What is enrichment?
Enrichment creates a greater variety and choice and positively contributes towards the horse’s physical and mental needs, for example by providing the opportunity for natural foraging behaviour when a horse is stabled.
Why do horses need enrichment?
The image below highlights some of the key natural behaviours of the horse:
- Opportunity for mutual grooming
- Opportunity for play – especially for younger horses
- Herd animals – live in social groups
- In the wild horses travel many kilometers daily
(8 -23km in one study1)
- Forage based diet
- Graze up to 16-18 hours
- Freedom of movement – good for gut health
Depending on many different circumstances, horses may have to be stabled and potentially for longer periods of time such as box rest or having to keep horses on very restricted grazing, which presents a different environment compared to being turned out:
- Lack of opportunity for mutual grooming
- Significant decrease in movement
- Feed may be consumed quicker if fed concentrates
- Decreased foraging and browsing opportunities
- Potentially long periods of time
- Lack of interaction with other horses
When there is a change in management, horses can all react differently to their surroundings. Some horses adapt comfortably, while others can become stressed. The good news is that regardless of what facilities you have available and type of horse, there are steps you can take to improve enrichment.
Introducing new enrichment
- With any food-based enrichment, check the sugar levels especially for those horses prone to laminitis or are overweight for example, licks/tubs may have to be used in moderation as it has been known for some horses to devour a whole tub in one night! Any food given should count as part of their daily ration.
Photo credit: The Mare and Foal Sanctuary
- Introduce new items carefully, especially for those horses that are naturally more worried or nervous. It’s important to keep a balance so we don’t overwhelm or cause stress and anxiety unintentionally!
- Introduce new items outside of the stable for example in an arena, so the horse feels confident to approach, smell, touch and move the item in an area they know they can ‘escape’ from if worried, rather than ‘trapped’ inside the stable with it.
- As we know, they’ll be some horses who won’t worry at all and will happily dive straight in to investigate the new item!
- Some items can cause frustration, so should be introduced to the horse correctly so they understand what they need to do.
- Introduce any new food gradually over a minimum of 14 days to decrease the risk of colic
- If your horse is on a restricted diet, using different ways to slow down the rate of consumption will help your horse’s ration last longer therefore keeping them occupied for longer.
1. Hampson et al. (2010) ‘Distances travelled by feral horses in ‘outback’ Australia’. Equine Veterinary Journal. 42, s38, p. 582-586.