Horse Enrichment!

By Terry Golson

It’s been six weeks since that Quarter Horse ran over my foot and broke it. My orthopedist says that I’m healing right on schedule and that I no longer have to wear the walking cast. I’m back to my regular shoes – which means my barn boots. However, the bone still has a couple of weeks before it’s fully sealed and back together in one strong piece.


My doctor said that I can get back to normal activity, but that I’m not to run or jump. The foot still hurts, and I’m not quite ready to ride, but walking around without that cast feels like freedom!

While I’ve been laid up, Tonka has also had a break. His days entail going from stall to paddock and back again. I arrive daily and lead him out to grass for a graze. I groom him. But my foot has constrained him as much as it has me. I take pride in the fact that Tonka will leave the security of the stable and his friends and go on trail rides with just me as company. But, that good behavior is trained, and the longer that he stays put in one place, the harder it gets for him to leave. Yesterday was a picture perfect fall day. I had on my sturdy barn boots. It was time!

I led Tonka down the road to where there’s a large hay field that goes back to a pond and woods. I have permission to ride on the perimeter. Yesterday, both Tonka and I walked it.


I’m not sure that my orthopedist’s idea of walking is the same as mine.


I did not discuss with my doctor that my walks entail leading a 1,000 pound, excited horse, over uneven terrain.

It seemed normal to me.

Tonka and I did take breaks to look at the scenery.


And to *try* to relax by grazing.


Seeing new places, gazing at the fall colors, taking in the smells, seeing (spooking at) a tractor in the distance, navigating unknown paths, and tasting different plants, all while still tuned into me – that’s an enjoyable challenge for Tonka. That’s enrichment.

6 thoughts on “Horse Enrichment!

  • Gin

    Exactly what I would do. After one of my injuries were healing Doc said I could ride, but like you I know he didn’t think “riding” was the same thing as I did. Glad you foot is doing better.
    Horses definitely do need attention, or enrichment. When I was a volunteer for the NARHA the therapy horses were also ridden by the kids from the Pony Club, out on the trails, over jumps, etc. It helped with the stress of being a therapy horse. When the Pony Club moved to another barn you could really tell a difference in attitude of the therapy horses, and not for the better.

    • Terry Golson Post author

      Some people “retire” their horses to therapy programs. But that work is very hard, emotionally and physically. The programs that understand that have more content and healthier horses.

      • Gin

        We had some retired horses in our program, and some not, some settled in and did very well. The ones that didn’t, there was usually one of the volunteers that would take them and give them a home, or knew someone that would. What I was trying to get at, and didn’t do very well, was that even the therapy horses that were happy in that capacity, needed some “horse enrichment” and the Pony Club kids took care of that for them. I loved my job as a leader in the volunteer program. Just to see the smiles on the faces of the riders when they could move around “walk” without a wheelchair or braces or whatever was more than worth all the time and hard work involved.
        Tonka is fortunate to have an owner that would take the time and effort to go and pay attention to him even when unable to ride.

        • Terry Golson Post author

          You did explain it well, I just got off-course there a bit… people assume that therapy horses have it easy because some “just walk.” But it’s a hard job! You’re absolutely right that having the enrichment (especially from doing, knowledgable pony clubbers) improves their lives (any horse, for that matter!)

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