The cold, winter weather can often mean that your horse spends quite a lot of time in their stable. Confined to barracks horses and ponies can become bored and may vent their frustration by kicking their door or, in extreme cases, developing stereotypic behaviours such as weaving or cribbing. Here are 5 tips on how you can beat stable boredom and help keep your horse occupied this winter.
Forage is the most important part of your horse’s diet and is critical for both digestive health and psychological well-being. In their natural environment, the horse would browse on multiple forage sources including grasses, trees and hedges. Providing your horse with plenty of forage when they are stabled will help to keep them happily munching away.
Preferably, forage should be offered on a ‘free-choice’ basis. However, in some cases forage intake may need to be restricted slightly (e.g. for a horse that needs to lose weight), but this should never be to less than 1.5% of bodyweight (dry matter), unless under veterinary supervision, as doing so increases the risk of digestive and behavioural issues.
In these situations, the forage should be divided into several small portions, fed at frequent intervals throughout the day. Use small holed haynets and/or double netting is often another useful way to help to slow down consumption and make their forage last a little longer.
Another way to help beat stable boredom and encourage natural foraging behaviour is to consider dividing your horse’s hay/ haylage into two nets and hanging them at opposite sides of the stable. Equally, if you normally feed chaff as part of your horse’s hard feed, consider providing some of it in a separate bucket overnight so your horse has a choice of different forages to chomp on.
Nothing beats boredom more than getting out in the fresh air and doing some exercise. Try to ensure your horse gets some exercise every day. This doesn’t have to be ridden work, simply turning them out in a field or an arena for a few hours will help alleviate monotony. If you can’t exercise your horse and don’t have access to any turn out, bring them for a short walk, or let them hand-graze for a little while.
From flavoured licks, balls and treat feeders there’s an ever-growing plethora of specifically designed horse toys available that can help keep your horse occupied. Consider placing a proportion of your horse’s normal feed inside a treat feeder, create your own ‘toy’ by hanging a swede in their stable, or hide some carrots in their haynet. Bear in mind that if your horse is prone to gaining weight or at risk of conditions such as laminitis then treats should only be provided in very small quantities.
Horses are herd animals, so if your horse is stabled where he cannot see other horses then stable mirrors can be an excellent idea. However, before putting a mirror on your horse’s wall you should firstly consider their temperament and how they usually interact with other horses. If your horse tends to be aggressive with others then a mirror might may not be advisable.
Secondly, carefully plan how you will attach the mirror and make sure that it’s non-breakable; there are some excellent, inexpensive vinyl mirrors that can be stuck to the stable walls. Finally, only introduce a mirror when you have the time to stay with your horse, as some horses can panic when they first see their new ‘stable mate’.
Simply spending some quality time with your horse can help to alleviate tedium. Try to schedule in a daily grooming session or take some time to practise carrot stretches. A good stretching session will also help to keep your horse supple, as they can get a little stiff when standing in their stables for long periods.
Finally, remember that after being cooped up in a stable many horses can find the prospect of going for a ride or being turned out highly excitable. In these situations, it can be helpful to give them Foran Equine Nutri-Calm, a calming supplement containing B-vitamins, magnesium and L-Tryptophan. Nutri-Calm is available as both a liquid for daily feeding or in a handy syringe, ideal for occasional use.
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