do some really simple things to add a bit of variety and fun into their life outdoors too.
Keep your horse entertained outdoors by using food to get them exploring different areas. This can include:
- spreading forage (hay or oat straw) in lots of small handful size piles around your horse’s field. This encourages them to move around more, helps hay to last longer and reduces your poached areas in the field.
- taking your horse for a walk and letting them graze new pastures. The mix of different grasses and herbs will give them a bit of variety.
- placing branches from non-poisonous trees, such as birch or willow, in their field - they can chew the bark and also use them to scratch on. Putting something new in the field can often spark curiosity and gives them the opportunity to explore something new.
Keeping your horse fit and healthy when they’re outdoors can be made fun. Here are some tips to help get you started.
- Why not spend some time with your horse doing something different? Grab some tasty treats and encourage them to do some gentle stretching, such as bending their neck and head to the left and right, up and down.
- Horses love play balls that they can kick around and pick up with their mouths to throw. This gives them an outlet for excess energy if they are in a playful mood.
Test out your different grooming brushes on your horse and see which ones they like best. Find the spots that get their top lip curling - this helps build a bond and releases feel good hormones for you both.