As is now known, horses are very intelligent animals. They can read human faces, remember people’s emotions, independently avoid obstacles and dodge dangers on a large scale. As working and riding horses, but also as friends and comrades, people have appreciated them for centuries. But did you know that your horse only really feels good when it is allowed to play? The play instinct is not only inherent to humans, but also to many intelligent animals.
In our guide you will learn why playing and occupation is so important for horses and which horse toys are available.
Can you encourage your horse through play?
We now know that horses can form abstract concepts, know their name and respond to it (if they want to). Also, horses have been observed individually using branches to get hay. You may have experienced situations similar to the following in your everyday life: If you put an apple or other treat for your pet under a bucket or in another place it can’t reach, it will run after you and nudge you until you help and make the treat accessible. Your pet may also just look at you and the bucket alternately and conspicuously. It wants to draw your attention and make its desire clear. Your animal communicates with you in your language and you become the helper to fulfill its wish.
It is good for the horse if you challenge and encourage it every now and then. You should not constantly confront your darling with difficult problems, but you can give your four-legged friend playful stimulation and encourage him in a manner appropriate to his species. With horse toys you give him the possibility to think in his own way and to find solutions for problems. For example, the equids love to track down hidden food. Many toys for horses are based on this.
Do horses have social intelligence?
Horses can recognize more than just simple relationships. Researchers at the Universities of Sussex and Portsmouth have looked into the question of whether hoofed animals can sense the emotional state of people. The astonishing result: they can. They can even use images of people instead of real people to detect their emotional state and remember these impressions. You probably already knew that your horse or pony is a real people-sizer. Researchers call this ability social intelligence. This is not about solving abstract tasks, but about interacting with another species in an understanding way. Very few animals can do that.
Why is play important as an occupation for horses?
Horses prefer to play with conspecifics. Social play is most in keeping with the nature of sociable animals.
It is especially important for young horses to play with other horses for the following reasons:
Young horses learn social behavior while playing with other horses.
They gain experience in dealing with conspecifics.
They train movement coordination.
In addition, they can relieve stress during play.
If there is a lack of contact with conspecifics, serious behavioral disorders can develop.
In general, domestic horses play much more than free-living animals. Free-ranging animals must take care of themselves to survive and must forage for their own food. In the stable and on the paddock you take these tasks from them. So there is much more time to occupy yourself with other things – such as horse toys.
Toys cannot and should not replace the herd and the interaction with other horses and ponies, but horse toys can distract the animals in the stable, paddock or pasture and protect them from boredom. When animals are busy, they are less likely to develop disorders such as coupling or weaving.
What horse toys are there to buy for horse needs?
On the market you can now find many different types of horse toys. Toys such as balls and the like do not occur in the natural environment of the four-legged friends. But anything that arouses the animals’ curiosity and is not dangerous can be offered to them to play with. If there is also a tasty reward, the animals like to play with it even more.
If you want to buy toys for your four-legged friend, it makes sense to get an overview of what is available in advance.
The most common horse toys are listed below:
Rubber play balls for box or paddock:
Here you can choose from a wide range. There are balls with or without handle for every paddock and every box. Partly you can hang them up. Your darling can then push them back and forth without restraint, without disturbing another animal. The balls are even offered with different scents. Does your horse prefer banana, apple or carrot?
Play balls with lick holders:
If you choose a play ball with a lick holder, you can simultaneously ensure that your four-legged friend takes in enough sodium and chlorine.
“Football” for horses:
The large “horse soccer” is, of course, intended for the pasture and the run, so that ball and player also have proper space to “kick” and push.
Play balls with treats:
With the treat ball, the ball is filled with treats and sheds the small treats through openings. Animals are motivated to push the ball back and forth to eat as many treats as possible.
Hay cone and hay ball:
With the hay cone or hay ball, you offer your four-legged friend the opportunity to ingest hay that is high in crude fiber and low in energy, in addition to keeping them occupied. In our guide “How much hay does my horse need?” you can learn more about feeding hay.
Is wood suitable as a toy for horses?
Horses can nibble on thick branches and twigs and play with them. The wood can be left in the stable or in the pasture. Many horses do not get bored as quickly as playing with toys made of plastic or rubber.
However, there are a few points to keep in mind when your four-legged friend is given wood as a toy:
It is best to secure the loose piece of wood in the box or paddock. In this way you avoid that your animal hurts itself.
The wood must not splinter or decompose. Molds and harmful bacteria must not have spread on the wood yet.
You must be careful that your animal does not eat too much wood. Wood contains lignin, which can cause colic. Since a horse also ingests lignin through hay and straw, a horse weighing about 500 kilograms should not eat more than about 0.5 kilograms of wood.
Which woods are suitable for horses as nibbling wood?
You can use nibbling wood from the following tree species, for example:
- Birch wood
- Native fruit trees
What kinds of wood are you not allowed to use for playing and nibbling for your horse?
There are tree species that your horse should not eat because they contain too many tannins that can irritate mucous membranes and cause colic. Other trees are so poisonous that your four-legged friend can die from them.
Tree species that your horse must not eat include:
- Beech (beechnuts are toxic to horses)
- Walnut (walnuts are poisonous for horses)
- Maple species
Please note that this list is not complete!
Often horses do not touch poisonous wood of their own accord. But you cannot rely on it. Therefore, you should only offer your horse pieces of wood from trees that you are absolutely sure are harmless to your animal.
What your horse should also not eat, you can read in our guide “10 absolute taboo foods for your horse”.
How do horse toys stay interesting for your horse?
Your horse is a curious animal and will be most interested in a toy when it’s still new and it hasn’t been in its stall or pasture for days or weeks. That’s why it makes sense to purchase several horse toys. You can also take turns with other horse owners with the toys. If you always present your animal with one of the toys for a short time, none of them will get boring.
Conclusion about horse toys
With horse toys and other materials such as nibble wood, you can keep your horse busy. In this way, you promote his well-being and health. Whether toys made of plastic are more or less suitable than wooden toys is a matter of debate. Both types of horse toys have advantages and disadvantages. You can easily tell if a toy appeals to your horse by the way it shows its advanced nostrils and has bright eyes. Feeding games are particularly well received. A treat ball or a cone filled with hay, from which your animal has to “pry” out its food, is fun and provides variety. It’s best to try out which toy appeals most to your equine. Not all horses like the same toys. Offer him different toys and woods and he will show you his preferences. But always keep in mind that toys can never replace contact and play with other members of the same species.
My name is Mark and the senior editor
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