Horses are social animals and being isolated can lead to them being bored and ultimately stressed. The idea is to prevent them from getting bored in the first place rather than trying to reduce their stress after they start suffering from it. As they say, prevention is always better than cure.
In an ideal world, we’d all make sure that our horses have plenty of other horses to keep them company and they’d never get bored or stressed but sadly this isn’t an ideal world and there can be any number of reasons why we may have to separate a horse from other horses. You could be traveling to a show and leaving a horse behind, your horse may have to be quarantined for a while or need box rest. Whatever the reason your horse won’t understand but with a little bit of thought, you can prevent him from getting bored in the first place.
There are a few simple things that you can do to make a stable or quarantine block more friendly to a horse on its own. If it’s possible at all you should try to keep your horse where he can at least see other horses. This might sound counterintuitive, after all, if your horse can see others in a field won’t he want to be with them rather than cooped up in a stable? While he’ll want to be outside with the other horses just seeing them and knowing there are other horses around will ease his stress levels and reduce his boredom, this is even more important with horses on stall rest. If this isn’t possible then try to stable him near a busy area such as the feed or tack room. People constantly walking passed with help to keep him occupied more.
Another quick solution to preventing your horse from missing other horses is a plastic mirror in his stable. You might think this is a daft idea but believe me, it works. Horses don’t recognize themselves in a mirror so think that it’s another horse.
Are horse toys a good idea?
These days we’re all leading busier lives and aren’t able to spend the time with our horses that we were once able to do. This has resulted in a rise in the popularity of toys dedicated to keeping horses stimulated and occupied. Horses are also very social animals so if you leave a toy in the paddock they’ll invariably play with it together. A quick search on Google will show you literally hundreds of pictures of horses playing football.
6 ways to stop your horse from getting bored.
I thought it was a good idea to list not only six of the best ways to stop your horse from getting but also alternatives to them that you could make at home.
Taking inspiration from baby teethers this relatively new product is a great idea, it can be hung from the ceiling, attached to a stable door or just left on the stable floor for your horse to find. The textured ‘wings’ give a pleasant sensation to your horse when he chews it (which can also aid teething in young horses) while the center rotates as your horse licks it. If you’re interested in buying a Bizzy Bite Amazon has a good selection.
Homemade alternative: You might think that this is difficult to make at home but it’s actually pretty easy and makes use of old rubber curry combs. To start with cut an old curry comb in half through the center of the strap (ideal if you have two that’s better) then make a hole right through the center of an old tennis ball and feed a strong piece of string through it. Next, make a hole through the center of the strap and feed the string through it. Repeat this with the other halves of the curry combs then either hang it up for your horse or leave it on the floor for him to play with.
Best suited for use in the field rather than the stable this clever ball has been designed specifically with horses in mind. It has a handle that makes it easy for them to grab with their mouths and swing or throw to their heart’s content. I was surprised to arrive at the yard one morning to find two of my horses having a tug-of-war with it – I certainly wasn’t expecting that. It’s extremely hard wearing and is able to resist bites, kicks, being rolled on, and as I found being pulled about too!! Jolly Ball’s can be bought in most tack shops but also from Amazon.
Homemade alternative: Cut two holes in a basketball around six inches apart and feed a long piece of rope through them. Secure the rope with a tight knot and then either tie a hangman’s knot all the way along or wrap the loose end around the other rope and secure it at the other end. This will then give your horse the ‘handle’ to play with.
There are quite a few horse rollers (or hay rollers as they’re also known) out there and they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, some allow for treats while other much bigger ones allow you to fill them with hay. Rollers are a very simple but extremely clever way of elevating your horses’ boredom because they have to interact with them to get the reward. This will reinforce positive feelings which will, in turn, make your horse want to play with it even more. You can easily buy a horse roller online.
Homemade alternative: These can be really easy to make at home although they may need to be replaced regularly. Use a sturdy plastic container (the odder the shape the better) and cut a few holes in it (make sure they’re big enough for the treats to fall out). Simply fill it with treats, make sure the lid is secure and then give it to your horse.
Likit Boredom Buster
An ingenious idea that was designed to make your horse really work for his treats, it can either be hung from the stable ceiling or from a tree or post outside. It has an outer ring that allows the inner ball (which has space to hold treats) to rotate. The idea is that it provides ‘environmental richness’ and a rewarding challenge to your horse. Likit Boredom Buster’s are made in the UK but can also be bought on Amazon.
Homemade alternative: While it’s not possible to make exactly the same thing at home you can make something similar and all you need is a long piece of rope and a large turnip. Cut a hole through the turnip and attached the rope to it before securing it at one end, then hang the rope so your horse can easily get to it. You can also fix a small bucket handle to the turnip instead of rope if you’d prefer. The handle will mean that the turnip ‘rotates’ as he’s trying to eat it which, like the Likit, will means he has to work harder for the reward.
Horse footballs are becoming a very popular paddock toy with owners buying them for their horses to play together. Unlike large inflatable beach balls, these have been developed to be extremely tough and withstand the roughest of horses, regardless of whether they decide to bite, kick or even roll on the ball. One drawback to a horse football though is that because of their size some horses are a little nervous about them. If this is the case with your horse then rather than place it directly in the paddock you could try leaving it where he can see it for a little while, then when he’s used to it there move it nearer to his paddock. Once he’s adapted to it you can also play with it with him, this will help to reassure him that it’s nothing to be scared of. Amazon stock a wide range of horse footballs in a variety of different colors and sizes.
Homemade alternative: The toughness and size of horse footballs makes them harder to replicate at home, don’t worry though you can still make your own version that isn’t perfectly round. You can ask your local sports club if they have any old basketballs or soccer balls they don’t need anymore, then place them inside a haynet before tying it up and cutting off the excess of the rope. It’s not quite ball shape but your horse will still have plenty of fun with it.
Hanging salt lick
You may not have thought about using a salt lick as a boredom preventer but if it’s suspended rather than just fixed to the wall it can definitely work. This is because your horse needs to do more than stand still to use it. Most outdoor or garden shops sell salt licks but Amazon has a range that are designed especially for horses.
Homemade alternative: Salt blocks were originally meant for cattle but horses have a softer tongue than cattle so they can find it difficult to get anything from homemade salt blocks. With this in mind instead of making your own salt block you can either buy a replacement block especially for horses and then either suspend it from the ceiling with some rope, or if you’d prefer you can fix an old toilet or kitchen roll holder to the stable door or wall and place block on that.
Even if your horse isn’t on box rest toys can still be great to help keep them occupied while at the same time keeping them stimulated. While your local saddlery or online store will probably have a good range of toys don’t forget that you can also make a lot of things to entertain your horse from everyday objects you’ll find around the yard.
I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.
Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.
- Horse Knots by Reference Ready – If you’re like me and enjoy pocket reference guides then you’ll love this knot tying guide. These handy cards can easily fit in your pocket or attach to the saddle for quick reference. They’re waterproof, durable and are color coded to make them easy to follow.
- Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
- TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
- Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
- Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
- Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.
I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