Happy horses are inquisitive, active creatures. Their natural environment is roaming free over grassland, interacting with members of a herd. Since horses have been tamed, spending the whole time outdoors has become impractical. Reasons for this include space restrictions, bad weather and injuries.
This may cause a horse to turn grumpy, destructive and unhappy. Signs of a bored horse can include:
- Chewing on fences or cribbing
- Weaving back and forth
- Biting humans
- Pulling at their blanket
- Antagonizing other horses
If you notice these signs with your horse, he is showing he needs more mental and physical stimulation. Some horses may be satisfied with a daily trip to the paddock and a visit from their human. Others may need a little extra.
It takes a little trial and error, but there are many fun and safe ways to combat horse boredom.
Why is Mental Stimulation Important for Horses?
Out in the wild your horse would be using his senses all day long. Since domestication, long days indoors deprive your horse of the need to use his natural instincts.
Without anything to do, a horse can start to show behavioural, physical and mental problems. This can lead to stress, vices and an unhappy horse.
What are the Signs of an Unhappy Horse?
Most horses show signs when they’re unhappy. Change in behaviour and appearance are the most obvious differences. Signs of an unhappy horse include:
- Attitude changes: becoming aggressive, withdrawn or depressed
- Bad habits like weaving, biting, kicking, cribbing, lunging or circling
- Losing weight causing him to appear lackluster
- Decreased appetite or suddenly bolting down food
- Lack of interest in surroundings when usually he was more excitable
- Habits suddenly changing like messing up his stall when he usually kept it neat
- Unusually dis-interested with training, stubbornness, suddenly spooking
11 Ways Keep a Horse Entertained in the Paddock and on Stall Rest
Horses love being in a herd. Let your horse socialize with other horses where possible. Provide toys he can kick, chase and push around the paddock and his stall. Great ideas include:
1. Parallax – Hay Play Ball
The Hay Play is a spherical shaped slow forage feeder. It’s a fun design with 32 flat surfaces and multiple 70mm holes. Filled with hay, your horse can push and kick it around while grazing. The Hay Play challenges the horse and entertains. It also encourages slow feeding, preventing your horse from over-eating. Ideal for use outside or on stall rest.
2. PureRidge – Himalayan Horse Lick on Rope
This Himalayan Horse Lick can be hung in barns or in a stall. Containing 84 minerals and trace elements, it helps to replace lost electrolytes. The rope attaches through the center and will spin as the horse bites and licks the sides. Being extremely dense, it is resistant to breakage and long lasting.
3. Likit Tongue Twister Complete
Likit is a versatile toy that can be attached to a stable wall, a paddock fence or in a horsebox or trailer. It’s a great option when space is limited, giving the horse something to focus on. As your horse licks the Likit, the ball will spin making them work hard for the reward. Advanced studies in the USA found that the Tongue Twister reduced cribbing by 27%.
4. 10 Inch Peppermint Scented Jolly Horse Ball
Encourage play with the Jolly Horse Ball. It features a convenient handle for your horse to bite and chew. No need to inflate, the Jolly Horse Ball comes in full form. Biting and kicking will not destroy this ball, so your horse can throw it around and have hours of fun. Perfect for one horse or multiple horses to sniff, kick and tug out in the field. The Jolly Horse Ball also comes in a delicious blueberry, apple and bubblegum scent.
5. Jolly Apple Stall Toy
The Jolly Apple Stall Toy helps to alleviate cribbing and chewing in the stall. It has a tasty apple scent that encourages the horse to sniff, lick and move the toy around. The bright red colour creates interest, giving your horse a little entertainment on the long nights.
6. Jolly Pets – Mega Jolly Ball
Your horse will love kicking and biting the Mega Jolly Ball with his friends out in the paddock. He’ll enjoy chasing the ball around and the haphazard bouncing motion will further heighten the fun. Team your Mega Jolly Ball with a bright 40 inch cover, available in a range of colours.
