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Equine Toy - Distraction Aid

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 Equine Toy - Distraction Aid 

A unique patented horse toy. "The distraction aid"  The horse toy  works well for nervous horses, bored horses, problem horses,  horses that weave, box walk, wind-suck and crib-bite, the distraction Aid  can be adapted to fit literally, anywhere in the stable and can even hang from a tree in the field. Working with natural horsemanship principles. 


The horse toy is made from a strong plastic, the rubber is one of the toughest on the market, the rope has been tested for durability and strength, the shock cord elastic is the same product used by bungee jumpers, the clips are used by all leading animal manufactures.


Box walkers

Simply fix a tie ring in the centre of the roof of the stable, and attach both ends of the rope to the ring.

Fix two tie rings in the corner of the horses stable; attach both ends of the rope to the tie rings.

Place horse treats, carrots, apples under the string - keeping your horse happy. 

Weavers/crib-biters/wind suckers

Simple fix two tie rings above the inside of the stable door, and attach both ends of the rope to the tie rings.

The equine toy is most affective at the horse’s eye or mouth level.

The objective of the horse toy distraction aid  is to provide a distraction for horses, which require a stimulus to break vices.


Environmental Enrichment Preferences in Stabled Ponies


Sophie L. Beaumont


A thesis submitted in part fulfilment for the degree of Master of Science in ‘Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare’ at the University of Edinburgh.

University of Edinburgh
Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
Easter Bush
EH25 9RG

Environmental Enrichment Preferences in Stabled Ponies

Sophie L. Beaumont

University of Edinburgh, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Easter Bush, Roslin, Edinburgh, EH25 9RG



The aim of the study was to determine if there was a preference in environmental enrichment devices amongst stabled ponies. Three commercially available devices were used; these were a decahedron, a distraction aid and a tongue twister. Each device was presented to 14 ponies over three consecutive days for 45 minutes, this formed the familiarity process. The observational phase was conducted on day five when each pony was presented with all three devices and data was recorded for each pony. Frequency and duration of interaction with each device was measured and this determined preference. Nine natural behaviours elicited through interaction with each device were also measured. Statistical analysis of the results showed that the distraction aid was used significantly more than the other devices. Significant differences in behaviours between devices were also revealed in that ‘nudge’, ‘pull’, ‘paw’, ‘search’, whilst ‘bite’ and ‘nuzzle’ behaviours were observed significantly more with the distraction aid. These results suggest that preference in enrichment devices may be related to the expression of natural behaviours, in that increased performance of natural behaviours increases preference. Despite these results, it should be noted that each device was used throughout the observations and various behaviours were observed with each device, supporting previous research demonstrating a preference for a varied and flavoured diet. Restrictions such as sample size, age and breeds of the sample ponies, length of time allowed with each device, the number of devices used and the types of rewards used are all factors, which may have inadvertently affected the results. In conclusion, this study identifies the general enrichment toy preference for stabled ponies, as well as the behaviours that are expressed whilst interacting with the device.

Key words: Environmental enrichment, preferences, enrichment devices, natural behaviours


Environmental enrichment refers to improvements made to captive animal environments which may involve adding a single object to the stable or by making major structural changes, such as increasing the size of the stable. Effective environmental enrichment is generally considered indicative of improved animal welfare the goals of environmental enrichment are to promote natural behaviour and improve animal welfare.  Research has shown that the beneficial effects of environmental enrichment may be achieved by adding toys, such as feed dispensing devices for horses,  This technique of enrichment is often successful in enhancing the welfare of captive animals by reducing the amount of time available for stereotypic behaviour

The aim of this study is to determine if there is a preference in environmental enrichment devices amongst stabled ponies. The experimental hypothesis states that there will be a preference for the enrichment device, which elicits behaviours most closely relating to natural foraging and play behaviour in the horse.


Fig. 1 Decahedron         



    Fig. 2 Distraction aid


                                     Fig. 3 Tongue twister

3.1 Enrichment device preferences

Ranking of the data suggests that the distraction aid was used significantly more than the other devices. Despite these results indicating preferences for particular enrichment devices.


Fig. 5 Mean frequency of interaction with each toy.    

There were significant differences in behaviour between devices,

Ranking of the data revealed that ‘nudge’, ‘pull’, ‘paw’, ‘search’ and ‘consume reward’  behaviours were performed significantly more frequently with the decahedron than with the other enrichment devices. ‘Bite’ and ‘nuzzle’ behaviours were performed significantly more frequently when interacting with the distraction aid rather than with the other devices.  The tongue twister elicited more ‘lick’ behaviour than the other devices.


Fig. 7 Frequency of behaviours for the decahedron        Fig. 8 Frequency of behaviours for the dist. aid

Fig. 9 Frequency of behaviours for the tongue twister

The results show that the decahedron elicited the highest number of behaviours, of which all nine behaviours were observed when the ponies interacted with this device (fig. 7 and fig. 10). Both the distraction aid and tongue twister elicited all but two behaviours amongst the ponies, these were paw and lick, and pull and paw respectively (fig. 8, fig. 9, fig. 10 and fig. 11). The most frequent behaviour for the decahedron was ‘nudge’ at 44.56%, followed by ‘paw’ behaviour at 29.62% (fig. 10), whilst the most frequent behaviours were ‘bite’ at 44.60% and ‘nudge’ at 16.07% for the distraction aid (fig. 11) and ‘consume reward’ and ‘lick’ behaviours at 27.84% and 20.62% respectively, for the tongue twister (fig. 12). These percentages clearly demonstrate that the decahedron elicits an increased number of behaviours compared to the other devices.

Fig. 10 Percentage of behaviours exhibited for decahedron.

Fig. 11 Percentage of behaviours exhibited for distraction aid.


