Why you should play with your horse (and 12 games to play)
All work and no play makes Doris a dull girl – and it’s just as true for your horse as it is for you!
Building a little bit of play into your routine has significant benefits, including:
Improving the bond between you and your horse
Improving your horses work ethic (and your own work ethic as well)
Increasing training techniques for you and your horse
Improving the physical, mental and emotional well-being of you both
Playing with your horse doesn’t have to be complex or difficult, nor does it have to eat into your training time. But given the benefits of playtime, is it not worth 10-15 minutes?
How to play with your horse
Here are just a few suggestions of games you can play with your horse.
On the ground
Come – teach your horse to respond to the command “come” by taking a step towards you (immediately reward the effort to step towards you). You may initially need to start this on a lead rope then progress without it. Once your horse is taking a few steps voluntarily, extend the distance and eventually you can begin to cue with other signals, such as raising both arms. Remember, your horse is motivated by a release in pressure, so always reward a small give towards you. (It could also help you with the uncatchable horse, but perhaps start in a smaller enclosed area if they are).
Fetch – this is a great fun game where you drop an item and ask your horse to pick it up for you. A great game that will help avoid dismounting if you drop your crop!
Follow the leader/Tag – These games are an extension of the come command.
Hug – a hug from a loved one is an amazing feeling, so why not teach your horse to hug you! Have you horse stretch his neck around your body.
Soccer – many horses love to play with inanimate objects! You can teach your horse to play with a ball with you if they are inclined to play with objects. Start with proper horse balls – these have handles and are larger but still light so as your horse nuzzles the ball it will move. The handles also drive the inquisitive mind to grab them and also make the ball move in unpredictable directions.
In the saddle
Hack it out! Go for a trail ride, explore the paddock – whatever you do, just get out of that arena!
Ride a different discipline – if you are training dressage, why not set up a small jump course, or some barrels, and have a burl. Get some friends together and compete in your own at home pony club session! (Make it even more fun by handing out some cheeky mock awards, such as shiniest bum or widest turn).
Go to a show – just for fun – What if you just went to a show with no intentions of winning? The stimulation of the show along with the fact that you will be much more relaxed will not only be good practice for you both, but break up the monotony of work. Don’t think you are ready to show? Who cares? Be that annoyingly blissful person that is looking after your horse, gaining experience and doesn’t care about points or opinions.
Simon says – this is another great group game to play. Someone will need to play Simon but you can swap it around so everyone has a turn. Simon says do a twenty meter circle, Simon says halt, Trot on – oops Simon didn’t say that- you lose!
Find that itch and scratch it – horses are herd animals so contact is something they enjoy. Even better, it’s something they need for those hard-to-reach itchy spots. Give your horse a moment of pleasure by giving one of those favourite hard-to-reach areas a good long scratch!
Carrot stretches – what horse doesn’t like carrots (and if yours doesn’t, try their other favourite treat). Encourage them to reach forward, between their front legs, and to the sides to get the carrots – preferably while staying still. It’s also great for stretching out their neck and back muscles before a riding session.
Squeaky toys – as with the soccer ball, some curious horses may enjoy the stimulation provided by flicking around and jumping on a squeaky toy. Laughter will be guaranteed as they discover the different noises they make. Just make sure the toy is much larger than a mouthful!