Picture this: It’s six thirty in the evening. You’re tired from a long day at work. All you want is to get to the barn, get your horse’s stall cleaned, and maybe get in a quick ride before you head home to eat dinner and collapse.
You walk into the barn and sigh. Your horse’s stall is a wreck. There is more hay beneath his feet than bedding. He’s been working on that tunnel to freedom again, too: the gnawed spot on top of his stall door is easily an inch deeper than it was yesterday. And look at those hoof-marks on the wall. He’s been kicking. Last time he kicked the stall walls, he was lame for a week.
All to easy to picture? As horse-owners, most of us have dealt with at least one of these situations at some point. The stall-walking, the kicking, the wood-chewing: what does it all mean?
Is your horse bored?
If your horse spends all or most of his time indoors, boredom is a pretty good bet. Horses are nomadic by nature; all the domestication in the world isn’t going to change their innate desire to walk about, and graze, and gaze at the horizon, for the majority of their life.
But endless pastures of waving prairie grass aren’t an option for most horse-owners. What can you do to help your bored horse out? Here are five tips to help relieve equine boredom.
1. Check your stall size. A horse stall’s minimum size is generally accepted to be 12 x 12 feet. This gives the average horse enough room to walk around, lay down, and separate eating areas from manure areas: all natural inclinations for a horse at pasture. If his space is smaller than that, it becomes difficult for him to keep his stall clean, and when his hay becomes soiled with manure, he’ll be out of food and grow bored. And speaking of hay…
2. Slow down that hay burner! A horse that blows through three flakes of hay in an hour is destined to spend the rest of the hours between feedings looking for something to do. And if he’s stalled, that probably means he is going to pick up some nasty tricks: whether eating through his walls or eating his own manure. If you have to feed hay in big portions once or twice a day, consider a special hay-bag or hay-net with tiny openings to ration out the hay slowly. The longer he has clean, fresh hay to eat, the more content he will be.
3. A room with a view. A horse with a window — especially if he can hang his head out said window — can be a very happy horse. Herd animals who seek one another’s company for comfort, and prey animals with a nearly 360 degree field of vision and hearing, horses naturally prefer to be as aware of their surroundings as possible. If your horse has a window — or at least a dutch door or cutaway stall gate — he’ll have a whole new world to capture his attention.
4. Amusements. Maybe your horse is an inveterate chewer, and no amount of extra space or stimulation is going to break that habit now that it’s engrained. There are toys for that! Give him something to chew on that isn’t part of your barn. Tack shops, feed stores, and catalogs offer all sorts of “pacifiers,” with or without flavored fillings, that can keep a horse with an oral fixation happy and keep your barn standing upright.
5. Just let him out! Although there are some situations where real turn-out, in a big field, just isn’t a possibility, do you have a little extra space behind the stall? Attaching a small pen to the back of the barn for free-choice turn-out might be for you. Just the ability to walk inside and out, to soak up some sun and enjoy the view, might make all the difference for your bored horse.
Having a bored horse left to his own devices all day can really mean a mess for an owner, to say nothing of possible health and mental issues, such as ulcers and excess energy, that can mean expensive vet bills and less effective training. Consider some of these tips as you come up with a plan to amuse your horse, and maybe ease up your workload in the barn!