Remember those lucky dip boxes when you were a kid? It’s kind of like that, except your horse gets to keep ALL the things.
Essentially, we stuff a box full of different horsey goodies and safe plants, grasses and herbs for your horse to snuffle around in and explore a load of different tastes and scents. They get to figure out what they like the best and how to get at the hidden treats. Super fun!
It’s a fabulous way to spend time with your horse. You get to hang out with your horse and learn what their preferences are, whilst they get to have a great time and learn that you are the bringer of awesomeness – and let’s face it, who doesn’t want to be that for their horse?
Meanwhile, your horse is getting to use their senses of smell and taste to be selective about what they choose to eat (or choose to eat first) – something they may not otherwise get to do if they don’t have access to plentiful pasture, or hay made from a variety of grasses. What a fun way to add some choice into their lives!
You can add a bit to the challenge by placing objects inside the box to conceal some of the yummies, even a simple cloth can be quite a challenge for a horse to find the treats underneath. You may also wish to fill other objects like a small cone or container and place them inside the box, to add to the level of difficulty for your horse to get the different forage and treats. This really gets them using their brain, which can be a great boredom buster and a handy way to get young horses concentrating. Start out making the box really easy and then gradually increase the difficulty level. Remember horses are not natural problem solvers, so take it slowly and if your horse walks away from the unfinished box, no problem, take note and make it easier next time.
When your horse starts snuffling in the box, all the treats and other objects rattle about a bit – if your horse is enthusiastic this can be QUITE the rattle! So in addition to all the other benefits, the snuffle box can also help desensitise your horse to noises and things moving about near their head. It’s not as scary for your horse as other methods of desensitisation as your horse is totally in control of the movement and can make it stop at any time and also gets rewarded immediately when the movement and noise occurs. Winning!
Once your horse learns to love a snuffle box, you can use them to help your horse gain confidence. Let’s say your horse is worried about being in the wash bay. By giving him a snuffle box first near to and then as he gains confidence, inside the wash bay, you can help him start to associate the wash bay with good things. Soon, your horse learns that the wash bay predicts good things and he is no longer anxious about being in there.
For safety, always separate your horse from his friends to give him a snuffle box. He needs to be far enough away to not feel the need to protect the food, or feel threatened by other horses when eating it, but also not so far away from his friends that he is too worried to relax and explore the box.
If you know me, you know that I love easy, hands-off training and the snuffle box is a great example of this. In my book the snuffle box is nothing short of a win-win, for you and your horse!
Check out this video of how I made a snuffle box for Evita, see what I put in it and watch her devour it 😊.
© 2021 Sara Jackson