When the weather is dreadful, we don't get out as often as we'd like to. How can we keep our horses mentally stimulated when we're riding less, and they're stabled more?
Veteran Horse Welfare has been running for 15 years, helping to keep older, less mobile horses happy. We asked Julianne Aston, trustee and director of the charity - who has herself worked with horses for 30 years - for her advice on how to keep a horse entertained through the long, dark winter months.
Playing is important for a horse and some horses like footballs to nose around. Trickle feeding balls are also a good option as they allow horses to eat slowly and keep busy.
Many horses enjoy the company of a radio voice. They often associate various DJs with certain times of day, such as afternoon feeds. The type of music can also make a difference: studies have shown that horses prefer classical music to chart music - so think about what your horse might really enjoy rather than keeping him up to date with the latest pop songs! And remember, if you have an older horse, he will be happy to sleep half the day, particularly once he gets over the age of 25. So turn the radio off for a couple of hours to give him some peace and quiet.
These are cheap and can help a horse feel like he has company when he sees himself (though some use them far more than others).
Horses enjoy physical contact, and would naturally groom each other in the wild or in the field, so this is an important part of your horse's routine. If your horse doesn't wear a rug in winter, you should avoid over-grooming as it removes some of the natural oils in his coat that help to keep it waterproof. If he does wear one, it is vital that you groom him at least once a day, preferably morning and night, to loosen and remove the dead hair, sweat and grease that build up under the rug. If you want to go the extra mile, you could even hire a massage machine or massage your horse yourself for a bit of extra TLC!
A haynet will slow down the pace of eating and keep your equine companion busy. You could even hide carrots in the middle as a surprise. Some people are wary of using these because they believe that a horse's teeth and spine are more correctly aligned when eating from the floor. It's up to you to decide what is best for your horse, and bring a haynet out as little or as often as you see fit.
A walk and a pick
Even going out for just 10 minutes morning and evening when you muck out will break the monotony of being stabled through the winter. You could also turn your horse out in a sand school for an hour, or at least while you muck out and make up the feeds - putting your horse in a different environment will stimulate him and break up the day.
The best thing of all, though, is to find a livery yard where your horse can be turned out. Veterans need to be turned out for a minimum of four hours a day to prevent stiffness, and all horses need lots of fresh air and regular exercise to keep them happy and healthy through the long winter months.