As the fields become sodden, the weather closes in and it’s dark by 4pm many horses will by necessity find themselves spending more time stabled. This is not only boring for your equine chum but can lead to stiffness, particularly in older horses and over-freshness in youngsters.
It’s not all gloomy though; you can use those extra hours bonding with your horse, having fun, trying some physiotherapy and educating him too. Here are some great ideas for winter boredom busting, many of which could also be used during periods of enforced box rest due to injury. Enjoy!
Carrot stretches can be used to help your horse stay loose and supple even when he’s stuck in his stable. Check out this YouTube video for how to do it (credit Outfoxed Farm).
If your horse is inclined to be spooky under saddle, teach him to face his fears in a safe environment by introducing spooky objects which he’s in his stable and you are there to reassure him.
Start with something simple like a plastic bag or a plastic bottle containing some dried beans or small stones. Allow him to sniff and investigate the object (over the stable door first if he’s really anxious) then reward him with a treat or a cuddle when he gets brave enough to face his fear. Reinforce the reward by removing the spooky object once he’s accepted it. It’s very important not to frighten your horse so be prepared to take your time and go slowly until he’s happy and confident. Smile please!
Horses are intelligent and curious and just love to learn tricks. A simple fun one is to teach your horse to smile. Tickle his top lip and as soon as he lifts it, reward him. Repeat until he gets the idea and be sure to give him loads of rewards.
Now just wiggle your finger in front of his muzzle and reward him for the merest twitch of the lip. Keep on repeating the exercise until he lifts his lip whenever you wiggle your finger in front of it. Now you have a smiling horse!
If your horse is a little lacking in manners; not standing for the farrier, reluctant to pick up his feet etc then winter is a great time for working on this. Take your time; repeat and reward until it’s crystal clear to your horse what you expect of him and if things go wrong, just start again remembering to reward him whenever he gets it right.
This is an exercise which can be taught in the stable, with or without a headcollar and lead rein. It’s also great for working muscles and joints. Use straight lines or even right around the box; remembering to reward him often. Stand in front of your horse and place a hand on his chest, pushing him firmly backward and giving the verbal command at the same time. It’s all about body language and he’ll soon get the gist of what you want him to do. As with anything new, always aim for one or two little steps to start with; reward him generously then ask for more as he becomes more confident.
Using the same principle as you did for backing up, try teaching your horse to turn on the forehand or on the haunches.
Fun and games
Horses are motivated by food and there are plenty of treat-reward orientated games you can set up for them. A large diameter, shallow pan filled with water is great for apple bobbing; make sure it’s wide enough to be stable and not easily tipped over though. Hang a swede on a piece of baling string and hang it from a beam or buy a treat ball and fill it with pony nuts. Horses just love these and will spend hours rolling the ball around to get the treats out.
Most horses love being groomed and will enjoy your company even more if they’re stabled for long periods. Use the opportunity to form a deeper bond with your horse as well as to keep him looking smart. Grooming is also very good for improving circulation and coat condition. While you're both in the mood, why not pull his mane and tail too?
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