Reducing Boredom in Horses – Engagement Strategies

 


Bored horses can quickly become naughty, riddled with ulcers, and destructive. It’s not enough to feed them somewhat naturally or provide partial time to “being horses.” We must consider how to reduce boredom in horses all day long. It’s your new mission!

 



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Stall Rest and Other Causes of a Bored Horse 

 


There are many reasons why horses get bored! And most of them directly relate to how we manage them. Their personality also plays a part, too.


Stall rest

 


  • There will likely be a time in every horse’s life when they need stall rest. It’s not fun for anyone, and many horses on stall rest do just fine, while others decide tearing down the barn bolt by bolt is a grand idea.

 

  • Stall rest is necessary for many medical conditions that will worsen if movement is allowed. This confinement is necessary during surgery recovery, a case of laminitis, mystery lameness, an accident, or a large wound. It’s never comfortable for us to see our equine partners in pain, and stall rest can hasten recovery and allow our equine partners to heal.

 

  • However, stall rest can be traumatic for their minds. Time away from friends, a total lack of activity, no changes of scenery, and a drastic change to their daily routine create stress, boredom, anxiety, and sometimes destruction.

 

  • Stress can escalate into its own dangers for horses that have never lived in stalls.

 


horse with head out of window and haynet outside


Get creative. This hay net hangs outside so that the goats and horses can interact. A nice change of scenery from just looking at stall walls!


 

Lonely horses need their herd

 


  • Herd life is vital to a horse’s mental health. It’s not always possible, as some barns don’t allow group turnout, the facilities are too small, or a horse is in danger of injury while in the herd. Not all herd dynamics are excellent. For whatever reason, herd living isn’t always available or beneficial to some horses.

 

  • Be aware of the power of being able to see other horses. It’s not the same as being in the herd and touching, but consider this connection during your horse’s daily routine. You may notice this if your horse is the only one in the barn, riding arena, or grooming area. Many horses are happy to take an extra breath when seeing another horse.

 


Barn and farm design and layout

 


  • Equine facilities should provide your horse a few things: safety, fresh water, lots of forage, and exciting opportunities to explore. Stalls are only sometimes ideal, but necessary, and horses should be trained to experience stalls.

 

  • Thoughtful design, including large windows overlooking other horses or animals, is one way to boost enrichment. Paddocks and pastures that allow horses to see each other are another, instead of separating them with buildings or trees in between.

 


The importance of exercise

 


  • Riding, lunging, hacking on the trails, and turnout help your horse’s body and mind. Exercise and movement are outlets for energy and increased fitness and health. Many parts of your horse’s body, like their hooves and joints, benefit from movement to stay mobile and have good blood flow. Exercise also helps with digestion, maintains a healthy weight, and reduces the risk of injury overall.

 

  • From a mental health standpoint, movement lets your horse “see the world” and process new sights, sounds, and terrains. Movement also includes playing with the herd, which has the bonus of interaction with other horses.

 

 


 

Stuffies can entertain some horses.

 


Is your horse bored? How to spot boredom.

 


  • You will *hopefully* discover that your horse is bored long before they start to eat the barn, weave their way into lameness, or paw a giant hole in their stall. Here are some subtle signs of boredom in horses. Keep in mind that these are also signs that your horse has a physical issue and needs your detective work and your vet to discover what’s up.

 

  • They are lethargic, and you need to drag them around. Once a vibrant horse, a horse bored with everything can turn into a giant potato without wanting to do or see anything.

 

  • You see cranky, aggressive, or dangerous behavior. Frustrated horses may act out, and to humans, it seems aggressive, but they simply express themselves with outbursts.

 

  • Their demeanor is now extra-spooky and spicy. Everyday activities are now an “excuse” to levitate, spin, buck, and release pent-up energy.

 

  • Micro-behaviors. Subtle behaviors like grinding teeth, swishing tails, and sour expressions can signal boredom.

 

  • Vices. When horses search for creative outlets to relieve boredom, they often develop vices like cribbing. Not all vices are directly related to boredom, but it’s still a sign your horse’s lifestyle needs to change.

 

horse eating hay inside a stall from a haynet




Hay nets provide much work for little food – great to pass the time!
 


Boredom Can Create Vices in Horses

 


  • So, you notice your horse self-soothing with a new vice? There is rarely an upside to noticing a vice, except that your equine buddy has just sent you an urgent email in all caps detailing all the ways they are bored.


Cribbing and windsucking

 


  • Cribbing in horses is when horses use their front teeth to grab a hard surface, usually a fence or trough, and arch their neck to swallow air. Windsucking is a similar action, but there is no need for a fence or object to latch onto.

 

  • Cribbers can spend over half their time cribbing. This action creates dental problems, increases colic risk, and contributes to gastric ulcers and weight loss. Windsucking has the same complications, although their dental health may not suffer.

 


Weaving


 

  • Horses that weave rock side to side with their front legs further apart. The causes of weaving in horses are linked to boredom, stress, or frustration. It’s thought that weaving begins as a way for a horse to see different views as if searching for another horse to see.

 

  • This repetitive behavior creates uneven hoof wear and strain on the muscles and joints in the front legs and neck. Some weavers may lose weight as they spend their time rocking instead of chewing.

 


Stall Walking


 

  • This behavior is similar to weaving. Stall walking is usually one of two scenarios – frantic movements in a circle back and forth or slow and consistent pacing in the stall. Frantic stall walking is more dangerous, and horses can smash into window openings or buckets. Of course, boredom and stress are to blame.

