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How happy are our horses? Is there more we can do to help them enjoy life?
Here at Redwings we know that caring for horses isn’t just about looking after their body, it’s about looking after their minds too. Horses evolved to roam across wide areas, spending most of their time foraging with companions. Even after thousands of years of domestication, their brains are still hardwired with an overwhelming urge to behave in this way. We can summarise these instincts using ‘The Three Fs’:
When we stable horses, fence their paddocks, control their diets, choose who, if any, companions they have, we need to be mindful that these have potential to impact on a horse’s instinctive sense of wellbeing. But there are many things we can do to compensate for the restrictions our horses experience as we care for them. We call this compensation ‘enrichment’.
Enrichment is much more than putting a stable toy in with a horse. We use enrichment at Redwings for many of our rescued residents, both in paddocks and when they need to spend time in a stable. We always monitor use of our ‘boredom busters’ and either offer them for short periods of time to keep their novelty value, or remove them if the horse becomes frustrated or loses interest, so we can try something else.
Download just some of the enrichment ideas we’ve enjoyed seeing our horses, ponies and donkeys benefit from here at the sanctuary:
Bigging up the Three Fs
Increasing feeding time shouldn’t mean increasing rations, with equine obesity being a significant welfare problem in the UK. But we can offer food in ways to make eating it more interesting and time consuming.
Always make sure that your horse can access their food without becoming bored or frustrated.
Horses are very social animals. They not only form strong bonds with companions but feel safer and more relaxed with friends.
Remember that, like people, not all horses get on. Monitor social dynamics to make sure all individuals are benefitting from being together, and always plan ahead and take time to introduce new horses with care.
Freedom means space, both visually and physically. As prey animals, horses like to be able to monitor as much of their environment as possible and have escape routes available if needed.
Equine behaviour is an exciting and growing area of research, and the more we learn about these fascinating animals, the more opportunity we have to care for them in ways that increase their ability to enjoy their lives in human hands.
Want to find out more? There are a number of articles on the Equine Behaviour and Training Association’s website, including an inspiring enrichment blog you can read here.