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Toys for Your Bored Horse

Updated on March 31, 2014
DonnaCSmith profile image

Donna Campbell Smith is an author, freelance writer, and photographer. She has an AAS degree in equine tech and is a certified instructor.


Your horse is bored and you are worried he might start chewing or cribbing. Since you're at work most of the day you can't keep Ole Paint entertained, so you are thinking of buying him a toy. The only problem is deciding whether a horse toy will safe and appeal to your horse. Many horses have stalls or paddocks littered with an array of colorful toys that they completely ignore. By the way, horses are colorblind so the colors are for our benefit only.

Horses are herd animals, and in groups they do a pretty good job of amusing each other. But, alone, your horse can develop some annoying, if not down right unhealthy habits when he gets bored. Cribbing, chewing, weaving, pawing, and other vices are often impossible to stop once started, so what can you do to prevent them?

Exercise and plenty of hay for him to nibble all day is the best solution. But, for a young or active horse even those measures may not be enough. Like human children, young horses want to play. Bored horses sometimes find their own toys. I had a colt that entertained himself rolling a barrel around in his paddock. We saw an opportunity, and taught him to do it on command. Another yearling liked to toss a boom-a-rang shaped stick he found in the pasture. Still another colt I know of liked to play with the barn cat, picking her up in his teeth and carrying her around. The cat didn't' seem to mind and would come right up to him and meow. But one day the horse tossed the cat a long way across the stable yard and that was the last time the cat came to play.

Water seems to be a popular diversion for some horses. A thoroughbred gelding at my barn loves to stick his head in the water trough and swing it back and forth splashing gallons of water out of the trough and all over himself, and of course whoever is standing nearby. Another horse I once boarded played in mud puddles pawing it with her front feet to make it splash all over herself. This same horse also entertained herself playing with the hotwire. She'd stretch her neck until her nose just did touch the wire, jump back at the shock, and repeat the action over and over again.

Especially in the case of the cat, it might be a better idea to provide a toy that you have picked out just for your horse. Most tack shops and catalogs offer a choice of rubber balls, rollers, and even toys that smell like food. Some are rather expensive, but can be really effective. A Morgan, I once boarded, cribbed. The problem was he nearly pulled his stall door off it's hinges cribbing on it's top. We bought him one of the roller type toys that we bolted into a corner of his stall. He spent his spare time trying to get the roller to be still so he could set his teeth on it and crib. Once in a while he succeeded, which was reward enough to keep him playing with it and save my door.

Another boarder bought her horse one of the big, tough rubber balls to play with while she was gone on a long trip. One morning when I went out to feed I found the Tennessee Walking Horse standing with her front leg through the handle on the ball. Fortunately she was perfectly calm about it and let me pull the contraption off. So, make sure if you buy a horse ball, the handle isn't large enough for your horse to step through.

If you'd like to save money make your own toys for Ole Paint. A sturdy plastic jug can provide equine entertainment when hung from the rafters over his stall. Plastic barrels and cones placed in his turnout paddock will also amuse him.

Make sure whatever toy you offer your horse won't injure him. Take caution there are no little pieces to break off or be chewed off and swallowed. Be sure the toy isn't something the horse can get its foot, leg or even head stuck in, whether loose on the ground or suspended overhead. Horses have a knack for getting themselves in trouble so imagine the worst-case scenario before providing any kind of toy. Oh, and make sure the toy isn't a live animal (or person) as in the case of the missing barn cat.


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    • DonnaCSmith profile imageAUTHOR

      Donna Campbell Smith 

      9 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Hi Maggie, here is an article on colorblindness in horses:

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Horses aren't colourblind. They have dichromatic vision, basically they can see blue and yellow.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 

      11 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Donna - fascinating article! I can picture that poor cat though... LOL. Horses are very intelligent animals, so it shouldn't surprise me that they would need some sort of entertainment during the day to prevent destructive habits. Now that we live in Central Oregon, there are many large ranches that give me lots of opportunity to dream.

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 

      11 years ago from Connecticut

      I really enjoyed reading this hub and all the comments! I don't have a horse of my own YET, but I am storing all these little tips away for the future. :)

    • DonnaCSmith profile imageAUTHOR

      Donna Campbell Smith 

      11 years ago from Central North Carolina

      yes, you are right to turn away the shavings if you don't know what they are. Walnut can cause founder, and many other hardwoods are toxic. A good book to have is Horse Owner's Field Guide to Toxi Plants.

      A lot of hardwoods like maple, walnut, black locust, oak, and cherry to name a few. Even chewing bark while tied to one of these tress can be harmful.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Nice Hub Donna! I have been thinking a lot about toys since I got my miniature stallion Little Man. He has been in a large stall but due to his gender, he is alone all day. In the evening I turn him out into the arena and let him play until morning. His favorite "toy" is a big metal roping dummy complete with a big steer head with horns to rope. He loves pushing this around and scratching himself on the pointy horns! LOL

    • annemaeve profile image


      11 years ago from Philly Burbs

      Great hub, Donna, thanks for sharing! Our horses love clean kitty litter jugs with a little water inside. They're sturdier than milk jugs. The horses also love "Uncle Jimmy's Hanging Balls" which are tightly-packed molasses/grain balls that look like giant bird-feeding balls. But the molasses gets aaaaall over their silly little faces, and if they figure out how to pin it against the wall, good-bye hanging ball!

      When someone comes by to donate random bags of wood shavings, I always ask them if the wood contains red maple, horse chestnut, cherry, or black walnut. If they can't tell me what trees were used to make the shavings, I politely decline. I was always told that shavings from those trees contain oils that can be harmful if swallowed or laid in by horses. I don't know if it's true, or if that's a complete list.

    • LeslyeAnn profile image


      11 years ago from Yoncalla , Oregon

      Do you know which trees have toxic bark? I know that the leaves of red maples and Oleander bushes are toxic .

    • DonnaCSmith profile imageAUTHOR

      Donna Campbell Smith 

      11 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Yes, the more we let them be horses the better off they are.

      I might worry about the log chewing because some bark is toxic.

    • LeslyeAnn profile image


      11 years ago from Yoncalla , Oregon

      Great Article. My horses will chew on the barn if they have nothing else to do. So I keep plenty of dry grass hay in their feeders at all times. I have also found success with logs which the horses will chew off the bark, and old tough rubber water troughs which they like to throw around. But of course the best solution is plenty of pasture turnout with another horse. I know that may be difficult for many situations, but if you can give them plenty of turnout, it sure is best.

    • DonnaCSmith profile imageAUTHOR

      Donna Campbell Smith 

      11 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Mainly horses that are kept alone, which just is not natual for them. But, many of the horses I mentioned were not kept alone. They just seemed to be curious and liked to play with stuff. Poor, cat, really was airborn. Don't know what happened to it, whether the horse mortally injured it, or maybe it just left.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 

      11 years ago from California Gold Country

      I had no idea that horses liked toys. I would think they need to be quite sturdy to survive horseplay. :)

      Our new dog, would love to toss a cat, i'm sure. She really needs her (sturdy) toys so she doesn't destroy everything else. Our previous dog didn't care for toys at all.

      Good info.


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