 


Pawing


 

  • Horses that paw or dig are telling you something – but what? Many horses that paw alert you to feeding or turnout time, while others dig to find a stress release. Pawing can act as a pain relief method for some horses.

 

  • Like weaving, digging also leads to hoof, leg, and neck issues and increases the danger of an accident and property damage.

 


Wood chewing


 

  • While considered a vice and a destructive one at that, chewing on wood is understood as a reaction to reduced chewing opportunities. Coincidentally, increasing forage availability and using slow feeders helps boredom and wood chewing.

 


Stall kicking


 

  • There is no faster way to harm legs and barns than stall kicking. Sometimes, this is a reaction of boredom or a signal to you, like pawing. Other times, it’s an email telling you that the view, horse neighbor, schedule, or lack of turnout needs to change.

 

  • One reliable way to stop this behavior is a sensor that delivers a spritz of water after a kick. Horses learn quickly to stop kicking, and although this doesn’t address the root of the problem, this system helps prevent damage.

 


Can boredom lead to health issues in horses?


 

  • Yes, boredom in horses can lead to various health issues such as obesity, ulcers, colic, and behavioral problems like cribbing or weaving. Keeping horses mentally stimulated and physically active is crucial for their well-being and can help prevent these issues.

 

HayPlay bag for horses is being eaten from by a horse in a blanket

HayPlay bags for the win!  This one holds about a bale of hay.

 


Boredom Busters for Horses – Equine Enrichment Ideas


 

Now that you know what boredom in horses looks like, it’s time to make lifestyle changes to improve your horse’s mental health.

 


Changes to your horse’s routine


 

  • It’s easy to say “more turnout and more exercise”, which can certainly help, but consider that it might be different turnout or exercise, too.

 

  • Adjust your horse’s location, discipline, hacking schedule, herd buddies, and time moving around to benefit a horse bored with everything.

 


Your horse’s stalls, enclosures, and fencing types matter


 

  • Give them as much visual and physical contact with other horses and buddies as possible. This means opening windows, changing stalls, moving pastures, and allowing your fencing to be visually open without so much distance between the next paddocks. Sheds and shelters should allow horses to see each other when lounging about.

 

  • Lonely equines may like a shatter-proof mirror in their stall that mimics a buddy, stuffed toy, or other comfort item.

 

 



Toys are wonderful distractions for bored horses.

 


Add horse toys to the menu


 

  • Nothing says “giant dog toy” like a horse toy. These enrichment goodies don’t have to be expensive and don’t always involve food, although that is helpful.


Use a traffic cone


 

  • I don’t know why horses are drawn to traffic cones, but they can be a great way to occupy them. Incidentally, cones are great for riding exercises and “clicker training” your horse.

 


Lick toys and Jolly balls


 

  • These staples of the equine toy world are great for mindless nomming and playing in the barn or field. Be careful about sugary treats and horses with metabolic disorders, though. Balls can be simple toys or stuffed with hay for play and eating.

 


Feeding your horse – forage, slow feeder systems, and pasture time


 

  • Nothing says “boredom buster” quite like slow feeders. Using hay nets and slow feeders saves you from tossing hay all day and gives your horse’s digestive system that slow and steady input of forage. Chew time increases, and some slow feeder systems double as puzzles or toys that can roll around, encouraging movement.

 


Groom for mental stimulation

 


  • Horsemanship begins on the ground – and grooming is a simple and thoughtful act that can reduce boredom. As a bonus, you memorize your horse and thus see and feel health and mental changes much sooner.

 

  • Grooming is also a way to bond with your equine buddy, especially if grooming becomes interactive. When you read your horse’s body language as you groom, you can adjust pressure, location, and brush selection based on what your horse tells you.


Riding and exercise for physical stimulation


 

  • Go forth and exercise your horse! It’s a great outlet for both of you.

 

  • And think about mixing things up! Do you want to ride outside of the ring? Do more trail riding? Try another discipline, use cavelletti, take lessons away from your barn, or try anything new with your horse. You should!

 


Do horses get bored if not ridden?

 


  • This largely depends on the horse’s fitness and personality. Active equines may feel frustrated that they are not exercising, and horses that are dull out of boredom may miss the change of scenery and positive feelings after exercise. Turnout certainly helps this, but it may be a partial substitution for lungeing, riding, or hacking.

 


 


Positive reinforcement training


 

  • “Clicker training” is a fantastic way to engage with your horse. You can also teach them valuable tricks, like lining up at the mounting block, touching things to signify wants, and giving your horse more ways to communicate with you and vice versa.

 

  • The premise behind positive reinforcement training is finding a kind way to help your horse associate tasks with rewards. The fastest way to teach your horse something without sending them into a high-stress fight or flight situation is to use kindness, patience, and rewards.

 


Your Vet Can Help Reduce Boredom in Horses

 


  • Your horse’s reaction to boredom may not be boredom at all. Any new or strange behaviors are a sign of something – but what? Behavior changes are often a horse saying “I’m in pain.” Your vet can help you detect what’s happening and make treatment recommendations.

 

  • And if your horse is truly bored, your vet can help you choose the best calming supplements or pharmaceuticals to mitigate anxiety due to boredom. Better living through chemistry is a good thing!


 

 

 

 

 

 

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Use code 15PROEQUINE for savings sitewide on muzzles, halters, slow feeders, and more.

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