For beginning riders of all ages, participating in games on horseback helps develop skills and calms the fears associated with sitting on the back of a 1,100-lb. moving animal. Equestrians learn how to control the horse and stay in the saddle without falling while focusing on a short-term, just-for-fun activity. Because riding lessons and competitions can be intense, playing games on your horse typically revives the “fun” factor of equestrian sport.
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Depending on the particular game being played, riders can gain confidence, reinforce their basic horsemanship skills and develop a bond between themselves and the horse, write Betty Bennett-Talbot and Steven Bennett in their book, “Games on Horseback.” They learn to ride independently away from other team members, rein and maneuver around and close to objects, and mount and dismount quickly. Games also encourage beginning equestrians to become aware of horse anatomy and to pay attention to the trainer’s voice and commands while working with other team members.
The “Squirrel” game teaches students to safely and quickly dismount in case of emergency. An aide holds the horse in place while the rider sits mounted in the saddle holding the reins. At the command “stirrups,” the rider takes her feet out of the stirrups. At “reins,” the rider drops her reins on the horse’s neck while keeping them in one hand. At “hands,” the rider places her hands on the saddle’s pommel or the horse’s withers. At “vault,” the rider leans forward over the horse’s neck, swings both legs back, and the right leg up and over the horse’s rump. She pushes off with her hands, landing on the ground with her knees bent. The first rider to hit the ground, pull the reins over the horse’s head, and stand next to the horse in leading position wins.
"Bucket Ball" Game
During the “Bucket Ball” game, new riders must pick up a foam ball from a stand at one end of an arena, ride to the opposite end and toss the ball into a large, stationary bucket. The first rider to get the ball into the bucket wins. Riders can walk, trot or canter to the bucket, ride past the bucket and pitch in the ball, or stop the horse several feet in front of the bucket before tossing the ball. If the throw misses, riders must dismount, pick up the ball and re-mount to toss. “Bucket Ball” teaches beginning equestrians coordination, techniques to control the horse, teamwork and concentration while having fun.
"Around the World" Game
In “Around the World,” riders sit mounted in the middle of an arena with aides holding their horses. With the signal to begin, the riders drop the reins and swing their right legs over the horse’s neck so that they sit sideways in the saddle on the horse’s left side. Next, they move their left legs over the horse’s rump so they sit backward in the saddle. Riders then swing the right leg over the horse’s rump to sit sideways on the horse’s right side. In the final step, they push the left leg over the horse’s neck and place their feet in the stirrups. The winning player is the first one to pick up the reins. This game teaches beginning equestrians to use their seats and legs for balance without relying on their hands or feet.
Beginning equestrians require seasoned, spook-proof horses to compete successfully in horseback games. The perfect horse is typically an older school horse or pony used to being around children and adults who don’t have the balance and acumen of experienced riders. According to the rules of the U.S. Pony Club, a national organization promoting riding skills and horsemanship to child and adult equestrians, horseback riders need to wear protective helmets during all activities on horseback.