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Enriching Your Horse's Life

  Studies have shown that captive animals live healthier, less stressful lives if they have opportunities to spend time doing things they'd normally do in the wild. Giving animals outlets for their natural instincts, ways to work for their food and interesting environments to live in is called enrichment. If you go to the zoo, you'll notice that many of the animals have toys that dispense fo...

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Enrich Your Pet Bird's Life

Enrichment, foraging, toys, devices and quality of life are all phrases that are thrown around in the pet bird world on a regular basis. We all have a general knowledge of what they mean, but is there truly understanding of how to create an effective enrichment plan for your pet bird? With this article, I hope to walk you through those terms, the end result being a more enriched life for your comp...

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Small Mammal Marketplace: Profit with En…

In line with the growing popularity of small mammals and pocket pets, the industry continues to showcase a large variety of fun, new accessories designed to appeal to the critters and to the 5 million U.S. households caring for at least one small animal. “There is a strong consumer demand for products that will provide both exercise and enrichment for small animals,” said Paul Demas project manag...

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Our aim is to provide humane education regarding environmental enrichment to enhance the life of all captive animals.

Thursday, 26 July 2012 17:05

Compulsive Behavior in Horses

The term stereotypy describes a sequence of behaviors that’s repeated over and over with no apparent function. Stereotypies occur in all types of animals who live in the care of people. Because stereotypies become increasingly fixed—the behavior sequences all begin to look exactly alike—and because they take up more and more of an animal’s time, they can interfere with other aspects of an animal’s life.
Without treatment or management, stereotypies in horses can lead to health problems, damage to the stable area and a great deal of distress for the horse’s guardian. Most equine stereotypies develop when horses are stabled or kept where they can’t interact socially on a regular basis with other horses or don’t get enough exercise or grazing opportunities. However, studies show that horses sometimes develop stereotypies even when they live in a pasture with other horses. Also, once a horse develops a stereotypy—for whatever reason—she will continue to do it even after the original problem has been dealt with. The behavior is particularly likely to resurface if the horse is stressed—even in a small way, such as having to wait an extra few minutes for a meal.
Equine stereotypies are categorized by a horse’s actions. The following is a short list by category:

Oral Stereotypies
Cribbing - Horses who crib place their upper teeth on a stationary object—such as the feed bin, their stall door or a fence board—and then arch their necks, pull a big gulp of air into their upper throat and abruptly release the air with a grunt. Approximately 4% of adult horses crib. Wind-sucking is similar to cribbing, but the horse doesn’t use a stationary object to steady herself when she takes the air back into her throat.
Wood-Chewing - Horses who chew wood nibble on any available wood surface. Many people confuse wood-chewing with cribbing—probably because both cause damage to the horse’s stall—but horses who wood-chew don’t grab the wood with their teeth, pull back and grunt as do horses who crib. Approximately 12% of adult horses wood-chew.

Locomotor Stereotypies
Weaving - Horses who weave rock back and forth against or in front of their stall doors or stall walls. If prevented from weaving against the stall door, they’ll weave wherever they are standing. Approximately 3% of adult horses weave.
Head-Bobbing - Horses who head-bob stand relatively still and bob their heads up and down repeatedly.
Head-Weaving - Horses who head-weave stand still and repeatedly swing their heads from side to side. Similar to head-bobbing and head-weaving are head-shaking and head-nodding. Shaking and nodding can develop because of inadequate stimulation, but they can also be the result of improper bit fit or other problems associated with the horse’s mouth, or flying insects around the horse’s face.
Stallwalking or Circling - Stallwalking horses usually pace back and forth close to the front of their stalls, although some circle continuously around the entire stall. Approximately 2% of adult horses stallwalk.

Self-Biting - Self-biting, sometimes referred to as “flank-biting,” describes repeated biting by horses at their flanks, legs or tail, or at the sides of their body and their lower shoulder blade area. Horses are very flexible and can bite at flies and other pests, of course, but horses who self-bite do so over and over when there is nothing touching their skin.

Wall-Kicking - Wall-kicking is common in horses, particularly at feeding times, but this behavior can develop into a stereotypy that occurs in the absence of specific triggers.


