A horse can enjoy many benefits from having toys handy to keep them entertained when stuck inside, including promoting mental health, training enrichment, and alleviating boredom.
Horses are herd animals, genetically programmed to spend their days walking and grazing, not standing alone in a stall. Stall toys can provide light exercise and play, which benefit the horse by reducing stall stress.
Sometimes it is impossible to give a horse enough turn out time due to factors beyond your control. A simple stall toy, such as the Jolly Ball horse toy, can keep a horse from suffering worry and stress from being cooped up for too long. And a Jolly Ball, for example, can be used both inside a stall attached to a rope and outside in a turnout pen to provide mental and physical stimulation for your horse.
How can stall toys help horses?
Having a toy in the stall is especially good for horses who tend to pick up bad habits such as stall weaving, pacing, pawing, wind-sucking, and cribbing. These nasty habits are believed to be induced by horses spending too much time indoors when they have energetic tendencies. Young horses, especially, tend to crave more entertainment than they can find in a basic stall.
Physical and behavioral problems can result from experiencing boredom in a stall. Some horses can even develop ulcers from spending too much time in a stall, partly from the stress of inactivity, but also because their stomachs produce acid continually due to the natural tendency to graze throughout the day.
The best way stall toys can help horses is by providing a substitute for their natural behaviors that might be exhibited in the wild, such as foraging for food or playing with other horses.
Toys that hide treats and snacks inside below a layer of hay, causing the horse to need to work a little bit to reach the reward are becoming popular for this reason. Not only does this keep the horse busy, but it mimics the horse’s natural behavior of searching out food.
As mentioned by Horsey Hooves, another benefit that stall toys can provide is a tactile stimulation, such as an object a horse can rub against or scratch on. During turnout time, a horse can often be seen scratching against a tree or a fence post, but in a stall, this is much more difficult.
Salt licks and other flavored treats that a horse can lick are available to hang in the stall, and these can provide stimulation as well. In the hot summer months, a salt lick can also provide the added benefit of keeping those electrolytes replenished and encouraging hydration. A good one to try is the Himalayan salt on a rope.
Why do horses need toys?
Behavior is always a concern with the horses that we ride, mostly for safety reasons. A typically well-behaved horse can take a turn for the nasty if left in a stall for long periods of time, acting up out of annoyance over their prolonged confinement or worse. Horses don’t respond well to being left alone and can pick up annoying habits their owners would rather they didn’t.
While turn-out time is essential, there are sometimes circumstances that prevent a horse from getting the stimulation they need. Whether it be traveling to rodeos or shows, bad weather, or even injuries that require stall rest, it can sometimes be necessary to keep a horse confined for its own good. Some horses handle this better than others, but helping them pass the time with something healthy to do is a good idea.
Toys can also be used as training tools, and some people will use them as a way to acclimate a horse to things they are skittish about, such as tarps, cones, flags, and plastic bags. Young horses, especially, can become desensitized to “frightening” objects if they are allowed to play with them and explore them. You can get creative with how you choose to use stall toys with your horse.
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Other Things to Consider
It is easy to find a wide variety of toys available to stimulate your horse in the stall, from pacifiers to scented, flavored lickable toys, so it might be tough to decide where to start.
First off, be sure to consider safety. If a toy is hung from a string or rope, be sure the height is appropriate for your horse so as not to provide a tangle hazard for their legs or neck. Hanging toys too high, also, can be detrimental by causing strain in the poll, neck, and back.
The material is important to consider as well. Toys made specifically for horses are made of durable material that will hold up better when your horse decides to play rough or battle a stablemate for the toy. You want to be sure it won’t easily rip or burst when the horse bites or paws the toy.
Check frequently to ensure that wear on the toy has not caused any sharp edges or fragments of material that could be dislodged and cause a choking hazard.
Ensure that any vegetables and fruits added to a food-dispensing toy are small and won’t cause choking. It is also important to be sure the food inside doesn’t mold or rot before the horse dispenses it.
The Last Note
While it’s up to you whether your horse might benefit from stall toys or not, remember that horses get bored easily, and it might be necessary to switch out the toys from time to time should you decide they benefit your horse.
Training, pleasure rides, and simply grooming and playing with your horse should not be overlooked, but toys can help enrich their time in the stall when it becomes necessary for your horse to remain in the barn. There are many ways you might see improvement in your horse’s attitude and behavior, and who doesn’t want a healthier happier horse?