Like their owners, horses are social animals who, after clocking off from their hard work with us, enjoy letting their hair down for a play. This might involve running, leaping or bucking across the field.
While your horse’s actions may appear to have no clear purpose as he charges so casually across the field, playing actually serves a variety of different functions, including…
- enhancing general health and fitness
- practising survival skills
- building social relationships
- improving communication skills
It’s not unusual to see a playing horse nip, rear, chase, strike out or even mount another horse, and bouts of play are often spontaneous and intense. It’s an important part of your horse’s natural behaviour, so it’s essential to provide him with the opportunity to do it.
Did you know?
Play is known as an elastic behavioural need, which means that it’s only likely to take place if the other inelastic – or essential – behavioural needs, such as eating, drinking and feeling safe, are met.
Battle of the sexes
In their first month of life, colts and fillies will play for similar amounts of time. After that age, colts are known to play for longer periods and more vigorously than fillies, and they also often develop lots of oral play behaviours, which can lead to difficulties in handling and training later on.
It’s important to be able to recognise the difference between play fighting and actual fighting to avoid any misunderstandings. Some horses are separated from close companions because their owners think they’re fighting in the field when they’re actually just friends enjoying a bit of rough and tumble.
Find out more about the different types of horse play and understand the tell-tale signs between play fighting and real fighting, in January Horse&Rider, on sale 15 November