I am beginning to wonder about horsemen and horsewomen insisting on "playing" with their horses.
When I started out riding, people did not play with their horses. It was heavily discouraged because it ENCOURAGES DISRESPECT. If you wanted to get your horse fit, you WORKED him properly, schooling him in a well thought out program.
If all a horse does around you is play he starts thinking that he does not have to work at all unless he feels like it.
You have to TRAIN a horse to obey you.
Am I just an old fashioned fuddy-duddy?

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LOL I kind of agree with you although we will be looked upon as "no nothings" lol I have train a lot of my own trail horses, and no games were played it was just a mutual respect thing at first then the saddle went on, mutual respect again...then the riding was next...alwasy mutual respect. I like to spend my time on the back of the horse and enjoying the trails, not in a round pen "playing games" but that is just me...some people just would rather not ride, and concentrate on training, or playing or what ever...we can't all like the same things./ The one thing that I don't like is one clinician demanding that you have to buy their special gear that sells for 10 times the cost of making something similar or buying something similar at TSC. Geeesh enough already...a rope is a rope, a stick is a stick.. This is taking advantage of the new horse owners that live eat and breath one particular trainers methods But like I say we all have our own likes and dislikes.
I agree with both you girls whole heartily!!! I watch horses playing in the paddock and let me tell you ,I don't want to be played with like that!!!!!!! Playing is NOT training, as for the rip off merchants, well bollocks to that I SAY. Greed is a terrible thing,
I was always taught that horses are lazy creatures, preferring to loll around, and that we had to make them work to get anywhere.
What happens when the horse decides he is feeling lazy and does not want to play?
I have spent many hours of my life training my horses from the ground--leading, lungeing, and ground driving. I was taught to always have a goal for each lesson, and to build from one lesson to the next. You can do this working on the ground as well as on the back of the horse. But it isn't playing, it is work for both the horse and trainer.
We-e-ell... I do "play" with my horse... but I always establish firm boundaries. As I mentioned in another thread, I consider it to actually be part of my horse's training, but to a casual observer it could look like I am just playing with my horse... which is why I never do it in front of some of my non-rider (but horse loving) friends... I don't want them to think that it is safe to just go and play with a loose horse. It does take vigilance to safely work with/around a horse. I know my horse well, and I pay close attention to the subtle communication that takes place whenever I interact with any horse (what the horse's body language is telling me, and what I may be telling the horse). What is an appropriate activity depends a lot on the individual horse and horse-person... but I do believe that it is possible to "play" with a horse if appropriate care is taken.

I very much enjoy the "playtime" that my horse and I share... and while it is a lot of fun, my horse does learn from it as well. It helps to desensitize my young horse so that strange sights and sounds are less scary to him. It also teaches him boundaries and respect (personal space, acceptable behaviour etc) not just when I am standing or quietly moving around him, but also in a more "dynamic" situation. It is "play" in the sense that we have fun and he does get to direct the "play" to some degree. When I introduce a new toy (tarps, pylons, balls, bags, water bottles etc.) I often let him decide how quickly he wants to approach it, I let him explore it, and depending on the item, I let him play freely with it. Sometimes I use his "free play" time as an opportunity to observe his reactions, and I use those observations to shape future training sessions. We also have more structured "play sessions" in which we will run together, go for strolls together, work at liberty, and explore unfamiliar items together. I don't use "special tools" sold by trainers... I use items that he may experience in our barnyard or at shows. As already mentioned... a rope is a rope, a stick is a stick... and a ball is a ball.

We do a lot of intense training... lungeing, long-lining/ground-driving, in-hand training, and preparation for backing. We also sometimes introduce novel items in the middle of a work session, and he is expected to calmly ignore the item and continue his work until we are done (we are still working on maintaining calm for some items! *lol*). I feel that our "play" time allows my horse to relax a little (mentally and physically) while still having him engaged with me. I don't want all of our time together to be dedicated to "work".... I truly enjoy the company of my horse and I want to be able to enjoy having "down-time" together. Even once I am riding him, I know that we will continue to enjoy "play" time, since that is the sort of relationship that I have had with every horse in my life.

It is natural for young animals to use play to learn appropriate behaviour. Play is used in the physical and social development of a wide variety of species of animals. I feel that we can direct play to teach horses and to shape behaviour. Is it necessary to use play? Perhaps not. Can play be a useful tool in the arsenal of a trainer (especially for young horses)? Absolutely.
You are training your horse, not just "playing" with him.
As you realize, most people are not willing to put in the time necessary to LEARN how to do interact with a horse. You can read your horse real well. Most people can't read their horse well enough to "play" safely AND not destroy the discipline taught during training.
Just because a cowboy developed a way of "playing" with a horse and makes a video of it does not mean that most people will learn enough from the video to do it safely.
I also worry about people trying to "play" with stud colts.
Very good of you to give your horse breaks from the hard work. Especially with the "smarter" horses I find it important not to dull them with excessive unending hard work. Horses need breaks in order to digest what they have learned, they need breaks for reward, and they need the breaks in order to rest. But you obviously know this already!
May you end up with a wonderfully trained cooperative and cheerful horse.
If by "playing" you mean poking my horse with a stick, and twirling ropes around him, no I dont "play" with my horse.
I don't poke my horse with a stick (he would find that quite rude, I'm sure), but I do twirl ropes around him (granted it is generally during training sessions, not "play").

