If you’ve spent any time around horses, then you know they are intelligent creatures who can easily become bored. Horse toys can help stave off boredom and provide mental stimulation.
“Horses, by nature, are very active beings,” says Erin Rice, director of medical services at Performance Equine Veterinary Services in Summerfield, Florida.
In the wild, horses live in herds and are constantly interacting with one another, so a horse’s mind is active all the time.
“Studies reveal that they show significant intelligence, and with intelligence will come boredom if there’s nothing to do,” Rice says.
The Need to Play
To keep horses mentally stimulated, experts recommend some type of daily positive reinforcement and play.
“Horses get relief from positive reinforcement, and play gives them mental stimulation and a release of endorphins,” Rice says. “It’s really good for them to move around on their own and get that mental stimulation. Toys give them something different and it gives them something that is fun and relaxing for them so it’s not just work all the time.”
Playtime is not only a rewarding experience, but it can also help keep horses out of trouble.
“Like any animal, horses crave a mix of comfort and familiarity as well as a challenge,” says Dr. Peter Heidmann, DVM, internal medicine specialist at Palm Beach Equine Clinic in Wellington, Florida.
When conditions “trend towards a humdrum routine,” stress and boredom can occur. And with monotony can come a slew of unwanted behaviors, such as cribbing, weaving or excessive chewing. For this reason, horses can benefit greatly from the stimulation of playing with toys.
Keeping Your Horse Engaged
To help you keep your horse mentally engaged, provide them with a variety of horse toys and stall enhancements.
In The Pasture
One that even a non-horse person can recognize from YouTube videos is the Horseman’s Pride Mega Ball Horse Toy. This horse ball is essentially a thick yoga ball that horses can play with while they are enjoying some outdoor time in a paddock.
“This is a great pasture toy,” Rice says.
Horses can toss it around using their nose or their legs.
“They are very bright colors so they stimulate the horses,” she says. “And through play with these, horses are able to get out energy and they can release endorphins and things like that.”
Rice notes that horses will enjoy kicking, lying upon and sitting on the horse ball. She warns that these can and do pop, but notes that the company is really great at replacing them when they do break.
In order to get your horse to engage with these balls, Rice recommends kicking them around the pasture to show your horse that they are OK to play with.
“Just be safe, as you don’t want a horse barreling towards you to get to the ball,” she says.
Horses are very food motivated so treat dispensing toys and puzzles are a great horse toy that will hold their interest and keep them busy.
“Puzzles and challenges that slowly dispense feed stimulate a horse’s natural curiosity and their evolutionary need to graze almost continuously,” Dr. Heidmann says.
He recommends filling them with low-density feeds to mimic a natural environment.
Another option that can be used in paddocks or tied up in stalls is the Horseman’s Pride Jolly Ball. It basically a giant plastic ball with a handle that a horse can pick up with its mouth.
“I find that often they flip it back and forth almost like they are shaking their head yes,” Rice says.
In addition to playing with the horse version, she also finds that her horse likes the Jolly Pets Teaser Ball Dog Toy, just as much as they like the equine one.
“The ball is just as sturdy and hard, but it’s got a rope attached so they can actually pick it up and swing it around,” she said. “I find that those are super durable.”
In The Stall
For the stall, the Horseman’s Pride Stall Snack with Apple Scented Ball is an engaging and fun toy that is sure to capture your horse’s attention. This interactive horse toy comes with an apple-scented ball, which will pique the curiosity of your horse.
“Treat-based toys like this are great for stalls or for use in a really small paddock,” Rice says.
To entice your horse to check out this snack, or similar apple mineral block filled toys, Rice suggests getting the block a little wet.
“It will start to crust and oxidize a bit so that puts a nice crusty film over it,” she says. “Horses can smell that, so when they do touch it or they do lick it, they will know right away that it’s something for them.”
The Horseman’s Pride Salt on a Rope Horse Treat is another great boredom buster for in the stall.
“It has a snack or a salt lick or an apple mineral lick in the middle of it and you can attach it to their stall,” she says. “So, when they lick it or bite it, it moves around so they have to play with it.”
Even though the horse toys suggested are durable, Rice notes that they are still made of plastic and can eventually break down. For this reason, a horse should be supervised while playing with them.
“You obviously don’t want them swallowing any pieces so it’s very important that if you notice your horse’s toys start to fall apart, that you remove them or replace them with new toys,” she says.
You also need to make sure that your horse has the proper space to play with his toys. Horse salt licks and smaller treat toys are ideal for smaller, more enclosed areas. The mega horse ball, on the other hand, is meant to be enjoyed in paddocks or pastures.
“You can put them in a very large stall but I wouldn’t recommend it,” Rice says. “You almost don’t want your horse getting too playful in a stall because you would hate for them to play with them and get hurt.”