fbpx

11 Fun Ideas to Mentally Stimulate Your Horse and Prevent Boredom

Horse Photography by Sarah-Jane White COPYRIGHT 2021

Keeping your horse mentally stimulated will not only set them up to have a better quality of life, but it will also prevent boredom.  When a horse is not getting enough mental or physical stimulation, boredom can lead to aggressive and destructive behaviours.

Luckily, there are many options you can implement into your horse’s routine to help stave off boredom and keep them content. Keep reading to find 11 ideas that can keep your horse stimulated and active.

Invest in Outdoor and Indoor Toys

Investing in new toys for your horse is one of the easiest ways to keep them stimulated.  Whether you are looking for DIY projects or are wanting to purchase something that is ready-made, think about what you are wanting the toy to accomplish.  From speed and agility to trust and confidence, every toy has a different purpose. 

Make sure you also keep safety in the forefront of your mind when introducing a new toy to your horse. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the toy have small parts that can break off and become a choking hazard?
  • Is the toy easy to clean to help prevent bacteria from building?
  • Are there sharp edges that can cause unexpected injury?
  • Is all of the plastic wrapping removed? If not, this could cause choking or complications when digesting.
  • Can I hang the toy at wither height to prevent entanglement?
  • Are there any toxic ingredients or chemicals listed on the label?

Below you will find a list of some of the most common toys and the best way to implement them into your horse’s routine.

x
Horse Life

Horsemen’s Jolly Ball

This ball can be used both in your horse’s stall and in the pasture. It has a handle that is easy for the horse to maneuver, and it is made to withstand kicking and chewing. This ball is typically used for entertainment purposes to keep the horse active and content.

Traffic Cones

You can use traffic cones for your horse to kick around in the pasture. Make sure you do not get the flimsy cones or the ones that are collapsible, because those can cause injuries to the horse’s legs as it is playing. You want it to be strong and flexible, but not flexible enough to break off.

Inflatable Horse Ball

Using an inflatable horse ball, such as this one, will be a fantastic aid when training your horse. It helps to build their confidence and prevent them from spooking. It is best to introduce this toy gradually and let them investigate to become comfortable with playing.

Salt on a Rope

A salt lick, like this one, has a couple of purposes. Not only is it used as a treat for the horses to help replenish their electrolytes, but it is also a toy that can be hung to keep the horse entertained for hours.

30 Gallon Plastic Water Barrel

A plastic water barrel is a fun toy that a horse can roll, chase, and push around a pasture. Just make sure not to get one with metal to prevent any unwanted injuries if the metal were to become dislodged.

Try a Treat Dispensing Toy

Treat dispensing toys are used to challenge horses and to train them on how to forage and graze. There are many different types of treat-dispensing toys that can be used in a stall or a pasture. 

Treat dispensing toys are the best defense on keeping your horse distracted to prevent from cribbing or chewing on their stalls. 

Some of the most highly rated treat-dispensing toys are:

  • Horsemen’s Pride Jolly Pets Amazing Graze: This encourages your horse to push the toy to dispense the treat. It teaches the horse how to properly graze.
  • Uncle Jimmy’s Hangin Balls: This toy is edible, has plenty of vitamins and minerals, and tastes like molasses. You can even hang the ball and create an activity for your horse to entertain for hours.
  • Shires Ball Feeders For Horses: This is perfect for stable boredom and encourages a slower eating pattern than feeding from a bucket. Treats are dispersed as they push the ball around.

Horses love a treat-dispensing toy because it provides a challenge and a reward.

Build a Slow Feeding Hay Dispenser

If you are wanting a great DIY project, think about building a slow-feeding hay dispenser. 

Whether you are wanting to take the route of a box or a net, a slow-feeding hay dispenser will mentally stimulate your horse to keep them from boredom by encouraging grazing and developing their problem-solving skills.

This YouTube video breaks down the steps on how to build your own feeder using a 100-gallon Rubbermaid trough and a bale-sized small hole hay net:

  • Step 1: Put the hay bag in the trough
  • Step 2: Use hay string to close the top of the hay net and triple knot it
  • Step 3: Run the hay string down the middle of the hay net to secure the net into the trough
  • Step 4: Push the hay string through the drain hole of the trough
  • Step 5: Anchor the string so the horse cannot pull the string
READ NEXT:  Horse and Pony Enrichment: All You Need to Know For A Happy Horse

Horses like to pull the hay through the net, so make sure they have easy access, and they will be able to handle the rest.

