If you share your life with cats, dogs, or even birds, then you have likely heard of the term ‘Environmental Enrichment’ (or Behavioral Enrichment in some circles). But did you know it can be used with equines, too?
The fundamental strategy of enrichment for animals is to consider a species’ natural behaviors and the individual animal’s unique personality to devise ways to encourage and increase their expression. Horses, for example, are grazing animals that move long distances in small increments while foraging for the perfect grass; how can we encourage more of that? Not all horse owners are fortunate enough to own vast swathes of pastureland, but we can mimic that to an extent by implementing track paddocks (which don’t have to be elaborate or expensive) and/or creating multiple feeding spots around our horse’s home area. [Scroll down for a video of horse enjoying a Snuffle mat!]
Equines also consume a wide variety of scrubby, low-quality grasses, herbs, and weeds (thoroughly researched to be sure they are not toxic to our equines, of course!). To best simulate this variety, we can mix a plethora of different fresh herbs and yes, even weeds into their daily ration of hay.
Enrichment is of course more than just food related. What are some things we can implement to satisfy other needs of our equine friends? Equines are very social and require interaction preferably with conspecifics (members of the same species); but again, not all equine owners are in the position of being able to keep multiple horses or donkeys. If you board your horse, is it possible to ask if your horse can share an area with another horse, even for short periods of time?
Finally, one of the most engaging and effective forms of enrichment is positive reinforcement training. As a supporter of force-free training, you probably already do this with your other companion animals, but try it with your equine friends- the principles are exactly the same!
This article has been contributed by the PPG Equine Committee. The key author is Mary Richards. Video credit: Dr. Dorothy Heffernan