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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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.
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