DIY Slow feeder for horses

Teach Them a New Discipline

Even though your horse may be accustomed to a certain riding style, they will likely enjoy the chance to learn something new, and so will you. 

Equine Wellness Magazine breaks down the four main disciplines you can teach your horse to help improve riding and provide a change of pace for your horse:

  • Dressage: This discipline helps the horse master the ability to move quickly from side to side, transition into a gallop, or halt. Dressage can correct bad habits and strengthen the bond between you and your horse.
  • Trail Riding: This discipline exercises common sense. The horse can also learn how to weave between trees and stand while being tied to a tree.
  • Jumping: This discipline works on the horse’s concentration and skill. You will likely build character and trust, and the horse will enjoy the activity.
  • Rodeos: This discipline develops skill and timing for your horse. Lifts, bends, gallops, and halts are all mastered and performed for entertainment purposes.

For help with learning and developing these disciplines, make sure to contact a local training stable to help ensure safety protocols are followed and to help yield the best results.

Switch Up Their Routine

Horses are creatures of habits, which can lead to boredom quickly if they are not stimulated. An easy way to stimulate a horse is by switching up its routine for a day. 

Some ways you can switch up your horse’s routine are:

  • Go on a trail ride
  • Switch riders
  • Ride bareback
  • Try a new exercise
  • Let them graze in a different section of grass

Even if it is something small, a switch-up in their daily routine will keep them from becoming bored. A quick note, if you are looking to make a more permanent change, it is best to do that gradually and not abruptly.

Offer Them a Companion or Socialisation

Horses are herd animals, and as easy as it is to think that your horse only needs you, that is likely not the case. 

If you think your horse is struggling with being isolated from other animals, maybe you can offer them a companion to help with their boredom:

  • Rescuing: If you have the capacity and availability, the option of rescuing horses as they get older or are unable to be ridden could be ideal.
  • Boarding: If you are able to offer boarding for other horses, this might be a great way to earn a little extra income while providing companions for your horse.
  • Introducing another animal: Horses can create bonds with other animals such as pigs, goats, and donkeys. Having additional animals wandering your pasture could be a great addition to keep your horse from becoming bored.

If you are able to provide your horse with a companion, you will likely see a vast improvement in their attitude as they bond with that animal. 

Groom them Regularly

Grooming a horse will help with relaxation and help develop the bond between you and your horse. 

Horse & Country lays out the basics of grooming below:

  • Tie up your horse to ensure they stay in one spot
  • Clean the hoofs
  • Use a curry comb to loosen dirt
  • Brush off debris
  • Add shine by using a body brush
  • Use a damp sponge to wipe around sensitive areas
  • Comb through the tail and mane

Grooming daily promotes healthy habits that will strengthen the bond between you and your horse. If you are not personally able to groom your horse daily, getting somebody to come and help with the grooming is acceptable and can be a great substitute to help prevent your horse from becoming bored.

Set Aside Time to Interact and Play

Horses are social creatures and benefit greatly from the time you spend interacting and playing. If you go a long time without providing the stimulation of interaction, this could lead to boredom and or loss of trust. 

The main ways of interaction you can have with your horse are:

  • Riding
  • Training
  • Grooming

The goal is to create a deeper connection to help keep them physically and mentally stimulated. 

Ways to Connect With Your Horse

Connecting or bonding with your horse is another way to enhance their trust in you.

Here are some ways that will help you interact and maximize the time you are spending with your horse:

  • Slow down and let your horse acknowledge your presence
  • Observe the horse to notice changes in behavior when you are training or playing
  • Be comfortable with requesting actions from your horse

Positive reinforcement and treats will develop the trust between you and your horse and that will, in turn, keep them mentally stimulated and looking forward to the time spent with you. If you are not able to interact and set aside the time required to prevent them from becoming bored, consider providing a stable companion or a stall mate.

