During the winter many of us are forced to stable our horses for long periods of time. Unfortunately, behavioural problems come with the territory of increased stable time, along with physical stresses that need careful management. In this week’s blog we look at ways to manage the most common problems and offer advice on helping your horses cope with being inside.
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As herd animals, being separated for stabling can cause many horses to act up out of loneliness, frustration and boredom. Insufficient grazing, excess energy, limited social exposure and low fibre, high-concentrate feeds are all factors that contribute to detrimental kinds of behaviour. Unless your stabled horse is kept stimulated, you are inviting a whole host of physical and behavioural problems to develop.
Horses that are routinely stabled may exhibit a number of behaviours from cribbing, wood-chewing and weaving, to box-walking, self-biting and wall-kicking. These ‘stereotypies’ become more and more fixed the longer a horse is stabled for and the more stressed it becomes. Other issues associated with stabling include joint stiffness from restricted mobility and excitability when exercised. Fortunately, there are ways around these problems if you are willing to invest a little time and money.
Stable toys are an obvious solution for alleviating frustration and boredom. The best-selling products are those that incorporate a tasty treat that hangs or swivels for your horse to access easily and enjoy. Interactive toys that take time and promote movement are also great for horses that circle or box-walk as they are an engaging distraction from the norm and help break up the day.
That said, there is no substitute for allowing regular turnout and horses should never be stabled for extended periods without getting the opportunity to stretch their legs. If your fields aren’t usable and you are lucky enough to have a horse walker then that is a great way to give your horse some exercise; failing that you could turn out into your manege or riding arena, or even let him loose in the yard whilst you muck out.
Incorporating joint care supplements into your horse’s daily diet is a good investment for the future health and mobility of your equine.
For horses that don’t cope well with being stabled or become excitable when exercised after a period of confinement, calmers can be a worthwhile measure in tackling tense, skittish and unfocused behaviours. Calmers can either be given as a daily supplement or only when needed to help prepare your horse for the stressful event. Confidence EQ, for example, is a pheromone-based nasal gel which has been shown to increase focus and promote feelings of reassurance and security.
Some of our best-selling daily calming supplements include NAF Magic – a formulation liquid or powder containing therapeutic herbal extracts for horses that are highly-strung or easily stressed. Magnitude from Equine America is another hugely effective calmer containing magnesium for healthy nerve function and the reduction of nervous tension in horses. Zylkene Equine is a unique natural remedy that works on receptors in the brain connected with responding to environmental challenges and can be given a few days prior to stabling (if you know your horse struggles), as well as during its confinement.