As caring owners, it comes naturally to want to make our animals happy and horses are no exception. Horses are very sensitive creatures and enjoy social interaction, regular activity and mental stimulation.
Despite their lack of physical ability, horses find effective ways to communicate their feelings knowingly or otherwise. They can show signs of depression and unhappiness through odd behaviour and body language if deprived of the vital elements that go towards a happy life.
Signs that your horse may be unhappy
- depressed, aggressive or withdrawn in their stable
- develops habits such as weaving, kicking, lunging or circling
- lack of interest in their surroundings
- changes in physical appearance or body language
- changes in appetite
- changes in stable habits
- difficulties with training
- nervousness, stubbornness or easily spooked
If you feel your horse might be displaying any of the above signs, then consult your veterinary surgeon for guidance and advice.
In the meantime, here are some effective tips to help maintain a happy horse:
It’s common knowledge that horses love to graze so a suitable pasture is a must for any horse owner. Food whether grass or hay is a primary need for most horses, so even though they may enjoy a good bucket of their favourite grains; grass and roughage contributes to good digestive health and wellbeing.
If deprived of water, horses can easily dehydrate, especially if they have consumed large quantities of grass and hay that need water to help the digestion process in the hindgut. A lack of water can lead to problems as the hay and grass consumed won’t break down and will compact, making them feel very uncomfortable.
So make sure all your horses have a regular supply of fresh water throughout the day.
Like many animals, horses thrive on routine and their activity levels are very much dictated by the times between sunrise and sunset.
Horses are far happier when they have daily activities they can adapt to. It gives them a sense of purpose that helps them to feel safe, less stressed and motivated.
Every horse is different and will display different personality traits so some may take to routine quicker than others but all in all, they’ll all come around and settle down eventually.
As herd animals, it is only natural to expect horses to enjoy the company of others. If you have a solitary horse, it is not uncommon for that horse to become unhappy and unhealthy. Interaction with other horses is critical to their mental wellbeing so if you have just one horse, try to arrange a regular get together with other horses.
If you have many horses, try to alter their surroundings from time to time. Just a simple change of paddock or route on your walks will prevent boredom from setting in. It’s only natural to like a change once in a while, however small.
If your horse spends a lot of time in their stable buildings, try to pay them regular visits throughout the day. As sociable animals, they like to mix with us as well as their own. Spending hours upon end alone in their stables is never a healthy experience. A few visits a day will help you to keep an eye on them, bond with them and ensure they are not displaying unusual behaviours.
If other horses are present, try to find ways to allow them to see each other. A stall guard instead of a solid door if appropriate will help to keep them calm and be less destructive.
It goes without saying that as part of your horses’ routine, exercise is a must to maintain physical as well as mental wellbeing.
Regular exercise helps to regulate blood circulation, especially to the feet and promotes healthy food digestion. Even if the weather outside is dreadful, try to get your horses moving each day is some way, even if it means a brief trot around the grounds until the skies clear up.
Just like their owners, horses benefit greatly for a rest day especially if they lead busy hardworking lives. Just a single day or two off a week will help them to rest, recuperate and prevent the onset of injury. A little me time for your horses will ensure they stay happy and healthy, and means they’ll be raring to go when the normal routine resumes.
Horses require regular care when it comes to their health. Horses are prone to parasite infections, which can affect their immune systems and lead to poor health. So it is vital to ensure they get regular worming treatment. Also remember to check their teeth from time to time. Sharp edges can irritate their cheeks making eating very uncomfortable. So ensure they get regular health checks by a qualified vet.
Finally, horses hoofs are also an area that demands a lot of attention. Any overgrowth will lead to imbalance, making walking a very uncomfortable experience and an unhappy horse.
There are a number of benefits to grooming your horse regularly, from simple bonding to inspecting their skin for parasites or injuries.
If you own a solitary horse, grooming is all the more important as they don’t have a buddy to help out, so it’s your job to make sure their coat is clean, free of bugs and suitably groomed.
Every horse has a favourite spot to be brushed that they’ll soon let you know about and this is the perfect way to get to know and bond with your horse.
Toys and activities
Believe it or not but some horses enjoy playing with toys that are stimulating and fun. Nowadays it is not uncommon to find stores selling anything from large inflatables to squeaky toys – just for horses to play with outdoors!
If your horse is not the playing type, some love having a job or purpose in life. It doesn’t have to be anything strenuous or hardworking but many horses thrive from having an activity they enjoy. It could be anything from therapeutic riding, to events, to farm use or just simple routes you introduce to their daily lives.
If you own horses, try implementing some if not all of the tips above and you should start to see signs that your horses are responding to the changes in a positive way.