Progressive & Thought Provoking Discussions about Wild & Domestic Animal Behavior, Animal Careers, Animal Training, & More!

E: Environment, Enrichment,
Education, & Endangered Species

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Equine Enrichment

Welcome to E! This section is dedicated to the environment, enrichment, and education about animals and related topics.This section is dedicated to environmental enrichment for equine. Horses and ponies can benefit from efforts that keep them mentally occupied and challenged.

Equine Enrichment
How to Enrich the Life of Your Horse

In the different areas of animal management there are trends that suddenly become popular. Enrichment is the word that refers to enriching the environment of the animal so that the animal is physically, mentally, and emotionally occupied.

Although some people want to break the term down into environmental and behavioral enrichment, I prefer not to mask or categorize the effort. In some fields, environmental enrichment refers to toys or activities (usually food oriented) placed in the environment while behavioral enrichment refers to changes catalyzed through conditioning or training. Simply put, if you enrich the animal and the animal's environment that is the activity we call "enrichment."

Animals that lead a well-rounded and enriched life will be the ones more likely to have a good temperament, be more reliable, be curious, and be less likely to pick up bad habits. This means that you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and heartache later in your life and in the life of the horse you have as your companion!

Every animal needs some basics. If you have read my article, Equine Essentials, you will already have a good idea of what your animal needs to have a good quality life. There are four enrichment areas that this article will introduce you to:

Mental Occupation
Physical Activities
Companionship Interactions
Food Occupation

You can provide a variety of environmental enrichment activities for your equine easily. Mental activity is actually triggered by problem solving, play, and training. All of those require mental processing and learning.

Toys and food puzzles are good items to help in this process. An odd shaped ball that dispenses a few pellets here and there or a net filled with a mix of grass hay with your regular hay that you feed can also be good. Varying or increasing your feedings (while reducing the amounts fed at each offering) helps.

If you can get the horse out to pasture at least once a week that is ideal! Don't forget about those pieces of sod grass since they can be fun for your horse too. You can even grow that long kitty grass and make it into a toy! Be sure that you always remove anything that could be hazardous to your equine or in the toys you introduce.

In addition to your normal riding and training efforts, trick training can be fun for both you and your horse. Have a good time teaching your horse to do a variety of new things. If you are not really creative get Clicker Training for Your Horse and try it out for fun. Don't be serious in this process and keep the sessions really short and upbeat! Remember that this is supposed to be fun for you and your horse!

Toys are fun for a horse and easy for you to provide. You might be familiar with the scented apple made from rigid plastic. Usually it can be hung up high so that the horse does not become entangled in the suspension rope or cord. Any toys hung this way stimulate the horse to swing them and generally knock them around. They can also be placed on the ground.

There are also durable inflated balls that have a handle that assists the horse in picking them up with their mouth. They will shake them around, run with them, nose them and even kick them across the ground. Empty plastic trash cans (those colorful ones sold for your home) or other containers can also be used.

Get creative, even some of the bigger rigid plastic kid toys might work! Traffic cones are also good stall toys and can be thrown good distances by the experienced horse! You can often see them tossing them up in the air and then trying it again.

Some horses like to untie things. You might tie multiple knots in a piece of cotton or natural fiber ropes and attach them around the barn and stall area for them to untie. This allows the horse to engage in the activity and keeps them out of trouble. Don't use items associated with working and be sure to use special clips or learn more complex knots for when you are out and need to tie your critter up!

Another type of enrichment is through physical activity. Horses need to get out into different environments and to run, roll, and frolic. This helps them to be better working animals. Many will also become more calm and curious animals if you do this. Dust or grassy areas to roll in and mud baths are great for your horse. Areas to romp and kick up their heels before you ride or work are a couple of other suggestions.

Having your animal visit other pens, barns, working areas, pastures, or new trails are some of the other activities you may want to try. You can also explore these and other areas on foot or on the back of your animal. How about a fun ride or a local horse show thrown for fun?

We put together one show where we all got together in the training arena to show each other what our horses had learned and we even dressed the part. My favorite costumes were the people that came as carrots. Their hair was even died green and bundled up in ponytails for the carrot greens!

Don't forget about the value of companionship! If you can interact with you horse that is great, but be sure to do it daily. If you cannot do so make arrangements for other people to come and visit, groom, rubdown, massage, bath, or work your horse for you. There are many teenagers who would be interested!

You might even consider making arrangements with the stable so that your horse can get out onto neutral territory to play with other compatible animals. Equines are very social critters and having friends to scratch, play, and hang out with is good for them. Even rotating stalls at the property can be stimulating.

I hope this article has spurred some new ideas for occupational and enriching activities for your horse. Remember you are required to have fun and be creative while you enjoy your horse!

More books of interest on clicker training your horse:

About the columnist: Since 1978 Diana L. Guerrero has worked professionally with both wild and domestic animals. Guerrero has been affiliated with, and certified by, a variety of animal programs in the USA and Europe. Based in California, she writes, consults, and speaks. Information on her animal career programs, training courses, and her books {What Animals Can Teach Us about Spirituality (SkyLight Paths, 2003), Blessing of the Animals (Sterling, 2007), Help! My Pet is Driving Me Crazy (Guerrero Ink, 2007), Animal Disaster Preparedness for Pet Owners & Pet Professionals (Guerrero Ink, 2007)} can be found in this web site and in the shop. Questions for Guerrero should be submitted via the blog comments or membership forum.


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