You may be familiar with the new buzz term ‘Equine Enrichment‘, if you haven’t then it simply means to ‘enrich the lives of your horses’.
So, how do we do this? Well enrichment isn’t simply just about putting in a couple of toys in the stable – although it’s a great starting point and if you’ve done this already, well done!
Why enrichment is a great way to engage and support your horse
Well, it is mainly to do with the horse’s brain, specifically the Limbic System. This covers olfactory (smell) sensations, emotions, learning as well as some other areas. We can link the mental process of the Seeking System, which is integral to our horse’s motivation, urge to explore and desire to understand. When the environment is engaging and interesting (enriched), these systems become interactive and can support learning and emotional development.
Enrichment can take place inside and outside of the stable and doesn’t have to just involve food. Let’s take a look at both of these environments and look at the areas we can enrich.
Foraging is a natural part of a horse’s behaviour, however the area of the stable reduces the space in which a horse has to forage. If we combine this with a single haynet and bowl of feed, the horse doesn’t need to look far for their food. While we do want the horse to have available forage, it’s also fun to let them engage their brain in the stable.
Foraging Tips Changing the types of foods available to your horse, perhaps adding branches in to the stable or hiding carrots in the hay net.
As well as foraging, we can also look to facilitate learning with a Puzzle. You’ve most likely figured out that your horse is very intelligent – for instance they know the sound of the feed room door and what that means, they can see the head collar a mile off in the field…. so let’s give them something to figure out that motivates them too.
Puzzel Tips Reuse an old lead rope or twine by tying in some different favourite fruit and veg.
Sensory learning can take place through different senses; touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. We all have our own preferred smells and there are also smells that can trigger memories, feelings and so on.
FUN FACT! Did you know that humans have 5-6M olfactory receptors in comparison to dogs who have approx 150-300M – cows have over 6 x more olfactory genes than humans. Although the exact number of receptors in horses is not yet known, it is thought to be approx 30M.
Sensory Tips Make use of some buckets and make up some different natural teas. The horses may not drink, but prefer to inhale.
Introducing play is a great way to bring learning in to the stable in a fun way. Play is like a puzzle, but the key is that play is interactive so it needs to involve you 🙂
Play Tips Clicker training – or positive reinforcement can be used with marked cones. When the horse touches the correct cone, click and reward (you might even hide the reward under the cone). If you’re feeling confident, add a word e.g. colour or letter, to each cone. See if your horse can learn which sound matches which cone. Loads of fun!
The modern paddock is quite different to what horses would expect to meet in the wild, so why not take your horse on a walk to sample some of the wild forage?
Forage Tips Collect and add branches around the field – connecting them to random poles will also promote movement around the field.
Adding a puzzle to forage in the field. If your horse is barefoot you could use a Nibblese hay net on the ground to hide fruit and veg,
Learning Tips Create puzzle forage boxes, it will be a pleasant surprise for them.
Do you normally groom your horse in the field? It’s a great way to bond as well as providing them with a good scratch, particularly if your horse doesn’t have anything in the paddock to naturally scratch themselves on.
Learning Tips Groom or provide a self grooming area in the field. Brush heads can be screwed to secure posts. Don’t forget horses love to scratch in hard to reach places such as their belly, bum and inside the thighs.
Playtime in the field is something we see a lot of in the wild and in large herds. If your horse doesn’t have many field mates (we would recommend at least 1 as horses don’t function as well alone) then playtime with you in the field would be both a great bonding session and also something a big fun.
Learning Tips A large yoga ball is great for teaching the horse to nudge towards you. Play catch with your horse!
The Enrichment Challenge
If you enjoyed this article, then I would highly recommend popping over to the Thunderhooves Enrichment Facebook Group. The group runs fun free activities where you can share your photos and get more tips and advice on enriching your horse’s environment. They also offer achievements which can be purchased for a small cost and when you achieve a number of activities you and your equine can earn a beautiful rosette without leaving the yard! Click to –> Join the Group