Comparing Stereotypies to Other Types of Behavior
Certain characteristics are associated, sometimes mistakenly, with stereotypical behavior. The following sections look at some facts and assumptions about these characteristics.

Horses with Stereotypies Are Persistent
Studies suggest that, compared to horses without stereotypies, horses with stereotypies have less self control and are more likely to persist in doing the same thing even when it doesn’t get them what they want. Studies also show they might have more trouble than other horses learning new things, but this is usually because they persist with an old response rather than trying something new.

Stereotypies Might Be an Addiction
Some horse stereotypies, particularly cribbing, cause a release of endorphins, the brain’s natural opiate. The release of endorphins is the body’s way of reducing pain, but endorphins can also cause a general feeling of well-being. This release of endorphins may maintain cribbing behavior with a horse similar to how an addiction is maintained in a person.

Are Stereotypies a Vice?
Some people refer to horse stereotypies as “stable vices.” However, most experts discourage the use of the term vice because it implies that a horse is being unruly or has some diabolical intent for engaging in the behavior.

Are Stereotypies an Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior?
Stereotypies are also often referred to as obsessive-compulsive behavior. Referring to stereotypies in horses as an obsessive-compulsive behavior also is not supported by some experts. This hesitancy is based on the fact that, in humans, obsessive-compulsive disorder is a diagnosis that suggests a cognitive component—particularly with regard to obsession—a component that can’t be assumed when assessing equine stereotypies. Labeling equine stereotypies as obsessive-compulsive implies that they all share a common cause and will benefit from the same treatment, which is not the case.

Insufficient Grazing
Given the opportunity, horses will graze almost continually. Pastured horses spend about 8 to 12 hours a day grazing. Most scientists believe horses require this amount of grazing time not to satisfy nutritional needs—something that can be achieved through grain supplements—but to satisfy their behavioral needs. Unfortunately, stabled horses can’t be provided continuous daily grazing time, either for management reasons or because it isn’t practical or safe to do so. In the usual stable situation, where horses are given a morning and evening feeding of hay and grain, stabled horses spend approximately 15% of their time eating. This drastic difference between their natural behavior and their stabled behavior is thought to be very stressful for horses and one reason for the development of stereotypies.

Limited Social Exposure to Other Horses
Horses are a social species, and a horse’s natural desire to be with other horses is very strong. Studies show that horses who have limited social contact with other horses, especially limited visual contact, engage in more stereotypies than horses who socialize regularly with other horses.

Excess Energy
As might be expected, horses with high energy levels, such as thoroughbreds and warm-blood breeds, engage in stereotypies more than other breeds of horses. It has been estimated that as many as 10% of racing thoroughbreds exhibit stereotypies, and most stereotypies remain when a horse is taken in as a companion following her racing career.

High-Concentrate Feed
Racing thoroughbreds are weaned relatively early in their lives, and some experts think the stress of early weaning might contribute to the development of stereotypies. However, one study of thoroughbred horses in the United Kingdom suggests cribbing might be influenced not by early weaning, but by the feed the foals eat. This study found that some foals began cribbing at the age of 20 weeks while they were still out in the pasture with their dams. These foals all had access to their dams’ concentrate feeds. Many experts now believe the high-concentrate foods contributed to the cribbing rather than the early weaning. High-concentrate feed can increase stomach acid, and cribbing might somehow reduce this acid.

Low Fiber
Scientists who observe stabled horses during the day find that horses engage in stereotypies more often in the afternoon than in the morning. In one study, horses received less hay in the afternoon meal, and this finding might indicate that reduced fiber contributes to stereotypies. However, fiber content versus amount of time grazing was not evaluated.

Horse owners have long noticed that some families of horses are more prone to developing stereotypies than others. Recent studies in the United Kingdom of captive Przewalski horses support this observation, because although all the horses had the same care, some families of Przewalski horses had more stereotypies than others. However, it’s important to note that genetics don’t cause stereotypies, they simply increase the likelihood that certain stressors will produce stereotypies in certain families of horses.

