HomeExpert AdviceArticleHow to have a happy horse

How to have a happy horse

Posted in Management

If you want to up your horse’s happiness, we suggest some simple ways to keep him contented


We love our horses and want them to live their best lives. Sure, we can meet their basic needs of food, shelter, safety and companionship, but can we go a step further? Can we make them happy? 

Some of the things you can do involve overall good husbandry, but others are more transient measures and in the moment. Either way, by improving your horse’s levels of wellbeing and all-round contentment, in turn he’ll be easier to manage, more relaxed generally and like to respond to you more positively – and that makes you happy, too.

Know your horse

When you start working on increasing your horse’s happiness quotient, first and foremost really get to know him, his likes and dislikes, as well as his idiosyncrasies. Each horse is different with his own individual personality, traits and preferences, so being familiar with your horse allows you to tailor your management, interaction and handling in the ways that suit him best.

Get physical

Most horses enjoy being groomed and it also gives you the chance to bond. To increase his enjoyment, find your horse’s itchy spot when you’re grooming and give him a good scratch using your fingers, a stiff brush, or a rubber curry comb. 

When the weather’s good and there aren’t too many flies about, turn him out naked. Horses enjoy the sun on their backs, as well as having a lovely roll in the mud. 

A massage will help your horse relax. It could be therapeutic, such as a physio session, but a sunny half-hour with a massage mitt will go a long way.

Give your horse plenty of exercise, either through riding or turning out – or, preferably, both. Not only does he need this to keep fit, but movement also aids digestion.

When picking out his hooves, give your horse a stretch by gently pulling his legs out in front and behind him. Work within his comfortable range of movement and be sure to pull in a straight line. He’ll love it and may even voluntarily go into a full body stretch. Baited stretches can help release tightness in his back and neck, too.

Top tip

Scratch your horse in places that are difficult for him to reach – for example, under his chin or on his throat.

Food for thought

Allow your horse to exhibit natural behaviours whenever possible. This includes foraging for food. Try scattering some of his hay on the stable floor and hiding apples and carrots in it. You could also hide his pelleted feed or balancer in the hay, or use a treat ball that releases pellets as he rolls it.

Top tip

It’s possible to buy bit butter to make the bit more palatable and comfy for your horse. They’re usually flavoured, so he’ll love it, even if it’s not an essential purchase.

Some horses enjoy wild garlic, so you can pick the leaves, tear them up and mix them into feed. Don’t overdo the amounts, though, and collect leaves from places away from vehicles so they’re not contaminated by exhaust fumes. Make sure not to pull up the whole plant, as you need to leave the bulb in the ground so it can grow again the following year.

If your horse is on box rest or the grass has disappeared in your field, take him for an in-hand graze or, alternatively, pick some fresh grass (away from a roadside) to feed him as a treat.

Top tip

Hang fruits and vegetables from beams in the stable for him to nibble on and to keep him entertained.

Mind over matter

Give your horse a daily routine. Knowing what to expect and when will help him relax mentally and relieve stress. Incorporate activities he likes into this routine.

Your horse should have at least one day off a week when he can rest and chill out. 

Try to vary hacking routes to keep it interesting for your horse and, just like you, from time to time, he’ll enjoy the company of a friend or two on his outings.

Top tip

Prevent staleness by mixing up your horse’s work to include both gentle and fast hacking so it’s not always schooling. Ideally, he should hack at least once a week.

During the day, an open door with a chain across will allow your horse to feel less confined in his stable – he can even watch the world go by while lying down.

Let him have the company of other horses as much as possible, but keep an eye out for any signs of aggression or bullying. Stables that allow horses to see each other and touch are great – if the neighbours get along. 

If his stable has a back window, open it during daylight hours (unless it’s very windy) to give an alternative view of the world. Plus, doing so will also increase the passage of air which will benefit your horse’s respiratory system.

If your horse is stabled in the day on a busy yard, have a daily hour with no noise or activity to allow all the horses to switch off mentally and have a doze.

Time together

Finally, even if it’s only 10 minutes, try to spend some time with your horse when you’re not doing anything together. You could watch him graze or simply sit in his stable, reading a book or the latest issue of Horse&Rider. In these peaceful moments, he’ll enjoy your quiet company with nothing expected of him. 

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