that's exactly what someone told me could happen if I taught my horse this game. I am hesitant since I'm not at all sure that my horses won't do just that.
I read your concerns on this some time ago, and it's just so far from my experience and understanding of horse behaviour and the way that they relate to us, that I had trouble formulating a reply.
I shall try again..
How does your horse live? Is he in a herd with other horses? If he is, do you watch them? Have you ever had opportunity to spend time watching a herd of horses living together? If yes, then you've probably seen the more playful members of the herd playing their own versions of chase the tiger, and many other "mock agression" games as well.
As I write, our three year old gelding, and our twelve year old Tb mare are up on the top of the hill, taking turns to grab each other by the back of the neck in the "kill" position, shake (albeit gently) and then stand up on their back legs and wave their front hooves in each other's faces.
Despite the apparent ferociousness of the scene, even from this distance, it's appararent to see that this is a MOCK fight, and that both of them are equally delighted, glowing, bursting with joy at their game.
Now Harlequin, the youngster, is trying to instigate a Chase the Tiger...He's come in from behind, standing back as far as he can, and is snaking out his neck and nipping her on the hocks. Go on old girl, RUN for me.
Rosie, our ferocious and bad tempered TB mare, who CAN and HAS kicked to connect when the situation calls for it (in her view) has no intention of running right now.. is lowering her head, backing up into him, and doing funny little double barrelled kicks, balancing all her weight on her front legs like a circus acrobat, and UP, and UP and UP.. pulling her hind legs in under her, so that although her rump is right under his chin, and her ears are flat back and looking mean as a horse out of hell, her hind hooves are just jabbing the air, three inches in front of his chest in rythm as she inches back toward himl. It's a miracle of choreographed martial arts.
Rosie will NOT be his Tiger... beneath her dignity. But now, as he comes round to bite her on the neck again, she's happy to stand on her hind legs, towering in the air, nose to nose with the youngster in her favourite pose again.
Here comes the 18 month old Shetland pony filly... surely not safe with these two clashing giants..
She sneaks in with head snaking side to side, and nips Harlequin on his elbow.. and OFF.. cantering to the other side of the paddock.YES! A new game is on, and Harlequin wheels around to chase her in a beautiful collected canter.. almost Rolkur
(but without the grimace
) to travel with his nose stuck on her rump, around,flying changes to left and right, change of pace, extended trot, then collected canter again, then gallop, then spin and stop, and Miro dives under his chest and bites his elbow again.
Harlequin drops to one knee and pushes (a trick he learned from playfighting with our cow when the two of them were yearlings.) Miro's gone, round behind, he spins grabs her by the neck for the KILL.. she spins and BANG BANG BANG collects him with three in a row double barreled kicks to the chest.. he doesn't even wince. He's delighted. He nips her on the shoulder and the two of them take off at a gallop behind the hill where I can't see them.
On this side of the hill, our dogs have become excited by the game, thinking of joining in.. one or two of the younger less "trained" ones begin to bark and prance at the other quietly grazing horses. But look out.. here comes the filly's mum, 11 hands of motherly Shetland fury, bearing down on the dogs at the charge trot, head low and snaking from side to side like a protective stallion. The dogs know this look, they retreat and bahave.
The chickens are scratching around in the fresh horse manure. Sunrise, feeling enthused by Harlequin's shenanigans, but too lazy to join in with all the running around, has a little squeal and buck and prances through the flock in war horse style, sending chickens flying and squawking. She trots off proudly to the top of her hill to celebrate her victory over feathered things, and the chickens regroup and go back to their feast.
This is a normal morning scene in our herd.
And on any given day you can see dogs, chickens, piglets, ducks, geese, cats and kids wandering around among free horses.
CHase the Tiger is not a game we TEACH THE HORSES.
This is a game we have LEARNT from observing the horses. I assure you, even if your horse has never showed it to you, he knows this game. It's in his blood and his bones. Perhaps in his domestic environment, he's never practiced it, and luckily, because of his humans care, he will never need to use it. Perhaps, if he's never had the opportunity to role play this game during his developmental stages, he wouldn't even know now how to respond, if he ever was faced with a dangerous situation, with a dog or mountain lion threatening his safety.