Frustration and stress are the two factors most likely to produce stereotypies in horses. Studies show that, in general, horses with stereotypies have higher levels of stress hormones than their stable mates, even when they aren’t practicing their stereotypy. Some experts suggest stereotypies might simply reflect overall frustration caused by such things as training and riding styles that are confusing for the horse. But most experts agree that the frustration is related to the horse’s feeding, social and leisure-time activities. In an evaluation to determine whether increasing the number of meals a horse eats might decrease stereotypies, half of the horses in a large stable were fed their normal ration of concentrate divided between two, four or six equally sized meals while the other horses continued to eat two meals per day. Oral stereotypies such as cribbing, wind-sucking and wood-chewing decreased as the number of meals increased, but weaving and nodding prior to feeding increased. At the same time, the horses who weren’t given more meals also showed increased weaving and nodding and an increase in oral stereotypies as their stable buddies received their extra meals. This tells us that frustration is a key trigger for stereotypies.

Consider Other Possible Causes of Your Horse’s Behavior
Photic Headshaking
Recent studies have found that some headshaking in horses is actually induced by bright light. The disorder is likely similar to photic sneezing in people (sun sneezing) and is more common in the spring than during other times of the year. Light—and sometimes sharp sounds as well—appear to over-stimulate the cranial nerve responsible for sensation in the face, resulting in the horse experiencing an uncomfortable stinging or pricking sensation in her nasal cavities.
The photic headshake is a relatively abrupt and violent toss, whereas stereotypic headshaking is rhythmic. Unlike stereotypic headshaking, photic headshaking generally worsens during work and can occur while the horse is trotting or even cantering, and it will stop abruptly when the horse gets back to the darkened barn. Covering their eyes will also stop the shaking. Photic headshaking is also usually accompanied by snorting and attempts by the horse to scratch her head on anything handy, including her foreleg or even the ground.

Injury or Medical Condition
Horses can engage in repetitive behavior or produce unusual movements when they are in pain, or as the result of neurological disorders. If your horse has no history of stereotypic performances and suddenly begins to do things such as head-bobbing, self-biting, foot-stomping or other behaviors that might indicate distress, have your veterinarian come out to your barn to rule out medical causes.

What to Do About Your Horse’s Stereotypic Behavior
Different stereotypies require different changes in a horse’s care to manage. However, as suggested by the causes listed earlier, you can take some general precautions to reduce your horse’s stereotypies:

  1. Increase the amount of forage to at least 15 pounds per horse per day.
  2. Use a variety of forage. In addition to your horse’s usual hay, you can feed commercial fiber cubes, whole carrots and other varieties of hay.
  3. Feed flake hay up to six times per day.
  4. Bed the stall with straw. Horses generally won’t eat straw, so it is excellent bedding in which to scatter hay and other grasses to increase your horse’s foraging time.         
  5. Studies have also shown that horses prefer straw to other types of bedding, such as paper or wood chips.
  6. Feed concentrates from a foraging apparatus, such as an Equiball. This choice is inappropriate for beddings where your horse could ingest sand or other fine particles.
  7. Exercise your horse regularly. You can help your horse get adequate exercise by regular training, lunging or round pen work. Because stress increases stereotypies, be certain to include casual rides with your horse’s more stressful daily work sessions.
  8. Provide access to other horses. The best way to do this is to increase pasture turn-out time with other horses because that will also increase forage intake. But simply increasing paddock turn-out time with barn buddies or increasing the number of turn-outs per day can also reduce stereotypies. If barn management or the horse’s monetary value prevents communal turn-out, creative barn adjustments such as installing bars in place of walls between stalls can help. Even increased opportunities to see other horses can help, so leaving the stall door open and installing a stall-guard can help.

Physical Management of Oral Stereotypies and Horse Welfare
Although treatment of any stereotypy begins with providing your horse adequate exercise, foraging opportunities and contact with other horses, management options are available to prevent horses from engaging in oral stereotypies. For instance, wooden fences coated with creosote can deter chewing, cribbing and sucking. An electric wire on the fence will prevent access to the wood. Cribbing and sucking wind can be prevented in some horses through the use of a “cribbing collar.” However, it is important to realize that these practices simply manage (avoid or prevent) the behavior. They do not remove the underlying motivation, and while they might decrease stress in horse guardians, they have been found to increase stress in horses. Studies have shown that stress hormones are highest in horses that perform stereotypies just before they begin to do the stereotypic behavior and lowest just after they’ve done the behavior. This tells us that performance of stereotypic behavior probably reduces stress for the horse. With this in mind, you’ll find it is better to treat stereotypies with changes in your horse’s management—changes that reduce your horse’s frustration levels or diet—rather than by using devices that simply prevent the horse from cribbing or wind-sucking. As mentioned, guardians should consider ways to increase foraging, decrease concentrate feed, increase contact with other horses and increase the amount of time the horse is out of her stall on a regularly basis.