Since I plan to teach him to drive, and I am a big fan of long-lining, I do occasionally toss the lines against his legs, on the ground near his legs, etc so that he learns that he is to stand still and not react to lines against his legs. That way, if he ever does encounter a harness accident, or debris on a trail, or some other misadventure, I know that he will calmly stand for me rather than panic that there is something around his legs. I also swing ropes around him because you never know... I may want to try roping someday. ;)
Thanks Jackie! I am hoping that he will grow up to be a well mannered and happy horse. :)

He is very smart and does bore easily (typical of his breed) so it is important to change things up and give him regular breaks. I can see when his attention span is slipping and it's time to end the training session... kids are kids, no matter what species. They all need "recess". *lol*

I guess I consider some of our interaction to be "play" simply because it is less structured, and the main goal of "playtime" is for us to have fun. It is a time for my horse to let his "goofy" side shine... he is allowed to hop and dance and snort and whinny and play with items in the arena... things that he is not allowed to do when he is "working". What is permitted still has boundaries of course... he is still not allowed to intrude into the space of any humans, or to behave dangerously in any way.
Interesting discussion, Jackie. I don't think it is so simple as to differentiate 'work and play' because one person's view of work is another one's play and even the same activity can fall into both categories at different points in time. It's often just down to how we see it in the moment.

But I also think it's about what people think they are seeing.

I don't care what my horse does when he's out in the field with his mates, but when he is with me, I don't want him twirling his head at me, biting my knees, rearing up, herding me around as he does with other horses. THAT is how my horse plays. Horses play rough, as Geoffrey says and I don't want to be around that thank you.

To me, training horses isn't about playing in the way that we mean it - but playing horse games, by horse rules. By this I mean playing the game of who herds whom, assertively not aggressively, whether that is on the ground or in the saddle. We can't afford to let things get out of hand and you can rest assured that the horse will be aware of what is going on every second he is with us. You mention the need for 'obedience' and I think a lot of people feel that is a dirty word. But it's true. ultimately we want control - we don't want our horse to be questioning our command every step of the way on a trail ride - it's exhausting. Just like it's fine to play with children but we need to make sure they do as we tell them when it matters. If we invite them in one minute then push them away the next, they just see us as passive aggressive control freaks and while they might respect us they won't trust us.

Unfortunately I think calling it play can also lull people into a false sense of security. They may think the horse is having a good time when in fact the horse is getting increasingly scared or angry, or resentful. If people don't know what they are seeing in the horse's body language - or what they may be inadvertently causing, then they can really be in trouble.

As an example of this, at a recent clinic, Chris Irwin worked with my horse on the ground, dealing with some very serious and dangerous issues that did not become apparent until you took him out of his comfort zone (which I never did because I feared what might happen) - and it was very physical and most definitely NOT play. One of the spectators, at the start of her 'natural horsemanship' journey and who had seen another well-known horse trainer do something that on the surface appeared similar (but was NOT the same), made a comment that she thought the horse was lovely and that she would love to have him for a week and 'play' with him to help him over his issues. Bless her it wasn't her fault - but she didn't know what she was seeing. And that is when I think calling it 'play' can be dangerous. My horse would have seriously injured her in a heartbeat the minute she had taken him outside his comfort zone... and rope twirling and plastic bags would be fairly guaranteed to bring about such a reaction. And yet, despite having seen Chris work with him for an hour, she genuinely thought that some 'play' for a week or so with her would sort out a horse with serious deep-rooted fear issues.


Sorry to go on, but I think you have raised a really important issue. When we idealise 'play' as being something that will give us the fluffy, lovely rose-tinted relationship we long for with our horses I think we are asking for trouble. I do actually believe it is possible to have that sort of relationship with them, but so many of us (me included, for a very long time) see only what we want to see, not what is really going on.
Thank you for this story.
This is my biggest concern, beginners believing that since they are "playing" that everything will be all right between them and their horse.
I also worry that, since the people who "play" with their horses also tend to think that they are their horse's special human friend, and that their horsie friend "will NEVER hurt me".
While there are some exceptions among unusually perceptive and talented amateurs, for the most part I would say that 99.999999% of amateurs cannot safely "play" with their horses. People, leave this for the professionals.
I think it is possible to be a horse's 'special human friend' (I am the only person who can get near my horse in a field, and he will follow me away from the other horses, for instance), but it didn't come from skipping through the daisies together. It came from a consistency of body language and assertiveness day in day out that required me to go WAY beyond my own comfort zone, standing my ground when at times I wanted to run away screaming, while still going nowhere near pushing him through his own fears that were (and remain) so much greater than my own.

With awareness on my part of what is happening moment to moment, I can predict what he will do most of the time and I am walking him in hand I can be pretty confident that if he feels the need to spook, he will spook away from me and not into me. However I don't think for one minute that my horse would never hurt me, I know he would if the chips were down and he felt he had to save himself.

Of course I know there are lots of horses who are confident and who will play with humans and enjoy it - and probably quite a few who tolerate 'playing' with a sort of stoic resignation - I do realise they are not all like mine!

BUT I think it's how we play with them that matters and even if we are 'playing' we need to see it for what it is, let go of our illusions of 'my friend Flicka' and be consistent in our boundaries, not be fooled into thinking that pushy horses are friendly horses.
I like your comments, especially about the pushy horses! I have noticed that pushy horses tend not to want to deal with me at all, while with other people they will convince the person (usually a beginner or a person with no horse experience) that the "horsie must LOVE me, look how friendly he is!"
I think that a lot of horses do not like to be caught in the field because they know that they will go through a session of torture, full of discomfort, pain and undeserved punishment. Since I took great care not to torture my riding horses I never had much problem catching them. I got the feeling ,sometimes, that they got bored in their paddocks, and while being worked was not all fun and games at least it was a relief from boredom.

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