To Play or Not to Play?

Last Updated on August 21, 2023 by Allison Price

You might be able to play with your horse without causing any harm. However, playing with horses can cause problems. Here’s why.

Is it okay to play with your horse? Owners may think it’s fun, and feel it will improve the horse-human relationship. Equine play with humans can be dangerous and more dangerous than it seems. There are many risks associated with entertaining and insightful moments, which in the end are not worth the risk.

Horses can benefit from being engaged when they are on their own. In the right conditions, horses can be given opportunities to play which can lead to cognitive enrichment. Offering stimulation and activities that allow horses to interact with their environment and humans can aid in their mental well-being.

However, teaching your horse something that could lead to dangerous behavior is not a good idea. You and your family are at risk if you allow a dangerous horse to be around. A horse with dangerous play habits can cause serious injury to its new owners if they are ever rehomed or sold.

I will explain how and why horses interact with one another. I will also explain why certain horse-human behaviors can make play unsafe and how to play safely and effectively.

Horses spend hours alone in stalls, or are isolated from other horses. Horses can benefit from equine play toys that are either purchased or made by horses.

Make sure that your horse is not frustrated by any toys or other play activities. You can make it easier, or you can choose another toy or game.

You should also change the toys and activities you give your horse regularly to ensure he isn’t bored.
These are some play strategies that you might want to try.

* Provide a toy chest. A sturdy bucket or crate should be filled with horse-safe toys. Rubber balls with horse rings, large dog toys, and rubber balls that release horse treats when they are rolled all work well. Sprinkle grass, vegetables or high-fiber treats into the container. Then, pour diluted apple juice or carrot juice over it. You can monitor your horse’s behavior, and if he gets bored, take the box out.

* Place hay in a cone. You can use the same hay that your horse is used to and let some hay poke out of the cone. Hide extra treats inside. You can also use other items as treat dispensers, such as towels and staple-free cardboard boxes.

* Make vegetable kebobs. String root vegetables such as carrots, beets and parsnips onto a strong cord, or rope. Hang it from the horse’s stall ceiling, or from tree branches outside.


Horses can play with one another for many reasons. Some are directly related to survival in nature. Horses can stay fit through play, which helps them outrun predators. They also learn skills that will allow them to survive in the wild. For example, mock fights prepare them for fighting off predators and rivals. Chase games can help them learn escape strategies.

Social aspects of play behavior are also present. Play can improve the social cohesion of a herd by strengthening the bonds between members. Play helps horses develop social skills. It is similar to how children learn to interact with others on the playground. Horses of all ages can benefit from this behavior, but foals especially learn to behave like adults by watching what we do.

These are just a few examples of the play that horses engage in with one another.

Push and pull. Two horses pushing and biting each other. These mock fights allow males to practice challenging other males and defend themselves against such challenges.

Charge and chase. A horse that is eager to play signals his desire by cantering across the field. One horse chases the other, and then the entire group follows suit. This helps horses improve their physical fitness and allows them practice escape skills.

Sexual play/play mounting. Colts start this type of play by trying to mount their mothers and then moving on to their peers. This is a practice that they will use when they reach breeding age.

Object play. Horses can play alone with objects like a branch or a ball. This type of play helps horses learn about their environment and determine whether it is safe. Some horses may play excessively if left alone or given nothing to do.
(I haven’t had the chance to socialize with other horses.

Horseplay can be dangerous. The “fun” that horses have between them can inflict serious injuries. Engage your horse in games that could become dangerous.

You Shouldn’t Use

This is how horses interact with one another. But what if your horse tries to play with it? Even if you are a seasoned horseperson, you should not engage in the same types of play as horses do. There are other behaviors that you should avoid.

These are some common behavior examples that people do with horses. While they may seem harmless, they can cause serious injuries and even lead to an unruly horse.

Chasing in an arena or field is a fun game. This type of play makes no sense. Chasing your horse, an animal of prey, can make him afraid or feel threatened. Your horses should trust you and feel safe around you. This could cause a breakdown in your relationship. You could also get into an intimate relationship with horses you are running with, which can lead to a vicious kick.

PLAY GROWS BOLD BRAINS Playing with horses and other mammals is a great way to help them develop. Studies in children have shown that people who play often are more likely to learn than those who don’t. Furthermore, some brain areas involved in learning actually grew in size. It is interesting to observe, too, how adults and older horses play differently.

Learning to rear and strike out. Any behavior you practice will likely cause it to happen more often than you would like. Horses that rear when ridden could lose their balance and injure you both. Horses that strike out with strangers, or with you unintentionally can cause serious injury and even death.

Giving treats to your horse from your mouth or teaching him to kiss you. When biting a pasture-mate fair and fun, how does a horse learn to be gentle? A horse that is hungry may try to eat his treats, or become upset if you don’t give it.

Physical play with foals. Horse owners sometimes try to imitate nip and shove games or teach their foals how to sit on their laps. This behavior may seem harmless when foals are young, but it can be dangerous once they become adults. Don’t do it!

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!