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Horse Behavior

6 Tips to Help Your Horse’s Boredom

When horses get bored, they sometimes get destructive, as many chewed stall walls and broken fence rails can attest. A bored horse is a horse looking for something to pass the time, and unfortunately, their ideas often cause damage. Buckets, troughs, stalls, fencing—horses can break them all!

Photo by Daniel Johnson/Paulette Johnson

You can try to stop the damage by installing chew guards or similar preventive measures, but a better fix is to figure out how to keep your horse from becoming bored in the first place. Time outside is probably the best equine boredom buster possible. Horses naturally prefer to graze most of the day, and when they’re grazing, they’re probably not engaging in destructive pastimes. Grazing is excellent for your horse’s mental health, and it’s often the best for their physical well-being, too.

The problem, of course, is that this isn’t always practical or possible. Many horse owners—and even boarding facilities—don’t have the acreage to ensure that every horse on the property can be outdoors all day. Or perhaps it’s winter and your horse doesn’t have anything to graze on. Or perhaps he needs to be kept in a stall while healing from a health issue, or maybe you stall him at certain times to avoid weather or wildlife.

Whatever the case, there are many solutions to the destruction dilemma. Here are six horse boredom tips:

1. Hay nets/bags

Many horses enjoy hay nets, and they offer a couple of benefits. For one thing, hay nets generally slow down the amount of time it takes a horse to consume their meal, which can help limit a horse’s boredom, plus it better mimics the grazing process of picking smaller amounts at a time.

Some horses simply love batting the hay net back and forth and tearing large mouthfuls of hay out of the holes, so it has a high entertainment value as well. Hay nets are relatively inexpensive, so you can’t really go wrong.

2. Toys

Some horses love toys, while others could care less. You’ll have to experiment to see if your horses enjoy toys, and if they do, the toys can be an excellent distraction from boredom.

Some horses are endlessly entertained by stall toys; others are not. Try a few to see what type your horse may like the best. Photo by Daniel Johnson

Many equine toys—like the popular Jolly Ball and its kin—are made of soft, durable rubber and feature an equine-friendly grip that makes it easy for a horse to hold the toy in his mouth and wave it around. The sizes range from not much bigger than a dog toy to large rubber balls. Many horses love playing with these objects and catch on to the concept quickly.

3. Food toys

You can combine the concept of the hay bag (where the horse has to work harder to get the food out) with the fun of a toy by supplying your horse with a food toy.

These work like some dog toys, where you insert treats or licks into a toy that your horse has to spin or manipulate in order to reach the goodies. It can keep some horses occupied, and the entertainment value may last longer than a regular toy thanks to the incentive of the treat.

4. Music

It’s difficult to say whether horses enjoy music, but some researchers say that yes, it can have a calming effect. But much of the time, you probably don’t notice any particular difference in your horse’s behavior whether the barn radio is playing or not.

They certainly don’t seem to dislike music played at a lower volume, but you can try it out on your own horses to see. One study showed that horses seem to be most calm when listening to classical or country music.

And while music may or may not help with horse boredom, a barn radio can be helpful at times as a distraction. Perhaps you’re having unusual construction work, chain sawing, or loud machinery operating near the barn—if that’s the case, then turning on the barn radio can help muffle the sounds (at least partially) and provide your horse with a “everything is normal” atmosphere, especially if you normally play music while cleaning stalls or feeding.

Another case would be if a horse’s best equine buddy needs to leave the barn for a time; the music can be a distraction, or at least keep the barn from sounding completely quiet. You might also have success playing music during farrier or vet work.

5. Grooming

You can also help break up your horse’s day and introduce a diversion to his indoor time with regular grooming sessions.

Many horses enjoy this, and the time it takes to fully groom your horse’s coat, tidy his mane, clean all his feet, and comb his tail are all times that he’s being occupied and engaged, with less time to stand around thinking about which portion of the wall to chew on next.

6. Games and tricks

Finally, if you have a bit of extra time but don’t need to ride, you can enjoy some one-on-one time and keep your horse occupied by teaching him some simple games and tricks. Horses can easily be taught to bow, smile, paw, come, and to fetch toys on command. It’s mentally engaging for them, and can be useful for breaking up long blocks of time.

Teaching your horse tricks, such as the Spanish walk, can be a great way to engage his mind. Photo by Daniel Johnson

Stall time doesn’t have to be boring for your horse, and hopefully some of these ideas will help keep him occupied—and help keep the stalls and fencing intact!

This article about horse boredom tips appeared in the October 2021 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Daniel Johnson

Daniel Johnson is a freelance writer and professional photographer, and watcher of horse movies. His favorite is probably Misty (1961). He’s the author of several books, including How to Raise Horses: Everything You Need to Know, (Voyageur Press, 2014). Dan’s barn is home to Summer, a Welsh/TB cross, Orion, a Welsh Cob, and Mati and Amos, two Welsh Mountain Ponies.

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