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.
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.
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