Horse Puzzle Games
Puzzle games are a great form of enrichment to keep your horse mentally stimulated. They will develop their problem solving skills and ‘learn to learn’ which will aid training. These games encourage horses to explore their environment and teach them that novel items are not to be feared. Games you can make at home are:
A foraging box filled with different objects e.g. flannel, ball, plastic bottle, in which you hide treats for your horse. At first make it very easy and use one object, then as their confidence grows increase the number of objects included. (2)
Hide food under a tea-towel. Do not play this in windy weather!
Hide treats under safe cups/yoghurt pots for them to knock over.
Put a halved apple in their water so that they can play apple bobbing.(2).
Put treats in a cupcake tray and cover with balls.
Make your horse a piñata by tying up a plastic bottle with a hole in the bottom. Put tape around the hole cut so that it is not sharp.
Put food in a variety of safe objects for your horse to remove. You could use a paper bag, cardboard box etc.
Make your horse a frozen popsicle. Pop a piece of veg in the bottom of an ice-lolly mould, fill with diluted fruit squash and freeze.
Wrap a small holed hay net around a tough football. Tie it up tight around the football with bailer twine and cut the excess net off. Then wind vegetables through the net for them to pull out and put it on the floor, “Ta dah” (3).
Variety is essential so rotate the toys you use to keep them exciting. For nervous horses be careful to only give them games which they will enjoy and not be worried by e.g. a swinging piñata may startle some horses. These games are fantastic for horses on restricted turnout or boxrest but only take a game into the stable if you are certain that your horse will not be frightened. A stable is a very small space and they cannot move away if they feel threatened.
Ideally, give your horse and their pair-bond puzzle games at the same time, as everything is more enjoyable with your chum. However, be sure to have them separated by a barrier so that they don’t feel that they have to guard the food. Don’t take the games off your horse, wait for them to walk away and then remove the game.
The most important point is to make sure that it is not too difficult for your horse so that they cannot do and get frustrated. Set them up to succeed. Please don’t use these games with food aggressive horses without getting help from a behaviourist first.
Note: Always supervise your horse while they play with puzzle games
1 Arrowsmith, C (2010) Brain games for dogs, Interpet Publishing Ltd, UK
2 Natural Animal Centre (2010) Equine Behaviour Qualification 3
3 Wild, J (2012) How to make a horse toy [online] Available: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2m2_mCzZPzI