Fig. 12 Percentage of behaviours exhibited for tongue twister

4.0 Discussion

4.1 Enrichment device preferences

 The results showed that ponies expressed preferences for particular environmental enrichment devices the decahedron and distraction aid were revealed to be the favoured toys. The distraction aid was used significantly more frequently than the other devices,. The tongue twister was the least preferred device, representing the lowest frequency and duration of interaction.  

The distraction aid, Successful environmental enrichment methods encourage the performance of natural behaviours and due to the abundance of natural foraging and play behaviours observed whilst interacting with the preferred devices, one may conclude that environmental enrichment may be achieved by the provision and the use of the favoured toys. For example, the decahedron was observed to elicit much nudging and pawing behaviours, of which both are natural play and foraging actions, whilst the distraction aid also elicited much biting and nudging behaviours, of which both are The rewards used by each toy may have impacted upon the preferences of each pony for a particular toy, after all research has shown that ponies selectively graze on various forages, implying a substantial role for individual differences. One possible explanation for the preference of the distraction aid is that the rewards (i.e. carrots) are clearly visible to the user and thus the device appears more appealing and achievable. Furthermore, both the decahedron and distraction aid provided a feed stuff as a reward, whereas the tongue twister provided a lick. Despite ‘licking’ being a natural behaviour in the horse, it is foraging behaviour, previously defined as sniffing, manipulating, biting, chewing or ingesting food that appears more highly motivated, thus foraging behaviour seems to possess more value and hence preference than licking behaviour. Previous research has suggested that food motivated animals will direct foraging behaviour towards the substrate with the highest incentive value in this case the distraction aid appear to be the favoured substrates.

The results predominantly show that each enrichment device encouraged the performance of natural behaviours. As a result, some may propose that all the devices have been successful in enriching the ponies’ environment and have consequently enhanced the welfare of the individuals involved. After all, the purpose of environmental enrichment is to encourage natural behaviours and in doing so improve animal welfare. Components of both play and foraging behaviours were observed during all bouts of interaction across all three devices; therefore it appears most accurate to refer to the devices as toys and foraging devices, as each device implicated both types of natural behaviours.

Abnormal behaviour is often assumed  indicative of poor welfare initiating research to enrich the environment through adjustments that reduce abnormal behaviour. Enrichment attempts are also frequently aimed at reducing negative emotional states such as boredom and apathy, commonly resulting from barren and unstimulating environments, as well as frustration, which animals are likely to experience when they are prevented from expressing highly motivated behaviour. The difficulty here with regard to emotional states, for example boredom, is that they cannot yet be verified or measured.

The performance of crib-biting might facilitate salivary flow, which in turn reduces gastric acidity of the digestive tract. However, endoscopic examination of the stomachs of crib-biting foals were significantly more ulcerated and inflamed than the stomachs of non-stereotypic foals, implying that these animals were not coping. An alternative explanation for the function of stereotypies is proposed by Cooper and Albentosa (2005) in that stereotypies allow the expression of highly motivated behaviours, thereby allowing the animal to regain some control over their environment. Stereotypies often occur in situations where the individual lacks control over their environment, in horses this usually occurs whilst stabled, when access to conspecifics, food or some other resource is prevented. Stereotypies commonly undergone whilst stabled include box walking, weaving, wind-sucking and crib-biting. Locomotor stereotypies such as weaving or box-walking may be related to the inhibition of mobility and movement (Cooper and Mason; 1998), or lack of social contact with conspecifics, whilst oral stereotypies, such as wind-sucking and crib-biting have been associated with feeding practices.

Increasing the size and complexity of the environment is widely reported to reduce the incidence of stereotypic behaviour .

4.3 Play behaviour and toys

Toys are often recommended as sources of environmental enrichment and object play, some of the objects are likely to be of greater functional value than others, and there may be differences between individuals in the significance of each toy.

A study conducted by McBride and Long (2001) revealed a 45 per cent success rate in equestrian establishments who provided toys in the stable in an attempt to manage stereotypic behaviour. These findings support previous research maintaining an association between a stimulating environment and a reduced incidence of stereotypies. There are numerous toys commercially available on the market to the horse owner, and many horse owners have now recognised the importance of these toys as object play items and methods for achieving both environmental and behavioural enrichment. However, in order for them to be an effective stimulating object, a functional value must be attributed to the object by the horse.

Novelty appears to be a particularly important factor with regard to the amount of play exhibited following the addition of a toy to the environment.

5.0 Conclusion

There is much research supporting the beneficial effects of providing an enriched environment for stabled horses, in that stimulating environments may reduce the development and occurrence of stereotypic behaviours whilst encouraging natural behaviours. There is also much research as to the particular methods that have proved successful in achieving environmental enrichment. Providing a toy for example, appears to be an effective environmental enrichment technique, given that the device holds some form of functional value to the animal. The value of a toy may be attributed in terms of performance of natural behaviours. For example, the equine devices mentioned previously appear to implicate both natural play behaviours, as well as natural foraging behaviours in their use, suggesting a toys’ value is in its ability to promote natural behaviours for its successful use. Furthermore, by encouraging both play and foraging behaviours, the devices appear to possess multiple functions and benefits by providing play and foraging opportunities simultaneously,as well as preferences for a varied and flavoured diet amongst. This gap in the research poses a series of unanswered questions such as, is there a preference? If so, what is the preferred enrichment device? And what determines this preference?  


This study demonstrates that ponies express a preference for particular environmental enrichment devices and that different devices elicit significantly different behaviours. The devices that proved most favourable were those that encouraged much natural foraging and play behaviours. As a result, environmental enrichment may prove most successful with the provision of several enrichment devices that promote the performance of various natural, highly motivated behaviours.