Bored horses can develop bad habits that may become irreversible- such as wood chewing, cribbing, and disobedience. What can you do to keep your horse mentally stimulated and prevent destructive boredom? Only you know the best way to keep your horse engaged, happy, and healthy, but here are some tips.
#1 - Slow your horse’s eating.
Horses evolved as foragers, meaning they spend most of their time seeking out and eating the juiciest and most nutritious plants. In the wild, a horse will spend up to 16 hours foraging. By giving them food they can consume within an hour, they are not using as much time or brainpower on eating.
Pasture feeding is the closest thing to a natural diet your horse can have. They’ll spend more time on, and get more exercise working for their food, and will have less opportunity to become bored.
If you don’t have access to a pasture, buy a slow feeder to help your horse work harder for their food. They’ll appreciate spending more time eating.
At a minimum, you want to feed your horse twice a day. More is better. Not only is one big feeding bad for your horse’s mind, it’s more likely to cause colic.
#2 - Give them a companion.
Horses, being herd animals, rely on having companions to be truly happy. Time spent with you is good, but they benefit the most from having other animals around- preferably herbivores and ideally other horses. If your horse can’t interact with other horses in their barn, they will benefit from having stall walls and doors low enough to see them.
#3 - Provide plenty of exercise.
Horses kept in stalls are especially likely to develop boredom problems. Unless they are on strict stall rest due to a severe injury, it's important to take them out for walks a minimum of once or twice a day. Turning out your horse for a full out run for at least an hour on days when they aren’t being ridden is a minimum for maintaining your horse’s happiness.
#4 - Provide toys and challenges.
These don’t have to be expensive. An empty milk jug that must be turned upside down to drop treats or an apple hanging from the roof of the barn can give your horse something to keep them stimulated for a little while.
#5 - Vary your training.
Horses enjoy variety, and doing the same thing every day can become monotonous. Try teaching them a new trick, riding a new route, or just leading them on a different path back to the barn. Too much change can be stressful for horses, though, so be thoughtful about how you are adding variety. Being ridden by a different person every day could be a stressful type of variety for your horse.
The biggest key to providing mental stimulation for your horse is to pay attention to them and figure out what they do and don’t enjoy. Don’t waste your time hanging apples if they don’t enjoy eating them that way.