When the pasture can no longer be the permanent playground for horses, the question often arises for the rider as to how best to keep the animal busy. Quite a few animals then quickly lack constant contact with the herd and they start to do mischief, e.g. nibble on blankets and other objects. In these cases, the right horse toy can declare war on boredom – we’ll reveal how!
This is How Boredom Expresses Itself in the Horse
In spring and summer, many horses spend most of their time together with their fellow horses in the pasture. Boredom is rare here. But in autumn and winter, when the paddocks are muddy, the box must serve as an alternative to ensure the health of the animals. However, some horses will quickly get bored here. This is usually expressed in a similar way: by boxing, nibbling, cutting, or weaving.
Weaving is understood to mean when a horse is constantly moving back and forth with its upper body. That means it is constantly shifting weight from one front leg to the other. On the other hand, when it is clipped, the animal grips a solid surface such as a trough or a fence with its incisors and swallows a lot of air in the process. During this process, endorphins are released in the body, which – as is the case with humans, by the way – can be addictive.
Boxing, on the other hand, is self-explanatory: the horse continuously turns its laps in the box. However, because the space is so limited, this can quickly lead to excessive stress on the tendons, ligaments, and joints. Nibbling on the wood of the stable door or the walls can also be harmful, as the incisors wear out so much faster and this can lead to immense dental problems.
Toys for Horses Against Boredom
When you hear it like that, you as a rider understand immediately that boredom in the stable can quickly have negative effects. Because: once these bad habits become firmly established in the horses’ heads, it is very difficult to drive them out again. So if you observe that your horse is weaving, coping, nibbling, or constantly running through the box, it is important to act quickly.
Specifically, this means that you should keep your horse busy. There are very different approaches that you can use. For some horses, just feeding them can be enough to reduce boredom – after all, they are busy for the time being. Others, however, are a little more demanding. This is the moment when horse toys are worth considering. Before we introduce some of them in more detail, we would like to show you a number of different options:
- Close-meshed hay nets to extend the feeding time.
- Branches whose bark can be nibbled off (attention! Make sure that they are not poisonous).
- Lick stones in different flavors.
- Play balls for hanging and rolling.
- A supplementary feed with a calming effect.
- Shared moments while working on the ground, riding, lunging, and grooming.
It is Important to Note That
There are some general factors to consider when choosing your horse toy. If possible, it should not have any sharp corners or edges, otherwise, there is an increased risk of injury. If it does, it is better to grind and round it off. In addition, it is beneficial if the openings are either limited to 5 cm – so no hoof will fit through – or if they are larger than 35 cm – then the hoof and head can easily free themselves again.
Furthermore, you should definitely check whether the toy is really harmless to your health. Unfortunately, some of the toys available in retail stores aren’t meant to be nibbled upon either. But sometimes that cannot be prevented at all. Specifically, it should not contain any plasticizers. The best thing to do is to ask for food-safe toys.
Food is (not) a Toy
While we teach our children that food is not meant to be played with, it is the other way around for our pets. Because one of the simplest and most popular horse toys is actually food. So not only branches (as mentioned above) but also hay and straw can be a wonderful occupation.
The best way to use them is to put them in a hay net. Here the horses have to pull and tug a little until they get their snack and are thus occupied longer while eating. Or you hang up hay nets with special surprises. This means that you e.g. hide some pieces of carrot or apple in it, which can then be found and are a sweet treat.
Would you like to find out more about hay nets? Then take a look at this post, because here we explain everything you need to know about the topic. Alternatively, you can also use specific horse feed dispensers. You can also fill these with concentrated feed or fruit and vegetables. There are also very different techniques that stimulate the animals to puzzle and play.
