Humans are not the only ones that will be spending a lot more time indoors over the next few months. Horses will also spend a great deal of time in the constraints of their stable as the temperature continues to drop during winter. Like us, some horses can get bored! Luckily, there are lots of horse toys and boredom buster activities on the market that will help keep our equine friends entertained, you may even want to have a go at making some yourself.
This blog will provide you with lots of enjoyable ways to challenge your horse and keep them happy, healthy, and engaged when they are stuck inside. Plus, with Christmas around the corner, you are sure to gain some great gift ideas for them too.
Winter is not the only time that horses may need to be kept stabled for longer than usual. Before we look at how to keep them entertained, let us just remind ourselves of the main reasons why a horse may need to be kept in their stable…
When should you stable a horse?
In an ideal world, horses would be out, roaming the field and enjoying the open air 24/7. Unfortunately, this is not always possible and can be down to a number of reasons. Horses cooped up in the stable are generally a result of:
- Too much mud, and not enough grass. During the winter months, soil can become very wet and muddy and therefore, problematic for both horses and owners. Many owners prefer to bring their horses into a stable at night, so they can wash and dry off their horse’s legs as well as protect the fields from becoming completely spoilt. It also means that owners can monitor and manage a horse’s diet accordingly – if your horse is a real foodie for example, you may decide to double-net their hay, whilst a poor doer may benefit from ad lib haylage.
- Bad weather. Sheltering a horse from snow, ice and rain will help to avoid traumatic accidents. The last thing you need is for your horse to suffer a bad slip or damage a tendon if they are running.
- Rest and recuperation. If your horse has suffered an injury or recovering from an illness, box rest is the best medicine.
- Post worming.All worming drugs are essentially poisons, most are dangerous to aquatic life and all will have a negative effect on microorganisms. To prevent contamination, it is advisable to bring the horse into a surfaced area to administer the wormer, that can be easily cleaned if necessary – rather than worm him in a field.
- Being a competition horse. It isn’t uncommon for high level competition horses to experience minimal/no turnout. This is mainly for protection against injury and to prevent horses gaining weight too easily.
Horse boredom breakers
Horse ball feeders are ideal for horses who are motivated by their stomach. Fill them with a small amount of their daily ration and leave for them to chase. Horse balls encourage a more natural, slower eating rhythm for horses than when feeding from a bucket and are great for adding an element of fun in the stable or paddock. Fill them with pony nuts, hay or their favourite treat and let them explore how to release them. Small ‘rewards’ are dispensed as the ball is rolled around.
Small hole Haynets not only prolong feeding time and force horses to graze rather than gorge but coax out their playful side too.
Horse licks and salt licks for the stable or field are ideal for supplementing a horse’s diet with essential vitamins and minerals whilst entertaining them in the process. Likit and Horselyx tend to be among the most popular brands recommended by horse owners.
Helen Locking of Glenfield Stables tells us “A friend of mine divides her horses forage into 4 nets, one soaked, one dry, one haylage etc and ties one in each corner of his ‘room’. That way he can choose what and where to eat!”
For pure fun and games treat them to a Jolly Ball. Horses can bite, chew, punch and kick to their hearts content as they are so hard wearing that they will find it impossible to deflate. Horses can amuse themselves for hours nudging and chasing these genius balls around. Hanging toys and treats in the stable can also provide great stimulation for equines.
It is not all about providing and element of fun though. Horses are herd animals, and therefore it is in their nature to crave companionship. When a horse is isolated in a stable, its behaviour can often change. Keeping horses calm and relaxed will help to alleviate any stress-related behaviours that may occur when they are lonely, anxious, or bored. Stable mirrors are a great solution in this scenario. When a horse sees its own reflection, it has a calming effect which helps to ease the underlying feeling of stress and boredom and quickly improve overall well-being.
Homemade boredom breakers for horses
If you have some extra time on your hands, you may want to have a go at creating your own bespoke boredom breaker that plays to the personality of your horse. As his owner, you will know your horse’s personality inside out, enabling you to create him the perfect toy. What is he motivated by? Is it food? Curiosity? Maybe he just loves to be silly? Whatever his character, getting creative and tailoring a boredom buster that is unique to him, can be very rewarding. Here are a few ideas that our team have spotted whilst building stables, mobile field shelters and other timber buildings for customers:
- Apple bobbing – try cutting some apples in half and putting them in a water bucket or trough.
- Does your horse like to chew or pull? Why not attach an old Lead rope to his stable gate. You may have to redo the knots every few days if he takes a shine to it and plays with it often. Alternatively, he may just prefer chasing it around the barn.
- Grab a large, empty, plastic milk bottle (4 litre) and hang it from the stable beam for your horse to nudge and play with. If he is particularly curious and playful, you may want to fill it with some treats and watch him try and knock them out. If preferrable, put the plastic milk bottle (or cereal box) full of treats on the floor of the stable so he can roll it around and knock out the treats as he goes. You may have to join in the first few times to show him what is inside he will soon get the hang of it!
- Make some ice blocks with bits of carrot/swede/apple inside them, he will enjoy spending time breaking and eating them.
- Recycle an old pair of wellies into the perfect horse toy – place some carrots in the bottom of them and let the welly throwing commence! If you have children, you may have some old toys you can regift to your horse – a space hopper is ideal, he’ll enjoy kicking it about and swinging it by the handles.
Lots of ideas to keep your equines amused while they spend a little longer indoors, protected from the hazards that winter (and illness) can inflict. With so much to keep them occupied, spring will arrive in no time at all.