Horses Don’t Always Immediately Take to Toys. Here Are 5 Tips to Get Your Horses to Play With Toys.
Horses that understand enrichment activities, love their toys and often become curious about other items. They end up looking forward to playtime with their toy as much as when they get a bail of hay, and immediately start interacting and problem-solving with new items.
That doesn’t sound like your horse? No worries! No matter the age or level of previous toy playtime-knowledge, your horse can still learn to use toys and get the benefit of enrichment.
Typically you’ll notice your horse doesn’t understand toys when they:
- Ignore the toy completely or check it out and walk away without any interaction
- They can be fearful of the new toy and exhibit nervous body language
- They attempt to use the toy and become frustrated when they don’t see immediate results
- They enjoy the toy, but not in the way it was intended
You will be tempted to think “my horse is just not a toy-loving horse” when you see them exhibit any of these behaviors, but it’s likely that the horse just doesn’t understand. Just like when you put a saddle on a horse for the first time, very rarely do they think “oh cool! This heavy lump of leather is comfy!” With a little incentivization and encouragement, they can start to understand the concept of a toy. After a few weeks of supervised play, they can graduate to calm exploration and independent use.
Start to train your horse to play by:
- Spending some time guiding their attention to the toy without forcing it. Just a fun suggestion, maybe do a little shimmy if that piques any curiosity
- Start with simple toys or simple ways to interact. Don’t hide treats too well, or they won’t understand they have to search for them
- Add some food or treats to entice them. That’s almost always a big incentive. It helps the horse start to understand how this object moves
- Watch other horses play with toys
- Teach your horse to play with toys when they’re around their friends. The whole group can investigate and pique curiosity in others.
With a little practice, teaching your horse to play with toys is definitely doable. Equine enrichment is a very achievable level of care, even if toys didn’t pique their interest in the past.