Equine Boredom: How to spot it and what to do

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Keep stress to a minimum and allow fun to the maximum!

Horses love nothing better than exploring their natural environment, so when they are in their stable, it’s only natural that boredom can become an issue, due to confinement. The general consensus of opinion is that horses should be turned out for as much time as is possible, depending on their regime, workload and the facilities available; exercise obviously helps to alleviate boredom, even if it is walking out in hand, if turnout is not possible. Boredom may also lead to destructive patterns that can become habitual, so prevention is definitely better than cure, for horse owners!

Unfortunately, some horses experience abnormal behaviours known as ‘behavioural sterotypies’, which are thought by some experts to be coping mechanisms that allow the horse to deal with its environment. Stereotypies are linked to boredom, but experts are yet to ascertain a universal cause for them, and some horses seem more prone to the behaviours than others.

According to a landmark article in the Equine Veterinary Journal – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11314230 – the majority of equine stereotypes start when the horse is a foal, within one month of weaning, when both the nutritional and social environment of the foal are substantially altered. This suggests that for owners of older horses, there could be little that can be done to stop the behaviour – it can instead be more a case of managing it, in terms of the animal’s diet and environment. The Journal’s authors also state that low quantities of forage and minimal opportunities for social contact are associated with a higher reported prevalence of stereotypic behaviour in horses.

Tell tale signs of equine boredom

Does your horse exhibit these behaviours?

Weaving – The horse will shift their weight from one leg to the other and sway the head and neck from side to side.

Box walking – The horse will constantly wander around the stable. This can cause damage to ligaments and joints.

Biting – The horse can chew objects, such as the stable door or any wooden areas. This may result in abnormal wear of the incisor teeth that may cause problems with grazing.

Wind sucking – the horse grabs onto a door or fence with its front teeth and gulps air into the gut; this is said to release endorphins, creating an ‘addictive’ situation.

It is important to remember that boredom and stereotypies – traditionally referred to as vices – may be abated to a degree by providing sufficient forage in the horse’s stable. For example, ad lib hay and different fibre feed choices. Try using small-holed haynets to make the hay last longer. Horze’s Easy Fill Hay Net, Product ID: 50533-BL/WH, has modestly sized holes.

Supplementary calming products like feed additives can help if equine anxiety is an issue, while for wind sucking, which is associated with gastric ulcers and digestive problems, a supplementary digestive aid can help in some circumstances. Always seek veterinary advice if your horse’s behaviour is problematic, or you need advice concerning wind sucking and its effects on equine health.

Stable Toys

When horses are bored, they often look for other things to do, to occupy themselves – rug tearing and chewing are good examples! This is where stable toys become the ultimate must-have. They are a great way of keeping your horse occupied and out of mischief.

The main idea of a stable toy is to keep the horses’ attention and to stop them from developing repetitive habits. These can be easily picked up, but are not that easy to get rid of! If your horse is stabled for a long time, the best thing to do is vary the toys available in its stable; that way they always have something new and fun to challenge themselves with. Look out for mineral licks that are available within balls and toys, or as a wall mounted product.

You can also have fun with stable toys too. They are a great way of interacting with your horse – play balls are perfect and many horse owners enjoy games of ‘football’, with the horse pushing the product with its nose, or picking it up with its teeth and dropping it.

Horze has a wonderful new toy that will keep your horse entertained for hours. The Play Ball is apple-flavoured, made of durable rubber and best of all – it’s fun! (Product ID: 50601-RE – and available in Red or Green.

Visit our website for details of this and other products.

Horze have a team of experienced riders, trainers and equestrian journalists who shared their knowledge and expertise through this blog.

  • Julie Gjermandsen

    My horses come out 2 a day, in the field all the morning and in the afternoon i come and ride them. I always spen much time with them and they have also always hay to eat. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/kristina.s.thorsen Kristina Søbo Thorsen

    My horses live outdoors all year round. They have a nice and dry stable, they can go into if the weather is really bad, but they seldom use it. They also have a small forest they can roam in. They use it for shelter and pillage the trees for anything that tastes good :-) That way they keep their teeth in good condition and get lots of essential oils from the trees. And of course they have their big field to play in whenever they feel like it. They live as close to a perfect horselife as is possible, when living alongside humans :-)

  • Sara Alopaeus

    When my horse had an leg injury and was ordered complete rest, it was important to keep him in a good mood as it could become very boring just to stand all day long in a stall. Every day I went to the stable immediately after school, and came home when they closed the stable for the night. I brushed him, scratched him, had ”beauty-days” when I braided his mane and brushed him until he shone. I played with him different games (e.g. ”find the carrot”, ”in which hand is the carrot hidden”) and made him different toys; for example I took a bottle, did holes in it, put sweets in it and tied it up in the stall so he had to figure out how to get the sweets out of there. I gave his hay in a net, and hid carrots in it. I also hid carrots in the stall and put apple bites to float in his water.
    Twice a day I took him out to cool his leg, since the water box was outside. Before we went back inside, I always stood with him for hours and just let him enjoy being outside. We didn’t go anywhere, he wasn’t allowed to. We just stood there, taking deep breaths and watched the surroundings.
    He recovered fully and didn’t develop any kinds of boredom habits. :)