Give Them a Playlist

Horses are sensitive to sounds, as that is one of their key senses in the wild. When a horse is feeling anxious or bored, a custom playlist might be able to help relax and provide a respite from their negative behaviors and feelings.

Janet Marlow, founder and CEO of Pet Acoustics, informed Equine Wellness that playing music can help balance a horse’s behavior, “I’ve discovered that horses respond best to music with short melodies and strong rhythmic patterns. Classical or country played at a low volume will have a positive effect and help calm horses while they’re resting, eating, and being groomed in the barn.”

READ NEXT:  Pasture Enrichment for Miniature Horses: Games, Toys, and Ideas

Music can be used to help horses relax in so many ways such as:

  • While grooming
  • During vet visits
  • In the barn
  • While being transported
  • Post-op, during recovery
  • While riding
  • To disguise thunderstorms

Keep in mind that a horse’s hearing is sensitive, so do not overwhelm the horse with loudness. Keep the decibels at a pleasant range, and your horse will likely enjoy the tunes as much as you.

Change Their Location and Give More Space

If a horse is being cooped up in a stall all day, they will benefit from a change to a larger enclosure and or pasture if that is available. 

Giving your horse more space will:

  • Let the horse move more freely
  • Offer more things to see and explore
  • Prevent stable boredom

Even if it is only for an hour a day, giving a horse more space might do wonders for their mental health. Horses in the wild are grazers and spend most of their days exploring the land. It is in their nature to not want to be cooped up all day in a stall.

Create Opportunity for Movement and Exercise

Exercising your horse is a sure-fire way to keep them stimulated. As you train and develop their skills, and create a bond with your horse, keeping them in tip-top shape will ensure a high quality of life.  

The Federation Equestre International outlines some of the best exercises to do with your horse:

  • Hill Work: Riding up and down hills will work out all different parts of your horse’s body to help strengthen and tone muscles and build stamina. It is important to maintain balance and switch between trotting and galloping to ensure the workout is yielding the best results.
  • Trail Riding: Long rides build endurance and strength. The long rides will do more than a short walk, which could be hard for an unfit horse.
  • Interval Training: Ideally, you will replace long sessions with short rides or exercises that are high intensity and follow it up with a rest period. You will gradually increase the length of the high-intensity work as the stamina increases.
  • Lunging and Long-Reigning: It’s recommended to only practice lunging once or twice a week. Lunging helps with the muscles that are under the saddle but can be a big strain on small horses or any horse that is returning from surgery.
  • Pole work and Gymnastics:  As your horse gets stronger and builds stamina and skill, introducing poles into the fitness routine can help with gaining muscle mass. You can gradually raise poles and encourage jumping and trotting.

It is extremely important to warm up and cool down properly after exercising to prevent injury. This YouTube video gives an example of a great training exercise you can complete to keep your horse in tip-top shape.

Behaviours that Indicate Boredom

Horses will let you know when they are not happy with their situation. 

Some common indicators that tell you that your horse is bored can include but not be limited to:

  • Pacing: If they are walking back and forth in their stalls, usually in front of the gate, or if they are walking in circles in their stall. It could be a sign of boredom.
  • Cribbing: Cribbing is when the horse is gripping a post or any solid object with its teeth and then sucking wind through its mouth. This releases endorphins but could be destructive because they tend to chew through fences and enclosures.
  • Head Tossing: When the horse is throwing their heads up or down frequently.
  • Calling: As other horses walk by, they become more vocal.
  • Physical Aggression:  Kicking or biting people that come near.

When you notice these behaviors, it is imperative to get to the root of the matter immediately. If it is not boredom, there could be an underlying health factor that needs to be addressed.

Conclusion

Boredom in horses can lead to many negative habits and behaviors that can be hard to manage. When you start to notice your horse’s attitude start to change, whether it be out of isolation or sickness, you should immediately start taking the steps necessary to mitigate the behavior. 

From providing new toys, to managing their food intake, to showering them with love and music, stimulating a horse both physically and mentally will help prevent boredom and keep their bond with you strong.

Horse Boredom Busters from Amazon

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:
11 Fun Ideas to Mentally Stimulate Your Horse and Prevent Boredom #animalenrichment #worldanimalenrichmentday #horselife @rufflesnuffle Click To Tweet