Nibbling Fun for Horses
Does your horse tend to nibble? Then give him something that’s designed for just that. Here you can easily design your own horse toy. This is particularly easy if you simply put a nice, thick branch in the stable or even hang it up. Your darling can chew and nibble on it to their heart’s content. The following tree species are particularly suitable:
- fruit trees (including apple, plum, and pear)
By the way: As soon as the bark has been chewed off, however, you should remove the branch, because the hardwood can, in turn, cause dental problems when it is worked by the horse. In addition, there are some tree species that are completely unsuitable as horse toys, as they are more or less poisonous for the animals. This includes:
- sycamore maple
Versatile Enjoyment: Lick Stones
You probably know the typical salt lick stone from the horse stable. It provides important minerals and also serves to keep the animal busy. But what you might not know is that these lick stones come in many other flavors as well. Simply provide a little variety by hanging up herbal or fruit licking stones (e.g. with apple, banana, or raspberry flavor) in the box or on the paddock. You can only provide even more entertainment if you change the position of the stones more often – hang them on the wall sometimes and from the ceiling sometimes.
There are also bronchial licks. These not only provide employment but are also healthy. They are also very easy to do yourself. For this you need:
- 500 g sugar or better xylitol (healthier sugar substitute)
- 7 drops of anise oil
- 10 drops of eucalyptus oil
- 7 drops of fennel oil
- 7 drops of chamomile oil
- 7 drops of thyme oil
Put about 50 g of the xylitol in the mortar and pound it into powder. Slowly heat the rest in a saucepan until it begins to melt. Now add the oils and continue to heat the whole thing until a uniform, thick mass is formed. Now put some powder xylitol in a bowl about the same size as the mass. Pour the warm mixture on top and sprinkle with the remaining powder. A solid crystal should form over the course of 2 to 3 days, which you can then drill a hole through to hang it on.
Pass, Goal! – Game Balls
Are you looking for an ideal toy for young horses, donkeys, or the herd as a whole? Then you should give a ball a try. These are available in very different sizes and are loved to be kicked, nudged, and carried around. Some horses seem to play football with it.
And the ball can also be the perfect horse toy in the box. To do this, simply hang it up, because lying on the ground the animal could not do much with it. It’s very easy – and inexpensive – if you simply get a stable ball (e.g. football or volleyball). You then place this in an old hay net and hang it from the ceiling. Now your four-legged friend can tug at it and play as it pleases.
Make Horse Toys Yourself
Of course, you can also easily conjure up some great horse toys yourself. One idea that we particularly like is the grab ball filled with carrots. You only need 3 parts for this:
- A grab ball for babies (attention: absolutely food-safe, preferably made of wood)
- A lead rope with a carabiner
- About 5 to 10 carrots
Then stick the carrots through the round openings in the grab ball so that it is nicely full. Then hang the grab ball with the carabiner on the lead rope and attach the whole thing to the ceiling or to the barn. If the horse wants to get to the carrots, the ball moves back and forth and makes feeding a little more difficult. A great horse toy that you can easily conjure up yourself.
Favorite Activity: Exercise!
But there is one thing you shouldn’t lose sight of with all the great toys: Horses are animals that move. That is, they want to spend large parts of the day moving. So if it is not possible to go too long pasture due to the weather, you should make sure that your four-legged friend still gets enough exercise.
You can of course just ride a horse for a while and switch between gaits. A little lunge lesson is also a wonderful option so that the muscles are warm and the horse works out. Alternatively, you can also work on the ground – for example, lead your horse through an obstacle course or just go for a walk with him. Even mere contact with you with extensive care can work wonders on the mind.
Together with some (selected) horse toys, your animal should be so exhausted that it sleeps soundly in the box. That way, the idea of weaving, nibbling, or even bobbing will no longer come up.
Caution! Check Symptoms
If your horse does not come to rest in spite of the best toys, you should definitely contact the veterinarian. This will check whether your animal is missing something else after all. After all, coping and weaving can also be symptoms of various diseases. And even if that is not the case, he sometimes still has tips and tricks ready that you did not think of yourself. Together with him, you can then find an individual solution for the mood of your horse and its shelter.