Just like us humans, horses can suffer from a lack of entertainment and stimulation when they are stabled more during the winter months. Here are some ideas of things you can do with your horse during the colder weather that will keep them mentally stimulated.
There are a multitude of toys on the market these days that can entertain your horse, including ones that are specifically designed for use whilst your horse is in their stable. One of the most popular toys for horses is the variety of balls available, these can be simple balls for your horses to play with, one filled with treats that can keep your horse entertained as they work out how to get the treats out, or various teethers and salt licks that can double as a toy for your horse.
You could even make a toy for your horse to keep them entertained, bear in mind if you do this that research has shown horses prefer food dispensing toys!
Entertainment may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you read the word haynet but keeping your horse busy is another way to keep them entertained during the winter months. By using small holed or double netted haynets you can slow down the eating pace of your horse, you could even hide a homemade treat or carrot inside as a surprise. Whatever your views on haynets, if you do choose to use one, it is your discretion as to the amount of time you use a haynet or it is brought out for your horse to feed.
Back in 2004 Horse and Hound released an article confirming that research has proven a mirror can reduce the stress in your horse. Although some horses do not respond to a mirror, many do. This is a cheap way to not only keep your horse entertained but less lonely during the winter. There are a few things to be aware of if you place a mirror in your horses stable. Make sure you place the mirror in a position where the horse is able to chose whether they look at it or not, it should not be placed in a position where the horse can see itself close up whilst feeding.
If you, or someone you know, owns a dog you may have, or noticed, leaving a radio on so the dog feels as though they have some company whilst left for short periods. The same thing can help with your horse and not only the soothing voice of the DJ but playing music for them can also help. Studies have shown that music can reduce nervous or anxious behaviour, cribbing or box walking, lower the heart rate and can even increase feeding, which can benefit horses during the colder months. Be mindless of the length of time the radio is on if you chose to play some music for your horse, older and veteran horses may prefer a bit of peace and quiet.
Try out different genres to find out which your horse prefers; they won’t all be fans Brahms!
Horses naturally groom one another in the wild and they appreciate and enjoy physical contact, which they may experience less of during the winter months. One of the ways to comfort your horse during the cold weather is by grooming them, however, if your horse does not wear a blanket in winter it is advised you avoiding over-grooming as it will remove the natural oils in their coat which help keep them waterproof. If your horse does wear a blanket during winter you do need to make sure they are kept groomed, at least once per day, to remove and loosen any dead hair, grease and sweat that has built up under their blanket. You could also braid their mane or tail or give them a massage!
These are just some of the options available to you to keep your horse stimulated and entertained during the winter, there are plenty more such as; a quick 10 minute walk, turning your horse out in a sand or indoor school, changing their environment, even teaching them to paint!
Remember, it’s important to keep your horse healthy and happy, especially during the winter. The best thing for your horse is exercise and fresh air. If you can find a livery yard, this is ideal, as your horse will be turned out and, particularly for older horses, will keep their joints flexible and stiffness at bay during the cold weather.