It’s no secret that horses love to play. They are sociable animals that love interacting with other herd members, nipping and bumping each other like small boys playing catch on a baseball field. Neighs, not yells, are what you’ll hear. Even more impressive is their sound when their hooves strike the ground. Observing them in that context is just pure joy if you ask me. Whenever I have a chance to see them running about, I really appreciate the experience.
But that doesn’t mean horses can’t be on their own of course. When horses are kept for riding and do not have access to a real herd, they have a tendency to socialize more closely with humans, as they more naturally can become part of their ‘human herd’. Thus, they can have fun with people, particularly with you. And because horses, like humans, enjoy playing with toys, you can do a great deal with them and play different games with your horse.
Why You Should Play with Your Horses
Playing with your horse is a great way to build a close bond. As with any other relationship, you should strive to develop a strong emotional connection with your equine buddy. Building a solid relationship with your horse opens the door to many possibilities, including getting to know your horse’s unique personality and habits. Things flow more smoothly when you do, like best friends who can almost read each other’s minds and predict each other’s moves.
Furthermore, horses have excellent memory recall. They remember what you tell them to do. So it’s great to leave them memories that inspire and motivate. Horses may for different reasons experience stress or anxiety and keeping them entertained through playtime can help alleviate these feelings.
On top of that, playing with your horses helps keep your bodies and minds active and stimulated. Not just your horses’, but also yours!
8 Incredible Benefits of Play with Your Horse
When horses play, their fitness, survival skills, and social connections can all improve. The act of playing elicits sensations of pleasure and surprise, engaging your horse more in action making playtime a welcome addition to equine care and development.
Let’s have a look at some of the advantages of playing with your horse.
Playtime brings you closer together
Horses like to play, and when they do, they are often more responsive and willing to do what you ask. Playing releases adrenaline, a terrific chemical produced by the body when stressed or excited to help you perform better and think more clearly. The same thing applies to horses. The adrenaline rush enables the horse to run faster, jump higher, and respond more quickly than he would otherwise.
As a result, playtime can be a better way of connecting with your horse than always following a strict routine. Since there is only pleasure, they let their guards down, which enables you to see a new side of them that you likely won’t see through riding or training.
To put it another way, it is simpler to connect, try new things, and conquer challenges when you have a greater understanding of your horse.
Play helps relieve your horse’s stress
Frequent riding and stalling can lead to boredom, anxiety, and irritation in horses. Know the saying “work without play makes one dull?” – that sums it up nicely.
When horses are bored or annoyed, they can become difficult to handle and can even in some cases turn aggressive. To avoid this, horses need distraction and stimulation. So, shake up the routine and amaze and thrill them to break the monotony.
Horses, like humans, sometimes need to break free from the daily grind!
Playing with your horse helps build trust
Horses aren’t born with human-understanding skills. When horses know you don’t want to hurt them, they’re more likely to trust you. Since play is purely an enjoyable activity, they won’t perceive any danger.
Adapting to different human behaviors is fundamental in diminishing horses’ intrinsic fear impulses, so it’s great to regularly try new and exciting things with them. Additionally, horses are sensitive animals. They have a remarkable ability to read your moods. Seeing diverse sides of you prepares them to deal with various situations.
As it becomes more accustomed to diverse emotions, levels of energy, and appearances, your horse will learn to be more trustworthy with its favorite human – you.
Playtime keeps their minds off food
Some horses get hung up on food and become obese from overeating. As they gain weight, the pressure on their joints increases, making it more difficult for them to move.
Playing games with your horse, can help divert its attention away from food. Better still, it raises their heart rate, which promotes digestion.
Moreover, increased heart rates eliminate vast volumes of carbon dioxide created during muscle exercise (source).
Play enhances your horse’s mental capacities
Horses are brilliant animals. They can assimilate information, analyze it, and solve issues by observing human behavior. For instance, a horse might unlock a gate to escape from a stall or field without being taught. That suggests he has a lot more potential. And playing with your horse can help bring forth their untapped potential. Because when there is no pressure, learning often comes much easier.
As you spend more playtime with your horse, you might notice that they become sharper.
Play aids in the horse’s muscle development
Adding a fun element to your horse’s routine increases their involvement and motivation. Since there is no other horse to compete with, there is no pressure to perform well. You know how it feels when everyone’s eyes are on you. It can be pretty overwhelming, right? That’s because tension causes you to make mistakes instead of giving your best. But when you’re having fun, everything flows easily because you’re carefree.
So, when horses appreciate what they do, they become more active and engaged. Why not take advantage of this opportunity to learn everything there is to know about your horse’s personality?
Getting them to play regularly helps improve their health, muscle strength, endurance, and coordination.
Play boosts your horse’s confidence and security
Horses are prey animals, meaning they have a natural dread of the unknown. It’s their instinctive need to survive. As such, they rely on flight as their primary mode of survival. Since their natural predators are big animals such as cougars, wolves, and bears, they are often threatened or startled when someone approaches them.
Playing games together helps them get rid of those fears. The more time you spend together, the more at ease they will feel. In a way, play can act as a perfect desensitizing exercise so that and decrease their nervousness as they become accustomed to dealing with ‘strange things’ or events.
Playing with your horse is therapeutic
The benefits of playtime extend beyond your horse. If you didn’t already know, horses’ remarkable ability to communicate with humans has made them popular therapy animals. Horses have long been used to help people with mental health problems because they are extremely sensitive to human gestures and behaviors.
Studies have shown that horses can feel what people feel, and this is why they can help people who aren’t sure what they’re feeling. For example, if you walk toward your horse when angry, even if you don’t express it, it might jerk its head back and move away. But if you are happy, your horse may mirror that back to you. So, if you’re not aware, that’s your buddy alerting you to your mental state.
Simply put, your horse’s response mirrors your disposition. It can feel like you’re having wordless, and sometimes truly meaningful, conversation.
The most important reason for playing with your horse is to learn to understand and interact with it. Understanding how horses communicate and react will help you stay safe while riding, playing, or simply hanging out with them. A strong connection will also allow you to detect any issue must faster.
A positive relationship that fosters trust and communication is essential for equestrian happiness.