What is enrichment when caring for horses?
This article is to help you understand the use of enrichment in the care of horses. It's easy to own horses and have all their welfare needs met by providing good grass, forage, shade, water, good fencing, fly rugs, using fly spray, picking out feet, a daily feed with a balancer. All these things are great. It is what we need to provide as the basics to looking after a horse or owning a horse.
However, horses can get so bored because they don't have massive acreages to wander around in to be able to explore and have Woodland and open water and Hills and things that are naturally found in the environment which are natural enrichments. Mostly horses are in small paddocks, very often on their own, often next to other horses but not actually in with another horse. That is not such a good life for a horse that is naturally a herd animal and who would really choose the company of two or three other horses over a life of solitude. I realise that some horses must live on their own because of their behaviour. They may be fear aggressive with other horses and fight - causing injury risk. However, as a rule, most horses live much more enriched lives because of the company of other horses. They then get the chance to make bonded partnerships, play, generally interact, mutually groom each other, lie down together, mooch around field alongside its mate, ET cetera.
Whatever way we look after our horses, we need to think about the things that we can do to help them have a more interesting life - where we can encourage exploration and play and problem solving and seeking. There are so many ways to enrich a horse’s life.
At the time of writing this article, it's August. The grass is dying off and their paddocks are starting to look quite bare. It’s a great time to offer up enriching foods to give variety. Things that they absolutely love are cow parsley, cut dried nettles, sticky bud, big dandelion’s - things that you find in the hedgerows which have now gone from their paddocks, but you can probably find at the side of the road. By cutting and wilting off nettles and throwing them into your field or putting them into their stable they get a good source of iron and a bit of joy because most horses just love dried nettles.
In extremely hot weather it is important to make sure that your horses do have good shade to be able to get out of the heat. If they cannot get out of the heat in their paddock, they maybe need to come inside a stable during the heat of the day- providing the stable is not an oven. You might need to run a fan or make sure that there is good air flowing ventilation. This is a need, it is not an enrichment, but nonetheless it enriches the horse’s life by being able to get out of the heat and rest. By providing treat balls with some nuts inside to nudge about for trickle feeding. A hay net with verge weeds or carrots mixed in with the hay makes for more interesting foraging. A dangling rope with a turnip, carrots, apples, a banana, or an orange will keep a horse occupied for ages to help with boredom.
Thinking about enrichment ideas for your horse is the same as thinking about enriching our own lives. What is it that we can have on a hot day that would be nice, special and something that we really like, probably an ice cream? If you have room in your freezer then freeze some Apple juice in a tub with some pieces of Apple in it and give your horse that tub of frozen Apple juice on a hot day. Now that is an enrichment!
Throwing toys into a field for young horses or any horse who has a playful character. A big football or a Pilates type ball so that they can kick it, throw it about, move it, jump on it! Sawing down the branch of a tree (making sure it's not a poisonous tree of course_ and laying that branch in their paddock, will give your horse endless time for nibbling off the leaves and the buds and chewing on the bark and even sometimes dragging the branch around. Young horses will certainly drag it about.
If you feel it is a safe idea for your horse, then a ball pool with nuts scattered about underneath the balls again encourages playful foraging as they move the balls about to find their nuts.
Some horses love water and actively paw it with their front legs, some like to roll in it or put their nose ends under it. Although it might now last long a large, strong dogs swimming pool can provide so much joy for them as well as for us watching them play!
Enrichment is simply about giving your horse the opportunity to explore new things, problem solve things, play with things or the joy of eating new things. I have only scratched on the surface here. Use your imagination or Google ideas from the internet. You will have a happier, more confident and inquisitive horse as a result.