7. Jolly Pets – Romp-N-Roll Jolly Ball
This toy features a Jolly Ball with a thick rope through the center, looped at one end. Perfect for your horse to pick up and throw around the paddock. The bright colour makes it easy to spot out in the field. Can even be used in the stall for inside entertainment.
8. Use Traffic Cones
Traffic cones are simple, inexpensive ways to provide entertainment. Your horse will love to carry and sling a cone around. You can purchase from most home improvement stores.
9. Offer a Plastic Barrel
If you have spare, in-tact plastic barrels lying around these can be used as fun horse toys. They can be kicked and rolled around without harm. Your horse will enjoy being in charge of the barrel – basically hours of fun for zero cost!
10. Provide a Companion
Horses are herd animals and enjoy the company of other horses. Allow your horse to spend time in a herd while outside if possible. If not, provide a companion — even of a different species! Donkeys, miniature horses, llamas, alpacas, sheep or goats all make great equine companions.
11. Create a Paddock Puddle
In the summer months, horses will love to mess around in water. Create a paddock puddle with hosed water or set up a sprinkler system to come on at certain times of the day. A mister system is a great idea to keep your stalled horse cool.
Other Ways to Keep Your Horse Happy and Healthy
Horse toys provide fun and mental stimulation in the stall or out in the paddock. But, there are many other ways to take care of your equine friend. If your horse is feeling great on the inside, he’ll look great on the outside. Here are more ways to keep your horse happy and healthy.
Horses were made to move and in the wild they’d be constantly in new places. Exercise not only works the body out; it keeps the mind occupied. If your horse has to stay in due to bad weather, ensure he at least gets a walk around an indoor barn at some point.
A Good Routine
A good routine lowers anxiety and stress around feeding and exercise times. The more you can stick to a routine, the happier your horse will be. If you have to make changes to feed or something else, introduce it gradually.
Plenty of Roughage
Food forms a major part of a horse’s life. Grass or hay is essential to help his gut stay in good condition. Horses need roughly 1 to 2 percent of their body weight in roughage a day. Keep him topped up with hay in the stall if paddock time is minimal.
Without enough water, roughage may get compacted in the gut causing all sorts of problems. Keep the water bucket changed up frequently so he always has fresh water.
If your horse is standing in a dark barn all day with nothing to look at, he may get a little bored. Ensure he can see other horses, animals or humans at work. And allow plenty of fresh air to drift into the barn, which will bring interesting sounds and smells.
Vet and Hoof Care
Broken and worn down hooves can become painful and unbalanced. When your horse is in pain, it’s going to affect his mood and performance. The same goes for his insides – if he gets worms or parasites, this will lead to unhappiness. Remember to stay on top of routine care like worming and teeth floating, as well as regular checkups by your vet and farrier.
Plenty of Grooming
In the wild, horses groom other members of the herd. If your horse is stabled, he’ll be missing out on this interaction and close attention. Giving your horse a good curry comb and hard brush is likely as close as he will get to the real thing, so be sure to make hand grooming a top priority!
Give Him a Purpose
Jobs give a horse purpose just like humans. It adds some excitement to the day, getting out to complete a mission. Plan out his week so there is something to do on each day like going for a hack.
What to Do if Your Horse Seems Depressed?
If your horse suddenly seems anxious or unhappy, it’s important not to ignore the signs. It’s always best to check in with a vet, especially if his behaviour is unusual. Changes in your horse’s attitude could point to illness or lameness and need to be addressed.
If you get the all clear from the vet, your horse may just be bored with his routine. Try adding horse toys into his stall and out in the paddock like mentioned above. A variety of toys and activities for your horse to engage will do wonders for his happiness and health.
Contact System Equine
Now you have 11 ways to keep your bored horse happy, healthy and entertained! Try out the different toys mentioned and see which your horse enjoys. It may take a little experimenting to find something he enjoys using.
And you can always buy a few toys and rotate them on different days, to further enhance mental stimulation.
System Equine specializes in helping horse and barn owners find the information and tools they need for happy, healthy horses. We stock a wide range of equipment and supplements for horses, plus tack room supplies, fencing and items for your barn and property.
Contact our experts at System Equine today for further information.