Monday, 2 March 2015

Do horses get bored?

I think we often get stress and boredom confused when we talk about horses.  As people stress is something a lot of people suffer from to different degrees, each person's stress tolerance level is different!  Stress in people is not always a bad thing, some levels of stress can motivate and create positive feelings.  However, negative stress can cause health problems.  Surely horses are no different, they are all individuals too!

We say that horses that weave, crib bite, wind suck, box walk etc are bored.  Surely they look more stressed?  Our horses still hold on to many of their wild behaviours, see my Horse Psychology and Horse Ancestry blogs.  So, surely stabling them for long periods they will become stressed and develop ways of coping!  Basil is a crib biter - this I believe he developed when stabled constantly as a racehorse -  it is now an ingrained habit that we minimise as much as possible with turnout and ad lib hay.

To go back to the title of this vlog then, it isn't intended to be about 'vices', 'bad habits' or 'stereotypies' but about whether horses get bored.  Do they get bored with riding in the same places?  

When I was writing last weeks blog about whether schooling has to be boring it got me thinking about Basil.  Until last summer we did not have access to an arena or anywhere to school because the field is ridge and furrow, there is no level place to ride.  This meant that for the last 5 years I have just hacked out, we have a few different places to ride but the first and last 20 minutes are always down the same stretch of road.  To be honest I never really thought that he would be getting bored of it, although, I was.

Some people become bored doing the same job day in and day out, some don't - everyone is different.  I know that some horses that  spend every day in the school get bored eg: riding school horses, they become lazy and difficult to motivate and get going.  Then when these horses are taken out for a hack they brighten up, walk a bit faster, are interested in their surroundings and seem to enjoy themselves more!  They are more stimulated, and maybe a tiny bit stressed which makes them motivated and creates positive feelings.

This seems to hold true for privately owned horses that are also only ever ridden in the school, with the same exercises day in day out!  Taking the horses out to a show or a different environment stimulates them and they can become stronger and excited.   I thought, though, that hacking out is more interesting, even if it is the same route. 

However, since having access to an arena again we are able to alternate schooling, lunging and hacking out and I think Basil has changed.  He seems really keen to get into the arena (as I have said in other blogs) he is strong in canter and is enjoying the challenge of learning and doing different exercises.  

Why do I think he is enjoying himself?  Obviously, he can't tell me but his ears are pricked his head is alert, he walks to the arena with purpose and generally seems happier on a day to day basis.  He definitely has more of a spring in his step (let's hope it doesn't get too springy in the next few weeks) and is actually spooking less on our hacks.  It makes me think that he was actually trying to add a bit of excitement to our hacks.  Having said that I do also think that my increased confidence has helped this too so it could be a bit of both!

It definitely seems that Basil likes variety and craves a bit of a challenge.  However, they are all different ... Fidget seems perfectly content to do very little!  So maybe, like people, some horses get bored with the same thing every day and some don't.

Have you seen last weeks vlog 'One Day in February' ?
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Until next time!

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