Our dogs roam around our horse's legs.. nosing through droppings, playing chase, chewing hoof trimmings while I work.. the horses never act INAPROPRIATELY with them. The young dogs get chased off if they get too loud and playful, but only with as much force as neccessary.
But one day out riding, a really dangerous event occured. Some people near us had a Caucasian Ovtcharker.. they grow as big a bear and can quite easily kill bear or a wolf. This one was totally unsocialised and half mad from being locked in a small cage with no outside view since puppy hood. It always barked and crashed it's bars as we rode past. This day, it had broken it's lock, and was loose. It came straight at the horses and kids, barking and slathering. Two kids were riding, one was walking and leading Rosie. Rosie pulled free, eyed up the rapidly approaching dog, pawed and snorted a warning, then as he leaped to attack, she wheeled and let rip with both hind legs. This huge dog lifted up off the ground, flew through the air, landed with a thump on his side, picked himself up and went back to his kennel. The kids, shaken, carried on.
How glad I am that Rosie remembers her survival instincts and spends some time practicing her skills.
So, here's my point..
The play, Chase the Tiger and all the other mock fight games are the natural normal behaviours for horses, just as role plays of possible adult situations (fighting, hunting, housebuilding etc etc) are natural behaviours for the young (and sometimes not so young!) of every species, including human.
The play is essential training for possible real life situations. It hones their defense skills, and at the same time keeps them fit and active, provides interaction, and is FUN! But it doesn't make them homicidal.
Horses are not "attack" creatures.. they are "defense" animals. So it's just too big a stretch of the imagination for me to think of a horse being "taught" the Tiger game, and therefore learning to "attack" in seriousness, innocent creatures. (Unless the horse is crazy - totally unsocialised and abnormal). Practicing may help them to deal effectively with an attack.... or a raid on their food buckets..But it's not going to turn a well socialised, happy, human liking horse, into a creature that attacks on whim.
When we start to join in the role play and encourage our horse in Chase the Tiger and such, my experience is the horses know full well, even the youngest of them, that this is role play, for fun.
We must be sure to teach them that we start and stop the game, and that we don't want to play as roughly as their horse buddies like. This is fairly simple to do.
At the moment, our little filly is learning that we don't accept being nipped on the ankle to play... but if she stands back politely and invites us with her gestures we might. If we allowed and responded to her usual horse to horse invitations (nipping, leaping up, striking with a leg, turning her butt and play kicking) we could create a really dangerous situation where she approached others and even children in this way. But we don't and she won't. Harlequin at just turning three, has this down pat. I must post a video to show the differences between how he plays with the filly to how he plays with my daughter. Miro pretty soon will have matured enough to also be completely sensible and trustworthy around non-horsey people and small children.
If we have a good relationship with our horse, and our horse cares about us, they are happy to adapt their behaviour a bit to suit the fragile humans. They are VERY VERY smart, and have no illusions that humans are horses. Likewise, if they have been socialised to dogs and don't feel threatened by them, they will continue to get along just fine with dogs, and may even invite the dogs into the game. But, and I'm very proud to say this, beware any dog who comes into our herd with evil intent!
Regards small children, it's my experience also that the horses I know all understand that children are baby humans. They treat them with utmost gentleness.. and with the high status that our horses bestow on humans. So... a baby pig has been tossed by the scruff of her neck out of Rosie's feed bowl.. but a small child rummaging around in it would just get a gentle little nose nudge.
Teaching horses to play with us doesn't change their basic nature. It won't turn a nice, social, friendly, co-operative gentle natured horse into a crazy, mean, unpredictable, vengeful, attacking creature. If you already have a horse that is crazy, mean, unpredictable, vengeful, attacking, you probably wouldn't be advised to try to play Chase the Tiger with it.
But if you have a horse of the usual friendly kind, and you know how to teach boundaries appropriately and have confidence in your own physical ability, then play is just going to add another positive dimension to your relationship, be a great training tool, and be lots of fun for your horse as well.
If you don't feel confident in your abilities, by all means don't play. But please, think twice before you attribute this decision to the horses' lack of common sense and goodwill.