Did you know that horses are actually very playful? Yes, we typically think of horses as constant grazers and maybe even a little lazy. But horses actually love to play! Similar to how other animals in a herd will interact with each other, horses love to play with each other, with toys, and even with bubbles, as we can see in this video.
They are naturally curious animals and they are always excited to see and learn new things. A moving object, different colors, change of location, or interaction with unfamiliar horses or people – all of these things can set your horse off into instinctive mode, even if they are normally well behaved in your home paddock.
Play is considered important for the good welfare of a horse, especially in juveniles. It serves several functions such as enhanced fitness, practicing survival skills, and building social relationships.
Also, play can be defined as an activity that appears to have no immediate use or function for the horse, but at the same time evokes a sense of pleasure and surprise. Largely, younger horses spend more time playing than older horses. Especially within the first four weeks of life, whilst the foal stays close to its dam, play behavior is quite solitary. However, after the first month, youngsters begin to socialize with other foals. Male foals spend more time playing than female foals and are more inclined to exhibit aggressive fighting-related play behavior.
On the other hand, when horses interact with humans, they demand attention by nipping at handlers, pawing the ground, or kicking at stall walls. Owners often reinforce those behaviors with treats and other food rewards. But when someone fails to respond quickly enough or in a way that the horse expects, the same behavior can become problematic or even dangerous.
There is really a fine line that is often hard to discern between a cute or funny action that just makes us laugh versus creating a monster by rewarding the same behavior, that’s why owners must decide which equine behaviors they are willing to tolerate and which they absolutely will not allow.