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Stable Enrichment

Horses are kept stabled for many reasons, but one of the disadvantages is that the horse is kept in a confined space with restrictions on movement, feeding and interaction with other horses. So what more can we do to provide for our horses if they need to be stabled? 

  • Last reviewed: 14th July 2022
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If this is your first time exploring enrichment options for your horse, make sure you read through our guide which advises on how to introduce these safely. 

Horse Licks

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 tasty fruit ice block.

Horse Lick

Fruit and Vegetable Kebabs

These provide a nice variety of fruit and vegetables for your 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. To help prevent the risk of choke, this type of enrichment should only be provided to horses with good teeth. 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. 

Fruit Kebab

Different types of fibre

Introducing a selection of fibre sources around the stable using different buckets (in addition to hay/haylage) provides variety and allows your horse the opportunity to browse between the 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. 

Haynet

Stable toys & feeders

Ball feeders and hanging toys can help to provide mental stimulation and be a more interesting way of feeding. Your horse works 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 your 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 moving the ball results in a food reward. This also provides some additional movement for the horse. 

Grooming

Mutual grooming is one of the most common social activities in horses. The wither area is often a preferred spot! By taking the time to give your horse a good groom it helps: 

  • Improve the human – horse bond 
  • Lower your horse’s heart rate 
  • Increase blood flow to the skin’s surface 
  • Promote a healthy coat 
  • Massage large muscle groups 
  • Allowing you to check for any lumps and bumps 
  • Incorporate some gentle stretch exercises such as gently lifting a front leg forward 

Music

A research study1 investigated the effect different types of music had upon horses. Classical (Beethoven), country (Hank Williams Jr.), rock (Green Day), and jazz (New Stories) were played for 30 minutes each. The researchers recorded detailed a wide range of behaviour observations (120 per horse per genre). They also observed the horses’ behaviour for 30 minutes without music.

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! When leaving a radio on for the horse, if possible, country music may be the preferred option. 

Mirror, mirror on the wall?

Research has found that use of stable mirrors can: 

  • Reduce the incidence of stereotypical behaviour.2 
  • Benefit horses suffering from separation anxiety as they can see another horse. 

Here’s some tips on using mirrors 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 your 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 your 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 recommend you remove the mirror. 

Feeding

There are many different advantages and disadvantages to either feeding from the floor or feeding from a haynet/rack so it’s important to consider all factors and which method best suits the needs of your horse.

Feeding from the floor

One top tip when feeding from the floor is to put piles of food in different areas so your horse isn’t stood in the same spot. It’s also useful to use large plastic tubs to prevent waste. 
This method: 

  • Is a natural eating position for your horse. 
  • Is good for horses who are fed ad lib. 
  • Can cause wastage to be dragged into dirty areas of the stable. 
Feeding from a haynet/rack

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. Horses have 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.  

This method: 

  • Increases feeding time compared to feeding from the floor - for horses on a strict diet, small holed haynets/hay balls take even more time to eat. 
  • Can encourage movement if haynets are hung up in different areas of your horses’ stable. 
  • Isn’t recommended for horses with neck/back problems as it can place your horse’s head in an unnatural eating position. 

Windows

Giving your horse an additional option of looking out of their stable can provide more interest for them, particularly if they’re stabled during the day. 

References
  1. Greening, L. et al. (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.