Horses are naturally inquisitive and enjoy exploring their environment. They are excellent at foraging for food, spend approximately 75% of each 24h period grazing and move their feet every 3-5 seconds when grazing.
Being stabled removes these natural behaviours however, we can take measures to return the ability to perform these natural behaviours and prevent stereotypies (vices) by enriching their environment. Below are 7 ways to enrich your horses environment (stabled, field or barn kept):
- Feed hay off the ground with more than one pile of hay.
- Hang fruit and vegetable kebabs or hide fruit and vegetables in the bedding and in/under objects.
- Put apples in the water bucket for apple bobbing (your horse may have to be taught to bob for apples).
- Hang soft drinks bottles with holes in, put food pellets inside so that the horse has to nudge the bottle to knock the pellets out. Drinks bottles with holes in can also be used to put flavoured water in.
- Traffic cones stuffed with hay. Leave some poking out of the top so the horse can eat from top or they can turn it over and eat the hay. Traffic cones can also be used to hide things under.
- Items/treats can be placed on ledges or up high (in trees in the field) and the horse has to pull them off.
- Hang up twigs/braches with the leaves still on. The horse will eat the leaves. The twig/branch can be used again with raisins stuck to it using treacle or syrup.*
And some games you can play with your horse:
- Old towels make good toys for horses. They can mouth them, throw them around etc. if you tie them to something, they can manipulate them to untie them.
- Paper bags can be used to hide treats inside. The horse has to unravel or tear open the bag to get the treats. Make sure you remove the torn paper away after this one !!*
- You can make a toy box for your horse. Many things make good toys and food can be hidden inside them. Be sure to vary the items in the box regularly.*
- Cardboard box game…..101 things to do with a cardboard box. With this game, the horse gets a reward every time (s)he does something novel with the box.*
- Plastic drain pipes with holes cut in them can be hung on the stable wall. Treats are placed inside the pipe and the horse has to nudge one end of the pipe to get the treats out.
This list is not exhaustive and with a little bit of imagination, as well as watching the types of toys your horse likes, you can make the stable environment a positive place to be.
Below are some tips for using environment enrichment and toys:
- If your horse is under veterinary supervision or care, ensure your vet is happy with the use of treats and toys.
- Don’t give your horse access to all of their toys at one time. Rotating the items given in the stable is key to ensuring the toy does not become ‘furniture’ and the horse tires of it.
- Some of the items should not be left in with the horse for safety reasons and your horse should only be allowed to play with them under supervision. These are marked with an asterix.
- If your horse eats cardboard and paper, you may wish to avoid the toys that involve those items.
- Once your horse figures out the toys that easily yield treats, the complexity of the tasks to be completed to obtain a treat can be increased.