Please see our article on Cribbing for more information on managing cribbing in your horse.

Management of Locomotor Stereotypies
Because almost all locomotor stereotypies are displayed while the horse is stabled, allowing your horse more time out of her stall can greatly decrease these behaviors. Social access to other horses is most important in reducing locomotor stereotypies, and keeping horses in a herd setting on pasture is the best treatment (and prevention). If increasing your horse’s access to other horses isn’t possible or your horse must be stalled for extended periods of time, providing social interaction with other horses in an adjacent stall as described earlier can help you meet her social requirements. Also, daily structured exercise will help ease frustration and boredom. Because horses are very social, they enjoy the company of not only other horses but other animals as well. So if there are no other horses in your barn, you can provide a different companion animal. Ponies and goats are the most common companions for horses because their size reduces the risk that they’ll be stepped on by the horse.
Studies also show that a mirror placed in a horse’s stall that allows her to see her own reflection can reduce locomotor stereotypies. Mirror size should be gauged by the horse’s size, but a mirror approximately 4 ½ feet x 3 feet is standard. For safety, mirrors should be acrylic, and acrylic mirrors made specifically for horses are available commercially. The mirror should be mounted where the horse can see into it at a natural relaxed head height. Avoid hanging the mirror near the feed manger to prevent perceived food competition.
As with oral stereotypies, you cannot always eliminate a locomotor stereotypy by correcting the deficiency. Care should be taken to provide your horse with a highly enriched environment so as to prevent behavior problems.

See Original Article Here

Published in Equine
Thursday, 26 July 2012 16:59

Bringing Home a New Horse

Horses are very social animals who will group together and form herds if given the chance. Because of this, new horses are often integrated into existing groups of horses with relative ease. It's still a good idea to consider the comfort of your new horse and your existing horses whenever you introduce someone new to your stable and herd. This comfort can be maximized—and problems minimized—by following a few guidelines when you bring home your new horse.


Preparing for Your New Arrival

Inspect your barn Even if you already have horses in the space you plan to bring your new horse, you'll find it useful to inspect your barn. A horse new to an area will likely sniff every corner. He'll also be less wary of potential hazards, particularly if he's spooked. It's up to you to check for loose nails, hooks and other sharp edges. Inspect walls and doors for spaces that might catch a hoof or head. Make sure your feed room door closes securely and that buckets are high enough that a hoof cannot reach them. Also, ensure barriers can be put in place to block face-to-face access to barn mates if needed.

Inspect the paddock A horse who's unfamiliar with his surroundings is more likely to find a weak spot in the fencing or a hazard than a horse who's spent months grazing in the area. Check for loose fencing and debris such as sharp fallen branches, old wire or trash. Check water sources for sharp edges. In addition, if your new horse will be turned out with other horses, be sure there are two water sources in case he's herded away from one.

Check your first aid kit Have medical supplies on hand just in case your new horse encounters a hazard you didn't anticipate.

Prepare the area for your new occupant

If your horse will be stalled, have clean shavings, a water bucket that's three-quarters full and some fresh hay set up before you bring him into the stall for the first time. Your new horse will investigate his space quickly, and he'll likely take less time to settle in if he's aware of his food and water sources. If you have a choice of stalls, choose one that gives your horse the most visual access to other horses.

If you'll keep your new horse in a paddock with shelter, prepare the paddock. Again, have the water source full and some fresh hay available before you bring the new horse into the paddock for the first time. If you have a choice of paddocks, choose the paddock that gives him the best visibility of other horses but doesn't allow him to touch another horse.

