Beat The Heat This Summer

Enrich your horse’s life

Enrichment is a way of providing a more natural environment for your horse, ensuring mental and physical wellbeing. Enrichment techniques can be used to meet your horses’ needs in a range of different ways. Read on for horse enrichment ideas to help get you started…

Horses are naturally inquisitive and playful animals that like to spend much of their time moving and walking – sometimes up to 30km per day in the wild – as well as grazing and browsing hedges and trees for 16 to 18 hours a day. They are also herd animals, used to living in groups, and will often mutually groom and play, alongside keeping watch while other members of their herd sleep.

In a domesticated setting, horses are often stabled for long periods, turned out on their own and only have access to a limited diet, but this is where enrichment can help. By providing enrichment, you can not only meet your horse’s natural requirements, but also help your horses thrive and live a fulfilling life.

Horse enrichment isn’t just about preventing boredom, it’s also about understanding your horse’s natural behaviours and providing them with the opportunity to express them. 

Equine enrichment can be broken up into different categories:

Social enrichment

As herd animals, horses like the company of other horses and feel safe in a group. Therefore, giving them access to equine friends at all times, such as turning them out in groups so they can graze and mutual groom, and stabling them next to other horses so they can see and even touch each other as well as feel comfortable enough to lie down and sleep, is really important.

Try these tips at home:

  • If your horse is stabled, ensure they can see other horses from their stable.
  • Horses who are on box rest or can’t socialise with other horses may benefit from interaction with their owner.
  • You could also allow them to mutual groom their friend over the stable door to break up the isolation of box-rest or long periods of being stabled.

Physical enrichment

In their natural environment, horses come across a multitude of stimuli in the form of different terrains, watering holes, woods and open planes. Modern settings often limit this stimulus to just a field and stable, but we can improve their physical environment by…

  • Providing a variety of different food points and water stations both in the field and stable with piles of hay placed in different areas and water located away from the food source.
  • You can also offer forage in different ways such as in hay nets, loose on the floor or swapping with forage replacers.
  • Providing a sand or dirt patch for horses to roll in.
  • Planting trees or setting a telegraph pole in the ground to allow them to scratch on.
  • Setting out track systems around your paddocks to encourage your horse to walk longer distances.
  • For stabled horses, stable toys, treat balls and scratch pads fitted to the wall can offer environmental stimulation.

Nutritional enrichment

Horses are designed to eat for up to 18 hours a day, so giving them the opportunity to eat forage little and often is important, but there are other tasty treats we can offer them to get their taste buds working…

  • Give your horse their treats or balancer in a treat ball so they have to work for it, which will also replicate trickle feeding.
  • Allow your horse to forage safe leaves and plants in the spring, and you can even pick a selection for them and put them in your horse’s field and stable.
  • Offer your horse a variety of different herbs – you could even grow your own herb garden and allow your horse to choose their favourite.
  • Create a snack box by filling a cardboard box with hay and hiding yummy treats such as sliced apples and carrots.
  • Make ice lollies with their favourite treats for hotter days.

Sensory enrichment

Another enrichment we can tap into is our horses’ senses, including sight, sound, touch and smell:

Visual enrichment

Horses are designed to roam vast plains and forests and would spend time scanning their horizon to check for predators and locate members of their herd. To enrich your horse visually, you could…

  • Provide mirrors for horses stabled for long periods to provide stimulation. Be aware that some horses may not appreciate an intruder in their stable, so monitor their reactions and remove the mirror if they aren’t happy.
  • Ensure your horse can see out of a door or window to the other horses and the outside world.
  • Add new things to their living space to give them something to look at.

Olfactory enrichment

Horses spend a lot of time sniffing out what to eat, where the predators are, finding their young and for mating. To enrich your horse’s nose, try these…

  • Hide tasty treats such as herbs in their hay or around their stable and in their bedding to sniff out.
  • Take some of your horse’s old bedding when you move stables to help them settle quicker.
  • To encourage fussy feeders, add succulents or herbs to their feed.

Tactile enrichment

Horse’s love nothing more than to practise self-care in the form of grooming, rolling and scratching. Some ideas for tactile enrichment include…

  • Ensure your horse’s stable is big enough and the bed is thick enough that they feel sufficiently comfortable to lie down and roll.
  • Horses love to scratch, so old broom heads of scratch pads fitted in the stable and field are great for reaching those itches.
  • Allow them access to horses they are sociable with for mutual grooming.
  • Scratching horses at the withers has been shown to reduce heart rate and can help to relax a horse, so give your horse a good scratch.
  • Horses also like playing in water, so streams and natural water sources are ideal.

Auditory enrichment

Hearing is important for horses so they can listen out for predators and locate other horses in their herd. Some ideas for auditory enrichment include…

  • Play different types of music and see what encourages your horse to relax and eat more in the stable.
  • Ensure your horse has access to quiet time with no loud sounds or prolonged periods of loud music.
  • Playing classical music has been shown to reduce anxious behaviour and even improve sleeping and eating behaviour.

Do you have any tips for managing horses in the hotter months? If so, we’d love to find out. Head to our Facebook page and let us know