    I’d say the best way to prevent equine boredom is simply to allow the horse to be what it is – a horse. Don’t keep it in a stall 24/7 or ride it in a riding house, practicing the same things over and over again. Let it out in the field with other horses to play with, and make sure the field is big enough – a tiny square were the horse can’t run or explore is not very exciting. Also make sure the horse has enough to eat; hay, straw, branches, and that it gets as much varied exercise as it needs, depending of course on what it eats and in what shape it is.
    Spend as much time with the horse as you can. Don’t just come to the stable, ride it and go home. Be with the horse, brush it, play with it, teach it new things. Horses are curious animals, take advantage of it. Play games with it, do different things every day, and just be with the horse and get to know each other.
    To prevent the horse from getting bored, try to see it from the horse’s perspective. Wouldn’t you be bored to death if you was an animal born to run, play and explore with others of the same kind, but was locked in a stall for most of the day? I would.

  • Essi Ahonen

    I think that all kind of toys are good if they’re safe. Play balls, bottles with treats in them etc. The most important thing is that horse has company. If it can see the stable yard, good, but if it doesn’t, put someone with him/her in the stable (another horse/pony, goat, sheep etc.). If the horse still bites wood, put tar on anything that he/she bites. Collars are also good for wind sucking.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brittany.taylor.969 Brittany Taylor

    I take mine out for a few hour long rides in different places. We go into the woods, through fields, and down different roads in town( we live in a small town). I bring them near things they usually aren’t around in training exercises. It makes them think for a while, then when they see their pasture buddies, they play together.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.wilkinson.98 John Wilkinson

    horse likes to play lots of games including ‘how hard can you hit the door of your owner’ or ‘how much food can you cover a human in’

  • http://www.facebook.com/motorXchick Adele Jones

    Frezze in a ice cream contioner cut up fruit hang in up in the stable..our horses love then

  • Marije

    My horses are outside all year round, they have a huge area and even a small forest with big trees that have nuts they love to eat, so when the nuts fall they have a fun time finding them. They have a stable they could walk into, but they never do. I see them everyday for a few hours, brushing them and just spending time with them. Sometimes we go for a ride. I also just like to take them both for a walk with leadropes and have them taste the grass outside of their home. My young mare also loves to play with my dogs.. they run around chasing eachother everyday! I bet she would love a big ball to play with! I would say the best way to prevent boredom is NOT to put them in a stable. Its not natural and I think the horse won´t be completely happy even if you would entertain it all day.

  • Tsuruya TeenT

    Have a fun day with your horse! Instead of always doing work, weather it be dressage or jumping or western, do something fun with your horse! Have a day where you can just relax, play games with your horse, or take a nice trail ride!

  • Kristi

    We do trick training with my friend, so we take the horses out for an hour(after/before the lesson) and teach tricks. We’ve learned smiling, Spanish walk(well can’t ”walk” atm), bowing, hugging, and still learning. Horses are now happier and also, they’re not the bored ”lesson horses” anymore. Carrots motivate them a lot :3

  • http://www.facebook.com/heather.phillips.7528 Heather Phillips

    My horse is lucky enough to have a stable mirror which is placed away from her hay and feed so it does not stress her with the ‘other horse’ stealing her feed.! She will stand at the mirror talking to the handsome horse in the window (But they never talk back lol),she also licks the mirror in order to groom the ‘other horse’, bless her it keeps her entertained for hours. :) She no longer box walks or eats her straw bed since I got the mirror for her and is happy to be in her stable if we can not turn out for any reason.

  • Kristin M

    My horse is staying with 3 other horses, and he is outside 24 hours each day, and if he want he can go inside. He is trained every day, never alone, and have his own playing area with me and his horsemates He seem to love his life And I love him, so thats why I always have to check on him, stay with him, play with him and train him ! The trips with my horse is in a beautiful nature with a fantastic view !

  • http://www.facebook.com/justine.sabrina.7 Justine Sabrina

    Ample turn out in rotating pastures, dressage training, and for his stall, a salt lick and a ball, but the ball got squished! This would be perfect!!! Please vote my horse misses his play ball! He even shares with his stable mates by tossing it to others in their stalls over the walls!!

    • lifeofbenschi

      Congratulations! You won the play ball from Horze. Please contact us for more information: pr@horze.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/anouk.vanheumen.94 Anouk van Heumen

    My horses are almost all day on the meadow. To combat boredom I do not drive every day in an arena, but I do horse agility, ride through the forest, on the beach and go sometimes bareback.

  • http://www.facebook.com/iloveyouforeverbabexx Levana Williamson

    Our horses all have their own paddocks with tree’s and a large area but we swap their paddocks all the time so its not the same old paddock everyday!! they love it and have a good gallop around because they’re so happy. (:

  • bury

    herro i am bored someone talk to me

  • bury

    oh and my horses live in a pasture they don’t usually have boredom but i do always have problems catching them how can i solve that and make it better and make them WANT to come