All youngsters. love to play, be they human or animal, and equine foals are no different. Donkeys, mules or horses (and probably zebras) are happiest (and healthiest) when they are active and encouraged to move around. Toys can help keep them on the move by stimulating their interest and giving them something to play with. Given modern horsekeeping practices, it is often rare to have young equines in large pastures where they can thrive and grow like nature intended. More and more we see young equines brought into smaller pastures and paddocks which makes toys even more important.
One of the most popular equine toys is a ball – I search thrift stores and garage sales for used basketballs, soccer balls, beachballs. Somewhat deflated is not a problem as it gives the youngster a ‘grip’ so the ball can be carried. For obvious reasons you don’t want a completely deflated ball, as it is the rolling action in a ball that makes it so appealing to the young equine. Of course, you can always purchase a new ball, or even one of the ‘designed for horses’ balls, but thrift shop and used balls work just as well at a fraction of the cost of new. Just toss the ball or balls into the paddock with one or more youngsters and watch the fun. (I had one weanling jack in a pen by himself last year, next to a pen with 2 residents, one donkey gelding and one horse colt. Both pens were supplied with balls. Well, the yearling devised a game all his own – he would take his ball, inch it up the fence from the ground with his nose and toss it over into the adjoining pen where the donkey gelding would grab it and take off, horse colt in hot pursuit. Then another ball would be put into position by the fence and the game continued. Meant extra work for the ball fetcher – me – but it gave the ‘boys’ hours of pleasure.)
Another toy that my donkeys and young horses are particularly fond of is old water hoses – approximately 10′ long is a perfect length for them to play tug-of-war with or drag around creating something to be chased. I cut all the hardware off an old piece of hose which has outlived its usefulness and loop it over a handy fencepost for the youngster/s to discover on their own. Old lead ropes can be used in the same way – again, I’d take the hardware off them and tie knots in them for more purchase and toss them into the pen.
Medium sized limbs from trees are favorites of my equines – 6′ to 8′ long with all the sharp ends removed make fun toys – be sure that the tree bark is not poisonous as they will skin the tree and eat the bark, so check with your county agent or other expert ahead of time.
Give the new equines plenty of time to acquaint themselves with the new toy/s – and never force the issue or you may have a youngster who avoids any contact with the new ‘gremlin’ in its pen. I prefer just placing the toy or toys in the pen and letting nature take its course – it may take days or weeks for discovery, but letting a young equine do things in its own time seems to me to be preferable over forcible introduction.
Another great thing about toys in the pens is that it keeps the youngsters from being quite so rough on their feed and water tubs and it gives them something to do which keeps them moving as nature intended.
Use your imagination AND your common sense – obviously you would not want to place anything in the pen which could injure the animal/s, so think before you act. Of all the toys mentioned above, balls are probably the safest although I personally have had no problems with any of the toys listed. Just be sure the balls are large enough not to be swallowed – and strong enough to withstand blows from hooves and teeth.
Contributed By: Nanci Falley