by American Stalls January 26, 2024
Winter weather can mean horses are stuck spending more time inside or don’t get as much ride time as usual. Horses are herd animals, so when they are confined to their stalls, it can be helpful to provide them with some options to help keep them preoccupied in the winter months when the weather is too inclement for them to get outside. Horses are naturally inquisitive and can be very playful creatures. At the same time, some horses are more interested in playing than others. Each horse is unique, and their personality and sometimes the life stage is going to determine how much enrichment and interaction they are going to need and enjoy. Horses can get bored with things just like we do. Winter is a great time to introduce activities and items that can help spice up the winter blues.
When determining what type of enrichment is best for your horse, there are a few options that can create a better environment for your horse:
Your horse’s surroundings can make a significant difference for their well-being. Even if your horse spends a significant amount of time inside a stall, the surroundings can have a big impact. This means that horses who can put their head out of the stall and interact with their neighbors or see the horses next to them can yield a reduction in stress and anxiety. Horse stalls with bars on the front and sides help allow horses to feel like they are still part of a herd. Yokes in stall fronts or in stall gates are a great solution for horses being able to see interact with their neighbors. Adding Dutch doors or barn windows in the barn allow horses to get some fresh air and see what is going on outside.
A busy barn is also stimulating for a horse and can help curb boredom leading to a reduction in negative behaviors associated with boredom like stall walking, pawing or wood chewing. The more activity that can be provided in and around the barn will help keep a horse preoccupied and has the secondary benefit of desensitizing the horse to things such as loud noises and moving objects in a safe environment. Horses naturally want to be in a herd because it provides key elements for the animal including safety, security, and social stimulation. Providing an environment that can closely mimic this, even if a horse can’t be outside due to winter weather conditions, is a good place to start when thinking about their housing and enrichment needs.
On the Ground - Enrichment that is interactive can be as limitless as your imagination. Remember, every interaction you have with your horse is teaching them something, so make sure you are aware of this and proceed accordingly. This includes everything from grooming sessions to leading horses around. Even if the point is to have fun with your horse, you will still want to be safe and make sure that the horse respects you as the leader. From the ground, you can teach your horse commands with techniques such as positive reinforcement training that don’t require a large amount of space. Even working through stretching exercises can be a fun and useful activity. Groundwork activities can improve your relationship with your horse and increase trust in your partnership. Even if you only have a small space or an aisleway, there are still things that you can work on with your horse in the winter.
In the Saddle – If you do have access to an indoor arena, there are still opportunities to promote more engagement. It can get boring for both you and your horse to just go around and around in circles. Especially when you have limited arena space, it can be a great time to work on more technical exercises. This can be going over poles, backing through obstacles, and working on side pass maneuvers. Working on ways to desensitize or even practicing little things like standing quietly at the mounting block are things that don’t require a bunch of room. Just remember, when introducing your horse to anything new, take it slow and exercise patience as they learn what you are asking them to do.
Items that Encourage Play:
Typically, enrichment toys for horses can be divided into 2 categories:
Toys that provide treats – We aren’t the only creatures that are motivated by food, walk into a barn in the morning and you will be greeted by excited nickers and whinnies waiting for breakfast. If you are looking to help curb boredom between meals, a food-oriented object may be a motivation for horses to engage with toys even if they aren’t the most playful type. For horses that don’t enjoy playing with other items, even just introducing something that holds hay or treats where they must work a bit harder to get to the food can help keep boredom at bay.
Toys for physical play – For horses that are more playful, sometimes all they need is an object that they can pick up and grab and shake around or chase. Sometimes the drive to play increases when they are out with a buddy or several pasture mates. Engaging with a toy can also help a timid horse become more confident. Just make sure that whatever objects provided for your horse to play with are durable and safe. Horses can become habituated to toys quite readily. Think of a toddler that gets bored with something because it is not new anymore. For this reason, it may be a good idea to rotate enrichment items every so often, this will help keep your horse’s attention. You will gain a better understanding of what items your horses are interested in, helping to gain insight into their personality.
If you are looking for ways to set up your barn to make it a better place for social interaction for your horses or would like to design a space from scratch that will keep all these important concepts in mind during the planning process, American Stalls can help. Our team can help you every step of the way in your project helping to incorporate beauty into your lighting improvements. We encourage you to fill out our Consultation Form and one of our expert Project Managers would love to assist you. You can reach our team at (855) 957-8255 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to assisting you soon!