Best of JN: Adding Enrichment to Horse Management

If you want to keep your horses happy and healthy, it’s important to enrich their natural setting. In this week’s Best of Jumper Nation, Gillian Warner discusses ways you can keep your horse mentally stimulated even when you’re not with your equine pal.

Horses are curious animals that thrive on social interactions in herds while spending their time outside grazing. It’s ideal to create environments in which horses are mentally and physically stimulated, but recreating a “natural” setting – one with large spaces with varying terrain and herds or access to 24/7 grazing – is not always possible.

Finding opportunities for socialization and grazing is important to your horse’s management. Photo by Gillian Warner.

Limits on land, bad weather that requires horses to be off fields, or strict diets for horses with certain needs are just a few of the limitations to providing this sort of natural enrichment for the horse. That said, there are other ways to incorporate enrichment into your horse’s life.

Beyond the few hours of human interaction they get daily, what does their routine look like?

Are they able to interact with horses? Even if they can’t be in the same field as another horse in turnout, are they provided the opportunity to interact over a fence line or through a window in the stall? Equine interaction is an important component of well-being so finding creative ways to ensure contact will be a benefit to your horse.

In addition to social interaction, it’s important for horses to be eating throughout the day to prevent ulcers with the constant production of stomach acid. Providing free-choice hay in multiple locations can encourage more natural grazing patterns, encouraging the horse to move from pile to pile. Additionally, by utilizing slow feeder nets, the time spent eating is prolonged, decreasing the time in which boredom can set in (and limiting the caloric intake, if you have an “easy keeper”).

Pushing past horse management strategies, other efforts to engage your horse in a new way can help add mental and physical stimulation into their life. Utilizing toys in the field or stall can keep a curious horse exploring, adding play into your work routine can mix up your training, or introducing a new exercise can appropriately challenge the horse to think through your question and problem solve.

Identifying toys your horse enjoys engaging with can make time in the stall more interesting! Photo by Gillian Warner.

Adding even a few of these techniques in an effort to mentally and physically stimulate your horse when they don’t have access to management strategies facilitating natural behavior will help reduce boredom through variety in their days. Mixing up their routine can be a great way to explore their personality and your relationship with them in and out of the saddle.