Games to keep your human happy
Those of us who live in northern climates know all too well how hard it can be to keep our humans happy and sane through the long winter months. While we horses just accept each day for what it is, the poor humans fuss and worry, grumble about having to shovel the driveway and defrost the ice from our water buckets, twist their delicate knees and ankles hauling hay bales through the snow, and worst of all, grow bored and sour riding us around in circles in the arena.
Every horse has a repertoire of activities to keep her human on her toes, but let me remind you that winter is the most important time to practice these. Don’t let your human slip into hibernation and weight-gain; you know it will just be that much more work to get her back into mental and physical shape in the spring.
Of course there are the old tried-and-true ways to liven up an arena ride: spooking at snow sliding off the roof, cats climbing in the rafters, and funny shadows cast by the lights. But, amusing as they are, these require a fair amount of physical exertion on the horse’s part, and the more clever humans eventually catch on to them, so they may lose their effectiveness over time.
Horsenally, I prefer groundwork, especially in the winter. My very favourite is the big exercise ball. I find that showing even the tiniest amount of interest in the ball can convince Lil that I want to play soccer with her, and can lead to lots of good fun that hardly calls for any effort from me. She’ll kick that ball at me and away from me, and follow it around the arena gently dribbling it with her toe while I just tag along behind her, looking mildly interested and occasionally taking a quick turn bopping the ball with my nose or foreleg. The look of delight this brings to Lil’s face is worth the effort, and of course it’s excellent exercise to help keep her fit.
Mila practices the ball game with Muriel
Another game to increase your human’s exercise level during those dull winter months can be played in the paddock. Simply forget your name, while standing far from the gate in the deepest snow you can find, then watch her high-step through the drifts, arms flailing, boots full of snow, holding out a carrot and trying to hide the lead shank (as if that’s fooling anybody!). Of course it’s critical to make the human complete the exercise in order to gain the most benefit from it, so you must resist the temptation to meet her half-way just to get to that carrot sooner. Remember, patience is key when working with your human.
Once your human’s winter-soft condition improves sufficiently, you can increase the intensity and duration of the workout by having one of your friends remove your halter and hide it in the snow. Just make sure it’s not in a place she’ll think to look too quickly. This game can provide excellent amusement for you and your paddock buddies as well as exercise for your human.
Finally, don’t forget to take advantage of weather and snow conditions when planning your human’s activities. The more you can ball up the snow in your feet, grow icicles in your mane and feathers (if you have them), the more energy your human will have to expend in grooming you before riding. This can help build muscle-tone, improve circulation, and calm an unsettled mind (hers, not yours). If you do a particularly good job, the grooming may provide sufficient exercise and she may forgo riding you altogether, which is a perhaps the most favourable outcome of all.
I urge you try these games yourself. You may even feel inspired to invent some of your own.