Playing with your horse is a great way to encourage your horse to think. Horses are very intelligent, and are able to process and problem solve. Finding games to play with your horse can be great for helping an easily spooked horse, as it furthers your relationship with them. Playing games that “bomb proof” will help your horse develop the tools and strategies to deal with scary situations.
Playing with your horse can take many forms – whether it be interacting with objects and toys or building obstacle skills. Extending playing games into building horse agility is great, even if your horse isn’t a competition horse. Here are 5 games to play with your horse!
1) Soccer and Ball Play
Teaching your horse to push around a ball with their legs, nose, or chest is such a fun game. Once you have done this, another fun way to play with a ball is by bouncing it around your horse. This is a great way to gain his confidence around rhythmic motion and “commotion” outside of riding.
Start by bouncing the ball on the ground, walking away from your horse while he follows. This will create curiosity and build his confidence. Then, begin with small bounces as your horse’s confidence continues, where their interaction with the ball will further.
2) Speed Games
Barrel races, pole bending, and keyhole races are great for teaching agility and speed, but is also a wonderful way to pass the time. If you have the space, try setting up different challenges in your arena or paddock, like pole exercises, walking through channeled areas, or weaving around barrels.
3) Egg and Spoon Races
Egg and spoon races are especially fun with friends and other horses that are comfortable with one other. This game can be done on the ground or in the saddle. It is important to always keep in mind the skill of the riders and the space you have to play in.
For egg and spoon races, pick up an egg with a spoon from a barrel at one end, and drop it off at a basket at the other end of the arena. To amp up the challenge, have your horse weave around cones or step over poles on the way to drop off the eggs!
4) Obstacle Courses
Set up a trail obstacle, or a course outside if you really want to do something with your horse, while putting your horse’s mind to work! Set up some cones with tennis balls on them and try not to knock them off as you weave through. Set up flags, poles, and barrels– all things that will help you and your horse stay relaxed and comfortable. The “challenging” and constantly changing work/course will make your horse have to “trust” you and rely on you.
5) Precision Games
A favored precision game is teaching your horse to touch an object with their nose. This is a great game because it not only furthers discipline and confidence, but stimulates your horse’s brain. To start, pick something easy that is the same height as your horse’s nose. Drive your horse forward towards the object, and softly direct his nose so it is aiming where you want him to go. Think of his nostrils as being target sights – he will only go in the direction you want if his sights are set on it!
Words of Caution about Play with Your Horse
As you show your horse the difference between work and play, you must be careful what you will be teaching your horse. For instance, tag isn’t a great idea, because it can lead to biting or injuries.
When sifting through games, avoid anything that involves speed in a small space, especially with lots of horses. Even some traditional gymkhana games may not be suitable for small spaces.
Whatever games you choose, be sure to stay safe and provide lots of fun awards and treats. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy horsing around!