A horse becoming bored can be a dangerous and sad thing. A horse is not a toy, status symbol, or a thing to pull out once in a while when the mood strikes you. They experience boredom, sadness and happiness, just like people. Horse ownership is a time commitment, and you owe it to your horse to make their lives as happy and enriching as possible.
Mental stimulation is a huge part of horse care. If you want to keep your horse happy, you need to switch things up and get your horse’s brain working. This is especially true with young horses. No person would enjoy a mind-numbing life of doing the same thing day in and day out, so don’t do that to your horse!
If you are unsure whether your horse is bored, here are a few stereotypical behaviors that you can look out for.
1. Cribbing (typically biting onto something solid, then sucking in air.) (pictured on left)
2. Weaving (swaying of the head back and forth continually.)
3. Aggression (borne of frustration, not because your horse is “mean”!)
4. Listlessness (general air of unhappiness, “dull” or “dead” eyes, lethargic.)
This is not an all encompassing list. It is important that you know what your horse’s behavior is like when they are happy, that way you will know when that behavior changes.
I have a few go-to’s to keep boredom from setting in:
Trail Rides. Trail riding is so much more interesting than circling endlessly within the walls of an arena. When you take your horse outside, there is so much more to see, smell, hear and experience. Not every horse will be a good solo trail horse, but if you can find some trail buddies, it’s a really great thing for everyone to do! Hand walking your horse on the trails is a good option too. Your horse will appreciate the break from the monotony of the arena.
Fun Days. Don’t make every time you see your horse about work. Would you love somebody who only came to see you when they wanted you to work for them, yet offered you nothing in return? Playing with your horse or even just hand grazing them for a while is a nice change of pace. Basically, give yourself some hang out time with no riding and no work. This isn’t necessarily mental stimulation, but it gives them a break. Also, playing with your horse, or even just letting them graze while you give them a thorough grooming, are special bonding moments between horse and rider.
Groundwork. When I use the term “groundwork” I am NOT referring to lunging. (My thoughts on that will be a post for another day) What I mean is: Teach your horse some tricks, do some liberty work, create a little obstacle course for you and your horse to walk or jog through, or if your horse is jumpy, do some desensitizing. There are a lot of things you can do with your horse that don’t involve riding. All of those activities will require your horse to pay attention, learn new things, and create a closer bond with you.
Toys. Toys are a nice thing to offer your horse, especially if they are in their stalls for any length of time. If you have a young, easily bored, and/or very active horse, offering a stall toy may help curb their desire to turn to bad habits. It doesn’t have to be expensive either! It’s easy and cheap to DIY a simple stall toy. One of my favorite DIY’s only costs about $1! (pictured below). Not every horse will enjoy every toy, and your horse may not be into them at all, but the offer should be there. Toys are a nice addition, however they are not to be used in place of actually interacting with your horse.
What activities do you do with your horse to provide mental stimulation? How do you combat boredom in your horse?