Prepare and place enrichment options in the area where you'll house your horse Enrichment is defined as the process of creating a challenging environment to satisfy an animal's social, psychological and physical needs. Enrichment enhances your horse's activities and provides mental stimulation. It can decrease the likelihood of cribbing, weaving and other unwanted behaviors. It can also help you shape his behavior in his new environment. For instance, you can provide him with mental stimulation by using various feeding options, such as treat-dispensing devices, an apple or carrot pieces bobbing in his drinking water and even something as simple as 4 to 5 small hay piles instead of one. Another idea is to provide him with a wall-mounted scratch brush to rub against. For more information about enrichment, please see our article, Enriching Your Horse's Life.


Introducing Your Horse to His New Space

To minimize the stress your horse might feel upon arriving at his new home, follow these steps:

Slowly walk your horse around as soon as he comes off the trailer. Allow him to sniff and watch whatever interests him. Then give him at least 15 minutes to walk around the area close to the stall or sheltered paddock where he'll be staying.

When you've finished letting him explore outside of his new space, take your horse into the stall or paddock and walk him around, stopping at water, food and enrichment sources.

Leave him in the stall or paddock, and observe his behavior for at least one hour before leaving him unattended. During this time, look for signs of his settling in, such as shaking his body as if he was shaking off water, eating hay, holding his ears in a relaxed position and breathing normally.

Ideally, your new horse should take at least two walks with you around the property after his first night. The walks give him an opportunity to learn about his new space and become comfortable. Strategically place treats where your other horses have been known to investigate or become aroused. Allow him to discover the treats, and make a game out of exploring the space.

Introducing Your New Horse to the Herd

Whether you have just one other horse or a herd, it pays to take the time to introduce your new horse to the herd in a systematic way. The process is often called a "howdy" process, and it gives the horses time to slowly introduce themselves to one another before sharing the same space.


Think of the howdy process as a series of stages in which you gradually increase the contact your horses have with each other. Increase the amount of contact your new horse has with the others when you no longer notice arousal when contact occurs at the current stage. How long the howdy process takes depends on the individual horses. Sometimes the process can take just 24 hours, while at other times it can be a week or two before the horses can safely be together in a paddock.


Here are the stages of the howdy process:


Visual access Begin all introductions for horses with visual contact. Again, horses are quite social and naturally form herds in the wild. They're a prey species, and they have increased safety in a herd. Giving your new horse the ability to see other horses decreases his fear response and helps him to settle in more quickly. Visual contact should begin as soon as your horse enters his new space.

Minimal tactile access Once the horses accept visual access without arousal, let them sniff each other and blow into one another's nostrils (a social greeting behavior). Don't allow them to intertwine heads or necks, however. You can prevent this from happening by using fence paneling or stall doors with guards at this stage of the howdy process. Watch for pinned ears, bite attempts, squealing and hoof strikes. Don't reprimand your horses for these behaviors. Simply observe. These behaviors are normal and should decrease each time the horses have access to each other.

Increased tactile access Once the horses stop reacting, you can increase the amount of contact they have with each other. If you're introducing your new horse to a large herd, begin the process with the dominant herd member. Use a tall barn door or non-slatted fence to avoid having horses tangle their hooves and legs in a slatted fence, as forward hoof strikes are common during introductions. Place one horse on one side of the partition, and the other on the other side. The horses should have the choice to approach or not approach each other, and they should have only enough access to reach in with their head and neck. If Step 2 was conducted correctly, there will be little contact at this stage, as the horses have already become familiar with each other. The horses might sniff and blow into one another's nostrils, touch heads, touch necks or groom or nip each other. As before, make note of squealing, pinned ears, bite attempts and hoof strikes. Unless an injury is imminent, don't interfere with these behaviors—just observe. Aggressive behaviors should decrease each time the horses have access to each other.

If you have multiple horses, once this stage is completed with the dominant horse, the rest of the herd can be given access to the new horse. Always observe responses, and don't move forward to the next stage until you see only a few aroused responses or none at all.


In-paddock access (full access) For this final stage, a bit of preparation is needed. First, be sure you've inspected the paddock. Place several piles of hay around the paddock, and load up the area with enrichment devices so that several activities are available for the horses. If possible, have the horses wear paddock boots, polo wraps or other leg protection. (If your horses never wear these items, don't attempt to use them for the first time during this stage.) In addition, if your stable setup allows, begin full-access introductions in a paddock adjacent to the area you've been using for increased tactile access.

Follow these guidelines when allowing the horses to have full access to each other:


Train your new horse to come when called before you turn him out with the group.

