Boredom busters for horses
Horses are herd animals who enjoy the freedom to roam with their equine friends. Winter weather might mean that your horse has to spend more time stabled, or they may be on strict box rest as advised by your vet. Whatever the reason, the longer horses are stabled, the greater the risk of stereotypical behaviours such as crib biting, weaving or windsucking developing. These behaviours result in the release of endorphins (the happy hormones), which help horses cope with situations that they find stressful. Boredom busters help decrease anxiety and so can reduce the frequency at which these behaviours are performed, although cannot stop them entirely. Read on for our top boredom busters for the equines in your life.
Companionship is very important to herd animals. Bringing a friend in from the field to keep them company for a few hours can work wonders. Being able to see a friend close by is great but if they can get nose-to nose contact from the stable next door is even better.
Stable mirrors can make a good substitute if these is no equine companion close at hand. These should be securely attached to the stable wall and should be made from non-breakable material such as acrylic or vinyl to avoid injury.
Making a simple change like using a hay net with small holes will keep them busy for longer. You can also try hiding treats in the hay – slices of carrot or apple are a good choice.
In the wild, horses may spend up to 16 hours grazing. Trickle feeders, often commonly called ‘Treat balls’ slowly release feed as they are kicked or swung by your horse and can help to keep them occupied. Take care to make sure your horse isn’t becoming overweight and ensure that what you put in the trickle feeder is a low sugar feed or nut if they are on box rest for laminitis.
For a home-made option, root vegetables with a hole drilled down the middle and hung from the rafters, can be used – swedes are a good choice. The swinging nature of this toy means your horse will have to work quite hard for their reward. Make sure that it is high enough to not swing across the hind quarters as this may startle them.
Food orientated horses may enjoy a horse lick. These come in a variety of options, so look for ones that provide important vitamins, minerals and trace elements specific to your horse’s needs, as these will provide important nutritional benefits as well as a source of entertainment. Also look for a lick that is lower in sugar to support appropriate weight management and dental care.
Not just a Halloween party game but a fun activity for your horse. Put some apples in a wide based water bowl or bucket and leave your horse to ‘bob’ for them. Larger apples often work best so your horse has to work to bite off pieces.
For horses that are on a restricted diet, sturdy balls that they can nose around the stable can help keep them entertained. You can bank up their bedding during the day to increase the roll factor!
Leaving a radio switched on close to your horse’s stable can help to entertain them. Some studies suggest that horses may prefer listening to classical music rather than pop – select the station according to your horse’s preference!
Spend time with your horse
Box rest can be a great opportunity for simply spending some relaxed time bonding with your horse. If riding is off the cards, take advantage of the extra time that you have, to give your horse a good groom. As well as helping to keep their coat and skin in great condition, it may help reduce your horse’s anxiety levels. You could even use a massage mitt for a full equine body massage! Why not have your grooming session out of the stable to give your horse a change of scenery?
So next time you hear the words ‘box rest’, don’t despair – there are plenty of options to keep your horse happy and occupied.
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