The nights are interminably long and the days short and dismal; conditions are cold, wet, windy or icy. Winter brings with it weather to test even the hardiest Northern Hemisphere dweller and unless you have the luxury of ample land and year-round turnout, your horse is likely to be spending long hours stabled at this time of year.
While you are sitting in front of a warm fire or sleeping under a cosy duvet, spare a thought for your horse, who, by being stabled for hours at a time, could be feeling pretty bored — and maybe a little depressed. Some horses develop vices when they are stabled for long periods, such as crib biting and wind sucking.
So what can you do to help alleviate the tedium of long hours spent in a box, and maybe prevent a nasty habit developing?
Give him as large a stable as possible — maybe move him elsewhere if there is a larger box available.
Horses are herd animals and generally enjoy company. Your equine partner will be happier if he can look over his door and see stablemates. If the box is big enough and your horse particularly lonely, would he be happier with a small companion in situ?
Take him out as often as possible. If the conditions make riding unsafe, see if he can spend an hour turned out in the school or, if he is injured, take him for a walk in hand.
Offer him plenty of forage in a haynet. While many experts believe that you should feed from the floor, a haynet with small holes will ensure that your horse will trickle feed and be kept occupied by munching for far longer.
There are abundant stable toys on the market these days, some of them edible. You can also make your own, such as threading a rope through a ball, an apple, a swede, etc, and suspending it from a high point in the stable. Some horses love to play apple bobbing, and others enjoy kicking a ball around for amusement. Use your imagination to find something your horse loves — but ensure that it is safe.
Place a lick in the stable — a slightly different concept from stable toys in that these provide a variety of minerals and nutrients, especially salt, which he may lack in his diet. By suspending the lick on a rope in the stable, you immediately have a toy and one of his ‘five a day’ rolled into one.
Some people claim that the installation of a mirror in a horse’s stable will work wonders and make him happier and calmer, as well as helping to reduce serious stable vices.
Horses are intelligent creatures and yours may really enjoy the challenge of learning something new — with a treat thrown in when he does things right of course.
Most horses love a bit of pampering — and it will help to while away the time
Winter is the time to snuggle up with a good book, by which we don’t mean 50 Shades, but more 50 ways to improve your riding. These dark months are the perfect time to indulge in a little equestrian homework when the mucking out and feeding are finished.
To ensure that your fitness levels don’t take a hit, use the time wisely and join a gym, swim and sign up for a pilates class so that your core is no longer ineffective but strong and toned so that you will be beautifully stable in the saddle come the spring.
Clear out and clean the tackroom; give some of that tired old tack a bit of a soaping to make it spring back to life and once all the hard work is done, crack open a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, put your feet up and relax. You deserve it.