A Jitterbug Guide To Playing Tag With Your Human

Nov 29, 2012 - 3:09 AM
A little game of tag with your Human can help alleviate winter doldrums. Photo by Dark Horse Photography.

I’ve found that as the weather gets colder and rainier, Humans tend to go a little stir-crazy as you spend more time in the indoor arena drilling her on her dreadful dressage. Although training your Human is serious business, it’s also important to make sure she has fun on occasion. I’ve found that a rousing game of tag is a great way to get the color back in her cheeks.

The trickiest part of the game is developing a large enough area to play in. I’ve seen friends try to start a round of tag with their humans in the field, but this can be reminiscent of pasture management training. Mixing fun with a training discipline in this way can be confusing for your Human. I much prefer to separate work and play both in mood and setting.


The easiest options for getting yourself loose at the start of the game involve breaking free while the Human is not paying attention. I’ve found that a well-leveraged lean against stall guards or cross-ties is ideal for activating the quick-release snaps or tearing bailing twine.  Incidentally, I have a competition going with the mare in the next stall as to who can break the most crossties—2 points per tie, bonus if you can ruin the set. First filly to 20 wins.

I’ve also been known to back away from my Human suddenly as she turns to close a gate or adjust a mounting block. The element of surprise will usually render you free with relatively little effort. This also teaches the human the value of maintaining a firm grip on the reins/longe line, and may give you a chance to dirty or break some tack—that should keep them occupied tomorrow, too.


Now you’re loose, and your Human is “it”. There’s little fun in taking her for a short run, only to end up back in the stall or arena within a few seconds, so you need to make this time count.

The worst thing you can do is wander into a stall or small paddock. If possible, avoid any route that takes you past a door or gate that can be closed behind you.

Get Creative

Running around the yard in circles is effective if you have a tight turning radius, but in my experience Humans become bored to the point of exasperation if you lead them in a continuous loop. I enjoy rushing through tight spaces alongside barns and in between fields, and make a game of jumping over or running through any obstacles I find. Keeping the route variable is key.

If jumping is your profession, you can intimidate a Human who’s threatening to corner you by offering to jump over her. All it took for me during my last game of tag was to dig my hind feet in and raise my knees before she turned green and jumped out of the way. You might also consider barreling toward four-board fences, only to stop at the last minute. This thrills Humans.

The whole point is to prolong the chase and show your Human a good time. Throw in a few bucks to let her know that you’re having fun, too.

Safety First

If your Human begins to lag behind, begin wandering toward open gates or gaps in fencing that you suspect lead off the farm. For some reason, this distresses them and has the bonus of eliciting some hilarious waving and screaming.

I have learned most of the curse words I know by doing this.

(Do not actually wander off the farm or into the path of farm implements or vehicles. You are not a lemming, or a suicidal nutcase. Your Human may become one if you let the game go on too long however, so keep an eye on her.)

Be A Good Sport

When your Human finally catches you, don’t make a stink over the fact that she will have needed to recruit several friends to help her do it. It is unfair, not to mention against the rules of tag, for the player who’s “it” to scrounge up a gang to help them win, but remember that you are at an advantage both mentally and physically to your opponents. Don’t sweat the small stuff, and promise a rematch by good-naturedly plowing into your Human with your neck or shoulder. 

Jitterbug is a Michigan-bred Professional Draft Cross who skillfully avoided saddles until age 5. Since then, she has been lauded for her talent in successfully managing humans while training herself to one day achieve eventing greatness. Jitter and her human live in central Kentucky. Photo by Dark Horse Photography.

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