Conduct your full-access introductions immediately after an increased tactile access session. Your new horse should be able to just walk through a door to gain access to the paddock. This reduces change and helps the process go more smoothly.

It's normal for your new horse to be chased and pushed from the herd for the first few days. These behaviors should decrease rapidly, particularly if the other stages were conducted correctly.

Eating and drinking in the presence of the other horses indicates that your new horse is feeling more comfortable in the group.

Although there's always a risk of injury, it's less likely to occur when your horses are no longer pushing the new horse out of the herd while they're eating and drinking together. The risk of injury also lessens when your new horse shows signs of comfort such as lying down, relaxing his ears, breathing normally and grooming other horses. At that point, you can consider leaving your new horse unattended in the pasture wit


See the original article here.

Published in Equine
Thursday, 26 July 2012 16:44

Enriching Your Horse's Life


Studies have shown that captive animals live healthier, less stressful lives if they have opportunities to spend time doing things they'd normally do in the wild. Giving animals outlets for their natural instincts, ways to work for their food and interesting environments to live in is called enrichment. If you go to the zoo, you'll notice that many of the animals have toys that dispense food, objects to play with and things to perch on or climb. Many live with companions or are able to see other animals from their enclosures.


Even though they're not wild animals anymore, horses need physically and mentally stimulating ways to occupy their time, too. So what kind of enrichment should you provide for your horse? To determine the best strategies for spicing up his life, think about how a wild horse spends his day. In the wild, horses spend 60 to 80% of their waking hours grazing outdoors in family herds. Compared to this, many domesticated horses lead a very unnatural life. A typical stabled horse might not even be able to look out a window or see other horses. Because he eats a nutritious but highly concentrated feed, he finishes his meals quickly and then spends hours staring at four boring walls. No wonder many stabled horses develop habits like cribbing and weaving!


It's best to find a way to give your horse more time outside, preferably grazing with friends the way his wild ancestors did. But if your horse must spend a lot of time indoors, there are still many ways to make his life more interesting.


Edible Enrichment

Whenever horses hear someone scooping grain, happy nickers echo throughout the stable. Many of the grains and sweet feeds we give horses are delicious, so feeding time is often the high point of their day. Why not find a way to make the excitement last a little longer?

There are many fun feeding toys for horses on the market. Many of them dispense grain a little at a time so that horses can play and eat simultaneously. They get to spend more time doing something that brings them great pleasure and less time staring at stall walls or engaging in undesirable habits.

If you'd like to make your own feeding toy, you can clean a large plastic bottle and poke some holes in it. Hang it in your horse's stall at head level, and he'll soon discover that nuzzling or butting the toy makes grain fall out. You can also drill holes in any large, sturdy plastic container so that grain comes out as your horse pushes the toy around the stall or pasture. (A 10-gallon pail with a well-sealed top or a Boomer Ball® works well: You can provide a different kind of challenge by putting a few large rocks in your horse's feed bucket (too big to swallow) so that he has to work around them. These strategies not only make mealtimes last longer, but also make eating more entertaining for your horse.

Additional edible enrichment options include the following:


Place your horse's hay in many small piles around the pasture instead of in one big stack.

Hang carrots and other tasty snacks from high places so that they swing and take a while to eat.

Your horse can "bob for apples" if you leave some in his water bucket or trough.

Scatter treats around the pasture or stall, which will encourage your horse to forage for his food the way his wild ancestors did.

Try the Pasture Pal® Feeder, a toy that's ideal for horses who have limited opportunities to graze outside. You can put your horse's entire ration of grain in it, and when he nuzzles the roller, grain will fall out onto a plastic tray.

A company called Likit makes an assortment of long-lasting toys that horses love to lick, like the Jolly Stall Snack Treat and the Likit Tongue Twister. You can hang them from the ceiling of your horse's stall or mount them on the stall wall.



Non-edible enrichment items that you can put in your horse's stall include the Jolly Apple™, the Pas-a-Fier (a rubber toy that your horse can bite), knotted ropes and tires. If your horse gnaws on wood, he'll enjoy the Pas-A-Fier, which can be mounted in the corner of his stall. As your horse nuzzles and chews on the toy, it releases a tempting apple scent. Many horses also enjoy toys that they can kick around, like the Jolly Ball®. For playtime in the pasture, try the Equi-Spirit™ 40" soccer ball, an enormous, puncture-resistant toy made especially for horses!



