Let’s face it, in a 24-hour period most of our beloved equines get only one to four hours of mental and/or physical engagement with a human. What they do for the remaining 20-23 hours a day is up to them to figure out (if not provided with opportunities to engage their natural instincts) – and so the boredom and vices set in.
Luckily, we've rounded up 11 tips and toys to help beat the boredom blues and provide natural enrichment for horses during their down time - whether they are on stall rest or in a pasture, pen, or paddock.
Why is Enrichment Important for Horses?
Enrichment – whether mental, behavioral, or physical – provides a way to stimulate a horse's natural instincts and is crucial to their overall well being. Confinement and isolation, on the other hand, can cause anxiety related stress, vices, and boredom – especially when they suppress a horse's natural instincts, which include:
By engaging your beloved herd’s natural instincts, they have the opportunity to be entertained and enriched the other 20-23 hours of the day you’re not with them – becoming a happier, healthier horse.
11 Tips & Toys to Reduce Boredom, Stress & Anxiety in Horses
1. Offer a Nose-It® for entertainment
Nose-its are a slow feed toy with a purpose, which allows for measured slow feeding of hay cubes, pellets, grain or treats. Great for horses, donkeys, mules, goats, alpacas, llamas and the list goes on! It encourages movement, boredom relief, exercise and play and can be used inside or outside. Place it in a feed tub or loose on the ground to encourage movement.
3. Encourage play with a Jolly Tug 14" Horse Ball
This toy features an inflatable Jolly Ball inside a machine-washable cover made of super-tough nylon cordura®. It has two rope reinforced handles to provide play for one or multiple horses can tug and play together. The large size and bright color make it easy to spot in the field.
5. Hang a Horsemans Pride salt on a rope for entertainment
This round mineral salt allows you to attach both ends of the rope to enable it to spin. It is made from pure Himalayan salt that is incredibly dense to resist breakage from biting while providing sodium and chloride to their diet. Note: This should not be the only source of sodium in the diet.
7. Offer free choice forage in multiple locations - either loose or from slow feeders
Horses are designed to eat and move about. Equines produce gastric acid 24/7 in preparation for constant uptake from grazing – when not grazing, that acid builds up and can contribute to ulcers. By providing free choice forage, your horse should be nibbling away 16-20 hours per day!
8. If you have an only child (equine), consider a companion
Goats, miniature horses, donkeys, llamas, alpaca, or sheep all make good companions.
9. If you have a herd, allow your entire herd to eat and live together full time
This works if you have an enclosure large enough for them to escape dominant individuals while providing forage in multiple locations. Equines are herd animals - they benefit physically and psychologically from direct physical interaction.
Dominant members will keep the others moving as they claim various forage sites. The less dominant individuals will have alternate sources to eat from; this encourages movement and can decrease cortisol levels associated with stress from being physically separated from each other. Food aggression typically subsides in a short period of time if free choice forage is offered in multiple locations and the locations outnumber the herd count by at least one. Can horses really eat more hay without weight gain? Learn about the surprising factors.
Excellent example of an enriching environment with Standard Hay Pillow® slow feeders.
10. Offer a water source to play in by creating a large mud puddle
Another option is to mount a sprinkler head on a T post or pipe corral and use a timer on the hose bib to allow your horses to play during the warmer months for periods of time. Stalled horses can benefit from a mister system.
11. Create a paddock paradise
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it is a track system designed around the perimeter of a pasture or dry lot. Surprisingly, the decreased open space increases movement! If the track is a ½ mile, they have to walk a ¼ mile to get to the opposite side.
Safety first! Many of the DIY ideas on the internet do not appear to be as safe as I'd like them to be.
My concerns are:
Have Safe Boredom Buster Tips to Share?
Please share your safe boredom buster ideas by scrolling to the bottom of this page to comment/reply. We would love to add your tips to our list!
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Helpful How to Resources for Slow Feeding
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.
8/20/2018 05:17:40 am
Great tips for helping with boredom. We already use a couple of hay pillows and will have to try the Nose-it. We'd love to win the 1-3/4" size for three of our beloved geldings. Thanks for helping our horses live better, more interesting and healthier lives.
Hay Pillow Inc
8/21/2018 10:20:26 am
Thanks Jane for your kind words. We are passionate about our beloved equines; enriching their lives as much as humanely possible. Your geldings are blessed to have you as their guardian.
10/26/2020 01:45:23 pm
My friend uses Hay Pillows for her two horses with Cushing's. We have tried various hay nets over the years but these are the ones we like best. Horses are on a dry lot and are only allowed limited time to graze. Hay pillows encourage her to move about nudging her Hay Pillow and even flinging it through the air. She is a voracious eater. Her hay Pillow slows her down and provides entertainment too! The mare with shoes loves her hanging Hay Pillow. She will go to that one even when other nets are available. As it twirls it slows down her rate of eating so hay lasts longer. I am blessed to have a friend who shares her wonderful horses with me. I would love to win one of your hay pillows so I can give it to these mares that I love so much.
3/5/2022 11:11:33 am
• I have an 8 foot 2-by-10 inch plank on the ground outside the barn. My 2 mini horses like to put their front feet on it and survey the nearby field. Sometimes, one of them will stand with all 4 feet along the length of it . My 2 mini donkeys never touch it. Once a week, I turn it over and my 3 ducks come running for the uncovered worms. All of the horses and donkeys gather to watch, nodding and tossing their heads. The ducks then tour the barn with their 4 bigger friends following along.
Bevin A Nicholson
5/3/2022 05:17:29 am
Curious with the broom head. Did you use a push broom head or just a regular everyday one?
Bevin A Nicholson
5/3/2022 05:14:44 am
I have been looking for options of show feeders for my new barn. I hate the fact that I see horses lifting their neck so much to eat. I don't get it at all, they graze with their heads down. I would love to win one to try it out. I like the standard with the 1 3/4 mesh. My old guy is going to share with another old guy who needs it more. Thank you for writing your blog. I enjoy it. Bevin
Hay Pillow Inc
5/3/2022 10:57:12 am
5/5/2022 09:08:19 am
Thanks for the great ideas! We have 8 BLM gelded weanlings. They are a hoot to watch as they play. But these ideas will give them extra play time and more time for us to enjoy watching them.
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