The following was published in the February 2016 issue of Horse and Rider magazine as part of their Ask the Experts feature. For more answers on behaviour related questions don't forget to go and buy your copy!
When I open my horse’s stable door he escapes but he doesn’t go far and stops when he gets outside. Why does he do this and how can I stop him?
Although it is something that is commonly done in the horse world, keeping a horse in a small enclosed space is extremely unnatural and stressful for a horse. Horses are group living, social animals who are designed to travel long distances every day. When they are stabled they are prevented from carrying out many of their natural behaviours and as a result many horses are not comfortable about being stabled. Being inside a stable also limits our horse’s visual field; for a prey animal who relies on their visual system to alert them to any approaching dangers it can be frightening to not be able to see all around them. Horses eyes allow them to see almost the whole way around them with only a small blind spot directly behind them and right in front of them, but when we stable them we really limit what they are able to see. When you consider these things it isn’t altogether surprising when they want to escape what is essentially a small prison to them.
It may be worth considering whether you really need to stable your horse or not? If not, perhaps his behaviour is indicating that he would prefer to just live out. If this is not possible for you then consider what you can do to make his stable a little more appealing. This could be by providing more forage for him to eat and also different types of forage so that he has a choice of what to eat. Provide environmental enrichment for him, such as branches to chew on, hanging vegetables to chew on and play with, treat balls, lickable toys, etc. Consider whether it might be possible for you to create a window at the back of his stable so that he has better visual access and/or a window between his stable and the one next door so that he can access his companion even when he is in his stable.