Any time you're with your horse, you're training him—whether you realize it or not! Your horse is learning every time you interact with him. So take advantage of the many opportunities you have to teach your horse every day.

Riding and driving horses get training enrichment any time you take them out for exercise. But there are other kinds of training you can try, too. Clicker training is an exciting new technique that's rapidly gaining popularity in the horse world. It's great for horses of all ages, but clicker training can be particularly beneficial to horses who are too young or too old to ride and need a good mental workout! Horses are extremely intelligent and tend to learn very quickly with this method. Please see our article on Clicker Training Your Pet to learn how to get started. Begin by teaching a few easy tricks. If your horse enjoys clicker training, you can start incorporating it into your riding and groundwork as well.



An easy first behavior to teach is targeting—teaching your horse to touch something with his nose on cue. You can use a bucket, a traffic cone or a closed fist as your first target. It's best to start this training with your horse in a stall. If he starts mugging you for your treat bag, you can immediately step away for a few moments to teach him that obnoxious behavior never earns a reward.

Not only is teaching your horse to target a lot of fun, it's practical, too. Once your horse learns to target something, like a small ball on the end of a stick, you can use this new skill to move your horse around without any physical force at all—which is great when you're working with an animal who's much larger than you are! You can use targeting to move a fearful horse into a dark barn or to lead him over a bridge or an obstacle on the ground. You can even use targeting to teach a horse to load into his trailer without fussing. See our article on Teaching Your Horse to Target for more information. (You can use a clicker instead of the word "Yes.") We also recommend reading Alexandra Kurland's book, Clicker Training for Your Horse, which explains how to use this exciting method to teach your horse a new way of learning.


Try Something New

There are many different disciplines in the riding world, like dressage, hunter/jumper, driving, endurance, Western performance and games, reining and cutting. If you have a fit horse who's getting weary of one sport, you can always start training him in another one. Who knows? Maybe he has talents you haven't discovered yet!



Horses are very athletic animals and require regular exercise to stay happy and healthy. If you don't have time to ride your horse daily yourself, consider a part-lease or finding an enthusiastic horse lover who's willing to help keep your horse fit.

Riding in circles in an arena can get dull, so if you live in an area where trail riding is possible, consider teaching your horse to be calm and well-mannered on trails. Following an experienced equine friend may help him get used to the great outdoors. Lunging and working in a round pen are other ways to exercise your horse. (However, these activities shouldn't be his only form of exercise because constant turning can put stress on his legs.) Even a walk down a new road can be exciting enrichment for a horse who's too old or too young to be under saddle.


Tactile Enrichment

Horses enjoy all kinds of sensations. Here are a few ways to indulge your horse's sense of touch:

Remove the broom handle from a natural-fiber push broom and secure the broom to a stable, free-standing pole or to the wall of your horse's stall. Make sure the bristles are at withers-level. Your horse will love the opportunity to scratch himself on and off throughout the day.

Build a high mound of dirt or sand in your pasture for your horse to climb, or give him a nice sandy patch to roll in. (Sand is easier to brush off than mud!)

Massage your horse. This is a great way to bond and soothe any sore muscles. Massage can also help calm a fearful horse. There are various massaging techniques, including the popular Tellington TTouch®:

Set up a sprinkler from time to time so that your horse can enjoy the cool spray. Some horses have fun playing in the stream of water; others simply enjoy a cool shower on a warm afternoon.



Allowing a sociable horse to spend time in a field with friends is one of the best ways to enrich his life. Even when resting, horses tend to stand close together, and good friends often groom each other's neck and shoulders. If turn-out time is impossible for some reason, visual contact with other horses can help make your horse's life more interesting. At the very least, your horse's stall should have a window to the outdoors so that he can watch what's going on and catch a glimpse of other horses instead of staring at bare walls.

If your horse lives alone, we strongly recommend getting him a friend. It's ideal to house your horse with another horse or a pony, but a donkey, a burro, a llama or a goat can also provide great comfort and enrichment. Horses develop bonds with all kinds of animals, including cats, dogs and even rabbits.


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Published in Equine