It comes up all the time, whether you are a performance athlete with your working horses, or if you are a loving gooshy pet owner. Here's the problem, anyone who wants to have a performance athlete should be both.
Because horses are not meant to just be serious, in the moment, always focused working athletes. We do not expect this of our human athletes, ever. And there's good reason. Being focused, having to work, and not being able to "play" will burn you out pretty fast. Stress is useful when used in the right manner, but being a performance athlete has a lot of extra stress with it. And everyone, yes even our horses, need a chance to burn out that steam!
Imagine if human athletes had to purge their entire social, entertainment and pleasure filled lives to only live, eat and breathe their sport? Yes, we expect a lot of these athletes, but they do not live in their homes at all times unless they are working out at the gym. They are not segregated from all human contact except that of their teammates. They still go for beers with their team mates, they still go out and relax outside of working out and training.
Did I mention this is where ground games come in?
Teammates go out and burn off steam together away from being totally focused on their sport. And horses need the same. And so do you! Taking time off from "working out" and playing with your horse is not only a great act for your training, but it's a great way to bond with your TEAMMATE. Yes, your horse is not a piece of sports equipment! It's a living, breathing soul who needs many of the same enrichments that you do. Beyond the obvious need for food and water, they also need companionship, socialization with their fellow herdmates and down time (and I don't mean standing in a stall all day). While they can get many of these things from being out in the herd, companionship with you can be worth a lot towards your performance goals.
Team mentality is a proven performance builder (corporate companies pay big bucks to send their workers to "Team Building" workshops because it's been proven to boost morale and performance!) Playing games together allows you to build synchronization with your horse, as well as understanding who they are under all that handsome fur. Knowing who your horse is, is just as important as knowing how to move your horse around a jump course. Knowing what makes them tick, how to motivate them and how to ask for that last bit of umph are all great assets to your show career.
So why do we allow this stigmatism and condescending attitude prevail? With something so useful to us all, we should be embracing the idea of caring about our mental partner.. Not just the physical one.
Seek balance with your equine partner and push a bit of empathy towards how they live when you aren't around. Spending a bit more time with them outside the saddle can make a world of difference for their quality of life.