Dancer Hershey Tobi

Caring for Horses during Lockdown

Published: 15/04/2020

Let’s look at how to support our equine friends’ wellbeing during this time.

Some horses, like us, are happy to chill in the horsey version of the couch, their paddock, with food and in sight of or with their friends.

Once plans are in place to ensure the health and wellbeing of our equine friends, it could be good to start to think of ways to offer environmental enrichment to those who need it. 

When looking at ideas, consider each horse’s individual motivation and need for stimulation. Like people, each horse responds in different ways to downtime / enforced rest. Some, like us, are happy to chill in the horsey version of the couch, their paddock, with food and in sight of or with their friends. However, others need more interactions and stimulation from things in their environment to support their mental and physical wellbeing. This is also affected by other factors such as their breed, age, previous workload and their environment / paddock set up. A thoroughbred racehorse who has been in high level training will respond differently to an older pony who is ridden once a week.

As most horses in New Zealand will be paddocked during this time, they will be getting regular movement, depending on the size of the paddock. As with government guidelines, we do not recommend exercising horses during this period unless it is essential for their health and wellbeing. If this is the case, all safety precautions should be made including not riding alone (taking someone from your bubble along), ensuring social distancing and wiping ALL equipment and the horse down afterwards with disinfectant (tack, grooming equipment, covers, lead ropes, helmets etc). This is especially important if you have a team of people coming in to do horse care at different times.

If your horse is used to having extended breaks over holiday periods, then it should not be essential to continue exercise. Where horses do have to usually deal with lots of people interactions in their day, simply spending time away from people can be extremely beneficial for their mental wellbeing.

However, there are a range of ideas that can be incorporated into paddocks or living environments that can provide novelty and enrichment for our horses. Searching online gives a wide range of ideas and can help get you thinking about what could work in your own environment. Keep safety first and foremost in mind with any ideas and these should only be implemented by the people who are designated to care for the horses over this time.

  • Move feed locations each day.
  • Put hay nets in different places or spread around more piles of hay so they have to keep moving between them. 
  • If feeding with haynets, try doubling them up so it slows down their eating or use a slow feed haynet.
  • This could be a time to try different herd combinations, without upsetting the ride programme. Horses are social animals but also enjoy meeting new friends. All changes should be closely observed to ensure herd dynamics don’t change too much or horses getting bullied by others.
  • Paddock toys – having a selection of objects that can safely be left in the paddocks with horses can help relieve boredom. Road cones are often used, as they are soft but sturdy and won’t break when stood on. Large plastic barrels can also be used for horses to push or roll around. Check for sharp edges or that they cannot catch covers or halters on them.
  • There are a range of horse ‘toys’ such as Jolly Balls, or treat balls that can be used in the paddocks. If your group has some of these, try placing them in the paddock for a day, then taking them out before reintroducing them a few days later. This ensures the toys remain a novelty for them. 
  • Milk bottles can be used as a similar toy; although these should be monitored as they can easily break up if the plastic weakens.
  • Place apples in the water trough so they have to work to get them.
  • Make frozen horse treats by freezing water with chopped up carrots and apples in them. Molasses or apple juice could be added too.
  • Hang carrots or a whole cabbage in a tree or tie to the fence. Make sure they can’t get tangled up in the rope.
  • If your arena is secure, let them loose in it for a run around. Put poles, drums or a hoof ball out and let them explore without a human. Horses should always be watched during this time.

These are just some ideas and ALL safety considerations should be taken when trying them. We recognise that not all strategies are suitable for different environments and horses should be checked regularly when left with any objects or toys in their paddock. Make sure that any equipment is not able to get caught up on the horse or break easily.

So we hope you have enjoyed the ideas above for enrichment activities for your horse. Do you have any great ideas about how to keep your horse happy during Level 4 Lockdown?

If you do, let us know by email or on our Facebook page.