Your Guide to Equine Health Care

Are Stall Toys Good for Horses?

A horse behavior expert weighs in on whether she believes horses benefit from toys.

Are Stall Toys Good for Horses?
What we're really talking about when providing a %22toy%22 is environmental enrichment, which is used to increase the complexity and diversity of the animal's environment to improve physical and behavioral well-being. | Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Q: When I walk down the aisle of the stable where I board, I see a lot of horses have balls or other toys hanging up or sitting on the floor of their stall. But I never see them playing with the toys. Is it good for horses to have toys in their stalls?

A: Well, it can be really beneficial to give stalled horses something to do. The problem with “toys,” either commercial or hand-made things, is that horses can become habituated to them pretty quickly. That is, the novelty wears off and they ignore them. Some recommend rotating stall toys so the horses keep seeming new. But in general, I think toy use is pretty variable.

What we’re really talking about when providing a “toy” is environmental enrichment. That’s a big issue in particular among zoo keepers and habitat designers for captive wild animal spaces and management. The objective of environmental enrichment is to increase the complexity and diversity of the animal’s environment to improve physical and behavioral

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Prior to attending veterinary school, Dr. Nancy Diehl completed a master’s degree in animal science while studying stallion sexual behavior. Later, she completed a residency in large animal internal medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center and worked in equine practices in Missouri and Pennsylvania. Diehl also spent six years on faculty at Penn State, where she taught equine science and behavior courses and advised graduate students completing equine behavior research. Additionally, Diehl has co-authored scientific papers on stallion behavior, early intensive handling of foals, and feral horse contraception. Currently she is a practicing veterinarian in central Pennsylvania.

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