I don’t know if this time of the year is harder for me or my horses. I get cabin fever when I’m not able to get out and ride reguarly, and I know my horses do as well. After a short reprieve from winter weather, the cold is back here in Idaho, so I’ve come up with a couple of posts on ideas for alleviating winter-related boredom. My first post with be boredom busters for horses. My second will be boredom busters for us riders. And maybe you have some ideas to add as well? I am anxious to hear them!
This time of the year is when many of us notice our horses are bored, often resorting to destructive behaviors like chewing on barns. Boredom isn’t only a mental thing for horse. It can cause real health issues and subsequent vet bills through problems with weight gain, bickering or fighting between horses, ulcers, stall vices (such as chewing, pawing, pacing or weaving) and even colic.
Let’s look at some ideas for dealing with horse boredom.
Horses are designed by nature to always be moving and foraging. Research shows that horses left to their own free will eat 18 to 22 hours per day. Twice a day feedings with little other stimulation can lead to a very bored horse. Often the easiest thing to change is providing smaller, more frequent meals to mimic a horse’s natural behavior. We feed three times per day and I know of other barns that do four or more. If this isn’t possible consider leaving additional, lower quality hay for your horse to browse during the day – or investing in one of the slow feeders now available. These slow feeder bins or bags force horses to take smaller bites, so that they are eating over a longer period of time.
Dog balls with and without a handle, arena cones and a light weight plastic barrel can be useful horse toys.
Photo: Alayne Blickle, Horses for Clean Water, 2015
Other boredom-busters include horse toys; a variety of toys are on the market these days including balls, licking toys (ones with sugar or salt in them) or ones with a food treat inside that encourage the horse to pursue the toy.
You may be able to make your own toys, perhaps a ball or some other safe, plastic object like an arena cone, or even a heavy branch from a non-toxic tree species (check with your veterinarian or conservation district for advice on local tree species which aren’t toxic.) I’ve seen empty plastic milk jugs (without the cap) made into toys, at least until they’re destroyed. A milk jug tied to a rope and hung from the stall ceiling makes a toy for an active, young horse to knock around.
Large arena balls are fun for many horses. If you have a dry round pen or arena you can turn your horse out with a ball to bat around. An Internet search will give you lots of options for inexpensive horse ball toys.
Of course the very best advice for reducing boredom in your horse is more turnout time in a safe, dry area. Good drainage will get these areas up and going sooner during the winter and spring and allow for safe turnout time where horses can run and buck. Check out ideas from my past blogs on how to keep paddocks and turnouts dry and well drained:
Now it’s your turn: What ideas do you have for dealing with winter horse boredom?