You could easily be forgiven for thinking that horses don’t do much during the day, especially if you’ve ever spent any time watching a herd of horses in the pasture but this couldn’t be further from the truth. To the casual observer, it can look like horses spend most of the time aimlessly wandering from place to place but if you look more closely you’ll notice that there’s a lot more structure to a horse’s day.
What do horses do all day? Horses spend most of their days (and nights too) looking for food, eating, drinking, and interacting with other horses. They’ll also nap from time to time and, if they’re feeling safe, will lie down and sleep. Just like us, horses will also sunbathe if the weather gets hot too.
What do horses do during the day?
Horses are creatures of habit and can quickly become distressed if their routine changes too drastically but that doesn’t mean to say they have a set schedule they follow every day. Instead, there are certain ‘tasks’ or activities that they carry out during the day.
You might think that foraging is the same as eating (especially as grass and hay are referred to as forage) but foraging simply means searching for food. Of course, domesticated horses don’t need to search for their food in the same way that wild horses do but they haven’t lost the instinct to search for it and will spend a vast part of the day ‘foraging’. To the untrained eye, this can look like a horse is simply roaming around the pasture but they’re actually exercising their foraging instincts.
There’s no point searching for food unless you’re going to eat it and we all know that horses like to eat! In fact, given the chance, many horses will continuously eat all day regardless of whether or not they’re hungry. This is one of the reasons why you need to make sure your horse isn’t eating too much grass (especially if they’re an easy keeper) and is getting a balanced diet.
Drinking is one of those things that many of us don’t even think about but to horses drinking, as well as helping them to digest their food, is also a meeting spot and a place to sort out the herd’s pecking order, much like the office water cooler.
Horses will use the water trough to show their dominance or submissiveness towards other horses. This is why you’ll often see horses standing around the water trough while other horses drink, they’re waiting for horses with more status than them to finish drinking before they can take their turn.
Even if a horse hasn’t been bitten or doesn’t have any soars they will still spend a considerable amount of time scratching and rubbing against their favorite post. Or course it gets rid of any itches that they might have but scratching also releases serotonin into the bloodstream which is known to a horse’s boost mood.
Being intelligent animals horses like to play and will happily make up games to play amongst themselves. Whether it’s rolling in a sandy spot, galloping around the field like a lunatic, playing hide and seek with another horse, or acting like an escapologist horses will always find a new and innovative way of entertaining themselves. It helps to keep them occupied but also gives them a chance to expel some of their energy.
Unlike us, horses don’t spend hours asleep and in fact, don’t spend anywhere near as much time sleeping as we do but that doesn’t mean to say it’s not part of their daily routine. In any 24 hour period horses will spend around 3 hours asleep, although they don’t do this in one go.
Being prey animals horses need to be able to run at a moment’s notice which is why they sleep in the same way they eat, little and often. In fact, horses rarely spend more than 10 minutes at a time asleep and they’ll only do this when another horse is keeping watch for predators.
A herd of horses will take it in turns to keep a look out for danger while the other horses in the herd eat, drink and more specifically sleep. They won’t necessarily stand there with their head in the air looking for any signs of danger but they’ll keep their ears and eyes open, even while they’re grazing.
Horses are extremely social animals and will often separate from the bigger herd into small mini herds where they’ll spend a lot of time mutually grooming (known as allogrooming) each other as well as helping to scratch areas that just can’t be reached.
Horses spend a lot of their time arguing with other horses in the herd and battling with them for herd supremacy, although this often happens alongside other daily activities such as drinking, grazing, and even playing. It might seem like horses are being grumpy and argumentative but these squabbles (while only being small) are part of the natural herd behavior and can play a big role in the long-term structure of the herd.
As well as everything I just mentioned horses also spend some of their time relaxing, especially in the summer when they can sunbathe, or maybe that’s just my horses.
What do horses do during the night?
It’s a common misconception that horses, just like us, prefer to be tucked up for the night but if you’ve ever watched horses that are turned out during the night you’ll realize this just isn’t the case. Yes, they do sleep but only in short bursts, instead, they’re actually far more active at night, although they do tend to do the same sort of things they do during the day.
While horses will nap at various times during the night, they rarely sleep deeply and when you consider predators are generally more active at night, it’s easy to see why horses do this. Instead of sleeping, they spend approximately 95% of the night eating and drinking, walking around, and socializing with their field mates. When they do nap though there will always be at least one other horse keeping guard, just in case there’s any danger around the corner.
If you’ve ever wondered just what horses do at night this video will show you everything you need to know, it was filmed over a period of two nights using a motion-activated security camera.
What do horses do for fun?
Horses spend a lot of their time grazing but when they’re not doing that they will often play with other horses (as well as with dogs and with us). Like a lot of animals, these ‘games’ are a great way to teach young horses but can also be good for establishing the herd’s hierarchy as well as providing mental stimulation.
All horses are different and prefer different games but many of these games have striking similarities to some of the games you’ll find being played out on a middle school playing field. Games such as:
Horses have a very strong flight instinct and playing tag gives them a chance to exercise this. It also allows horses to assert their dominance and control over another horse, something that horses will always challenge each other over.
More common in male horses, not only does it teach them to defend themselves but it also gives young horses and stallions a chance to show off. You might be surprised to know that it also builds trust between horses, this is because while they’re ‘pretending’ to fight they’re stopping short of hurting each other.
Playing with objects
Horses can get bored pretty easily and will often look for other things to occupy themselves, they’ll happily play with branches, balls, buckets, or anything they can get their teeth into (often literally). This is one of the reasons why trickle feeders are such a good idea, they’ll keep your horse occupied for hours and will give him a steady supply of forage.
Tug of war
Horses love to play tug of war more than any other can and they’re not overall fussed about who they play it with, other horses, dogs, goats, or even us. Not only is it great fun but it also helps to strengthen their muscles while also exercising their brain as they’re constantly trying to outthink and outwit their opponent.
Do horses get bored?
Horses are highly intelligent animals that can get bored quickly if they don’t have something to keep their minds occupied and stimulated. In the past (when they were still living wild) they would spend a large amount of their time traveling around looking for food which would help to keep them occupied but, despite being domesticated many thousands of years ago, they haven’t lost the instinct (or desire) to travel around a lot.
Horses that are turned out are able to exercise their need to move around a lot but for horses that are stalled or only have a small pasture, this isn’t so easy and can lead to horses getting bored or frustrated. It can also result in the horse suffering from various vices (such as wind sucking, weaving, or cribbing) as they’re trying to find other ways of channeling their energy.
In order to stop horses from getting bored, you should make sure they’ve got plenty of stimulation such as toys to play with and other horses or animals to mix with. If your horse needs to be stalled then you should also read this article about beating stall rest boredom, it covers everything you need to know to stop them from getting bored.
What do wild horses do all day?
You might be surprised to know that there are very few truly wild horses left today, most so-called wild horses are actually feral horses that were once (albeit possibly hundreds of years ago) domesticated, but regardless of that they both fall under the remit of this question, although I will admit it should be titled ‘what do non-domesticated horses do all day?’.
The simple answer (and most honest) would be to say they search for food, and when I say search I do mean that rather than eating. During the summer months when there’s more food around wild horses won’t spend so much time searching for food. Conversely though, during the winter, when the ground is often frozen and food is scarce, horses have to travel further to find food and can easily cover 25 miles in a day. Which as you can imagine takes up a fair amount of time
When wild horses aren’t looking for food they spend the rest of their time eating the food they’ve found, drinking, social bonding, and sleeping.
I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.
Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.
- Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
- TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
- Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
- Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
- Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.
I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