Toys for Your Bored Horse
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.