During the numerous lockdowns and restrictions throughout the Covid-19 pandemic we’ve had to stay in our homes longer, potentially impacting different aspects of our lives. However, we have adapted and attempted to enrich our lives with new ways to help keep us occupied (jigsaw sales were at an all-time high in 2020!), exercise (thank you Joe Wicks) and interact with others virtually (zoom calls galore!). And it’s emotional; we all have our different coping mechanisms. So bearing that in mind, what more could we provide for our horses if they need to be stabled?
Before providing new enrichment options for your horse, ensure these are introduced correctly.
There are numerous types of different horse licks available such as mineral, salt and flavoured licks. These can either be hung up in the stable or put in as a tub. Be careful as some horses have been known to devour a whole tub in one night, so these may need to be used in moderation!
On warmer days, cut up your horse’s favourite fruit and veg. Pour on some fruit juice mixed with water and freeze to make a fruit ice block.
Fruit and Vegetable Kebabs
These provide a nice variety of fruit and vegetables for the horse including carrots, apples, parsnips, turnips, swede, watermelon and banana. With a hole cut through the food, a piece of baler twine or thin rope can be used to thread the food on to and then hung up in the stable. This is suitable for horses with good teeth as caution needs to be taken to help prevent the risk of causing choke for those with poor dentition. Where possible fruit and vegetables should be sliced lengthways, but if fed in whole pieces, it’s important to feed when someone is present on the yard.
Different types of fibre
Introduce different fibre sources around the stable using different buckets (in addition to hay/haylage) provides variety and allows the horse the opportunity to browse between the different options. This can include short chop chaffs, fibre mix, fibre cube and fibre mash. In addition you can hide strips of fruit, vegetables or fibre nuts, within their hay/haylage. Contact a qualified nutritionist, either through a feed company or independent, who can help you formulate an individual feed plan for your horse.
Stable toys & feeders
Ball feeders and hanging toys can help to provide mental stimulation and be a more interesting way of feeding – the horse has to work for the food which helps to slow down the rate of consumption when, for example, feeding fibre nuts or concentrate feed. Introduce gradually by placing some food on the floor next to the feeder. This should help encourage the horse to investigate and move the ball. If not, you may need to scatter food over a small area and move the ball so your horse starts to understand that to move the ball = a food reward. This also provides some additional movement for the horse.
Mutual grooming is one of the most common social activity in horses. The wither area is often a preferred spot! By taking the time to give your horse a good groom it helps to:
- Improve the human – horse bond
- Can lower the horse’s heart rate
- Increases blood flow to the skin’s surface
- Promotes a healthy coat
- Massages large muscle groups
- Allows you to check for any lumps and bumps
- Incorporate some gentle stretch exercises such as gently lifting a front leg forward
A research study1 investigated different types of music - Classical (Beethoven), country (Hank Williams Jr.), rock (Green Day), and jazz (New Stories) which were played for 30 minutes each.
The researchers recorded detailed behaviour observations (120 per horse per genre) according to an equine ethogram. They also observed the horses’ behaviour for 30 minutes without music.
Horses showed the same balance of restful and alert behaviours during classical and country music as they did when there was no music at all. However, on average the horses ate quietly while country music played.
Jazz and rock music caused horses to display more frequent stressful behaviours (as compared to silence), indicated by stamping, head tossing, snorting, and whinnying. Overall, the horses disliked the jazz music the most!
Mirror, Mirror on the wall?
Research has found that use of stable mirrors can:
- Reduce the incidence of stereotypical behaviour2
- Horses suffering from separation anxiety can also benefit.
Here’s some tips on using them safely:
- Many horses are naturally cautious when they first see their reflection. It can take a couple of weeks to accept and benefit from the mirror
- Always use safe materials such as acrylic plastic
- Make sure the mirror is positioned so the horse has a choice to look at their reflection or not
- Be wary of installing mirrors along the whole length of a wall, or close to a horse’s eating area as this can cause more stress and anxiety / or aggression and protectiveness of their food
- If you find your horse responds with constant aggression, we recommended you remove the mirror.
|Feeding from the Floor
||Feeding from a Haynet/Rack
- Natural eating position for the horse
- Put piles out in different areas of the stable so the horse isn’t stood in the same spot
- Good for those horses being fed ad lib
- Can cause wastage being dragged into dirty areas of the stable
- Use larger plastic tubs to prevent wastage
- Increases feeding time compared to when fed off the floor
- For those horses that are on a strict diet, small holed haynets /hay balls take even more time to eat (introduce gradually – it can cause frustration)
- Small holed haynets are not recommended for horses with neck / back problems
- Horse’s head in unnatural eating position
- Hang up in different areas of stable
When using small holed haynets, it is recommended to slowly introduce their use by decreasing the hole size gradually or packing the net lightly to start with. A horse has an inherent need to express feeding behaviour so a small amount of hay given on the floor to eat first may prevent some frustration, as they are not trying to eat from the small holed haynet when they are hungry and motivated to forage.
There are also many products available on the market to help slow down the rate of consumption for forage such as hay balls.
Giving your horse an additional option of looking out their stable can provide more interest for them, particularly if they’re stabled during the day.
Photo by Jon Stroud Media
1. Greening, L. and Carter, C. (2013) Auditory stimulation of the stabled equine; the effect of different music genres on behaviour. ResearchGate.
2. McAfee, L. et al. (2002) The use of mirrors for the control of stereotypic weaving behaviour in the stabled horse. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 78 (2-4) pages 159-173.