Make Stall Time More Interesting
If you’re horse is confined to a stall, here are a few ideas on how to make his/her stall time less boring and more interesting. First and ideally, a box stall with a run is the best circumstance in this situation. If your horse is in only a box stall with no outside run, make sure that she has as much ventilation and light coming into her stall as possible. Often, light deprivation can lead to a horse that is mentally not feeling well and can become depressed, which may manifest as anger. Lack of good ventilation/fresh air can lead to upper respiratory problems, so even if the horse doesn’t demonstrate symptoms of problems such as coughing, or labored breathing, they could still be feeling “not well” and perhaps feeling a “heaviness” in their lungs/chest, which could contribute to an “under-the-weather” feeling. All of these things can make your horse cranky because just like with humans, if we’re just generally not feeling well but can’t quite put our finger on what is wrong, we may just be in a bad mood because of it. Set it up so your horse can at least stick her head out over the stall door instead of being totally confined in her little “box” looking at four walls only. If the stall has slider doors with affixed grillwork up top which prevents your horse from looking out, for a reasonable price, most barn companies have stall screens that can be hung in the doorway and that have a U-shaped cutout so that the horse can stick their head out, but can’t reach the outside barn walls on either side of their door and perhaps scrape the walls with their teeth, damaging the outside barn walls. However, it will allow them to stick their head out and look around and watch the activity around the barn area. Horses like to look around, especially the more active-minded horses, or horses which are a bit more dominant, or horses that are used to living outside most of the time. They get so much sensory input by listening, seeing, smelling, that to lock them in an area where they can’t at least look around and observe those things which they can smell, hear and maybe catch glimpses of, at the very least is depressing for them. Often, this sadness and depression can lead to fear, frustration, anger and downright hostility. Rather then have that happen, I’d just as soon see a horse be out in a deeply muddy corral with access to a shelter if they care to use it. So if your horse doesn’t already have a box stall where she can at least stick her head out and look around, make arrangements to buy a stall screen with the U-shaped cutout (or some variation thereof) so that she can at least look around the barn area and not have just a limited view from behind a stall door. They also have nylon or cotton stall guards/webbings to put across a door, but some horses will paw and stick a leg through and get hung up in them, or if they really want to leave the stall, they’ll just press had enough with their chest to “pop” the eye-hooks right out of the doorway and will leave the stall. Something a little more sturdy may, or may not be in order for your mare.
Next, I would provide your horse with plenty of “chew time” by giving her access to plenty of grass hay. Don’t do this with alfalfa hay because it is too rich and could cause problems with fermentation in her cecum, which will then disrupt her guts microbial population which could possibly lead to colic and/or laminitis/founder. Grass hay is very safe to feed in quantity, and since most horses don’t gobble it down like they will “candy” alfalfa, they have something to nibble on for longer periods of time. The grass hay will keep her busy and help relieve boredom and in addition, if it’s cold where you live, the process of chewing and then digestion will help create warmth, especially during cold nights.
The next step would be for your horse to perhaps have some “toys”. Now, in my experience, many alpha-type horses, especially if they are not babies, look at you like you’re a fool if you think they are going to play with a stall-ball, or a tether-ball hanging from the doorway. However, I have in fact caught these same mares “playing” with a regular plastic ball (with no handle like a stallball has) and kicking it around the stall. Another good “toy” is the rubber feed tubs made by Fortex that come in various sizes. They like to pick them up and move them around (like redecorating their stall perhaps?). Another thing I’ve noticed that works good as a “toy” are car tires. If a portion of her hay is put in there at feeding time, she will have to move the tire around to get all the food out from inside and also underneath. This will keep her busy for far longer getting to every little bit of food there is and that will help keep her mind occupied. If you use the car tires though, make sure they are not steel radials, or tires that have gouges out of them; we don’t want your horse injuring her mouth on the steel belting, and we also don’t want her to rip off a hunk of gouged tire, swallow it and end up with an obstruction. There is a photo that I have in my files from off the Internet of a 2-year-old horse that was found dead in a large tire feeder, but I’m not proposing you use a big tire feeder (mostly because it would take up too much room in the stall). I’m suggesting just a standard truck or car tire, mostly so she’ll keep her mind occupied getting to her food in and around the smaller tire. I just go down to the local tire store and select the best of the cast-off tires. Most tire stores have to pay to take them to the dump and get them hauled off anyway, so they are usually more then happy to give them to you. I have sometimes seen even the most “serious” mares play with the Fortex feed tubs and also the car tires too.
Another interesting “toy” I’ve used is to hang a gallon plastic milk container by its handle from the center beam in the stall ceiling and put either small rocks in it, or alfalfa pellets. The sound of the rocks moving around when the horse bounces and swings it with their nose seems to entertain them. If you put alfalfa pellets in it, be prepared for a horse who will have many hours of bouncing and pushing it around to tip it enough to dump some pellets out of the open top if they manage to push it hard enough so it turns upside-down for a second on the end of it’s rope!
Sometimes, I believe it’s just the need to be able to move around and also be carrying something in their mouth as they wander around the stall which makes a horse as happy as they are ever going to be when confined in a stall. And also having grass hay to munch on satisfies the grazing need they have by having grass hay down at a lower level where they are extending their heads and necks down in a more natural grazing position. Sure, they may make a mess and there might also be some waste of hay, but that’s far better then having their minds messed up instead through anger, hostility, depression, etc!
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