Horseback Riding

Horse Games

September 5, 2011

Are you game for some fun ways to test your horse and your horsemanship skills?

Keep your kids interested by using games to improve their horsemanship skills. Journal photo.

From America’s Horse

Who wouldn’t rather play than do a bunch of self-improvement drills?

With horseback games, you can do both at the same time!

Horseback games can improve your hand-eye coordination, balance, reining aids and all other aspects of riding.

When you learn by playing, you apply and reinforce all those riding techniques you’ve been perfecting, etching them into your subconscious. Games give your horse a job to do, a purpose and some variety.

Good riding skills and a well-trained horse really shine in these games, where precision and efficiency are rewarded more than outright speed.

Whether you are a riding instructor, show coordinator, 4-H leader or just a borderline-bored rider looking for something different, games can be a fun change from your usual horse activity. And having fun is what having horses is all about!

The Horseback Riding Program is designed to reward AQHA and AQHYA members who spend time riding American Quarter Horses, as well as other horse breeds.

Simon Says

You probably know the horseless version from childhood: A caller makes a specific command to a group of players. If the command is preceded by “Simon says,” the riders do as instructed. A rider is eliminated when he or she obeys a command that does not include the prefix “Simon says.” There are many variations: motion commands (walk, trot, halt, etc.), obstacle commands (barrel, cavaletti, jumps, etc.), pattern commands and any combination, even something as simple as touching parts of your horse or saddle.

Obstacle Race 

Also called “speed trail.” Barrels, hay bales, jumps and poles are arranged in an arena or field to simulate trail obstacles, and riders see how quickly they can maneuver their horses through the course. Anything that won’t spook or injure the horse can be used, such as wooden “bridges,” a stream (can be made by running a garden hose), sand pits or a course through Mother Nature’s obstacles.

Relays

The endless variety of relay races is limited only by your creativity. Impose a speed limit: walk, trot, lope or gallop. This is a great way to get your horse to move out at a walk or to work on the extended trot. Some of our favorites are horse change and ribbon relays, but you can make up your own.

    -In horse change, riders race from one side of the arena to the other, dismount, mount their partner’s horse and race back across the starting area. Fastest team wins.
    -Ribbon relays are played in pairs and require good hand-eye coordination and balance. A ribbon is suspended between two riders, and they race side-by-side to a designated finish line. At least two teams of two riders are necessary for this game. A variation would be an obstacle course with both riders negotiating the obstacles simultaneously.

Egg and Spoon

This tests how smooth your horse is and how in tune you are with his or her gaits. The standard play is sort of like a western pleasure class: a caller asks a group of riders to walk, trot, lope, reverse and back. Mounting and dismounting are particularly difficult, as is the trot. The game could also be played on the trail. Anything round in a shape that fits on a spoon can be used- pinecones, nuts, marbles- but nothing symbolizes “You’re out!” like a broken egg on the ground.

Sharks and Minnows 

Better known as “tag.” The “shark” tries to touch a “minnow.” When he or she succeeds, the touched rider also becomes a shark and goes after the minnows. The game ends when all minnows are turned into sharks. Horses for this game must be sociable animals that won’t kick or bite. For safety reason, keep all at a walk. Add obstacles to the playing area for spice, and define the places that can be tagged: rider and horse, just rider, or the saddle. “Freeze tag” is a handy exercise to teach horses to stand still even though other riders are moving around them.

AQHA and AQHYA members enroll in either the American Quarter Horse or the All-Breeds division of the Horseback Riding Program (you may enroll in both divisions), log the hours spent in the saddle, return the sheets and earn great prizes.

Scavenger Hunt

Riders trek out in pairs to find a list of items previously hidden throughout an area. Larger areas are obviously better, especially if there are trees, brush, ponds or creeks to offer more hiding places.

Red Light/ Green Light

Caller stands opposite a line of side-by-side riders. When the caller yells “green light,” the riders advance, at an appropriate gait, until the caller commands “red light.” After a count of five (or less, depending on the gait and rider level), the caller turns toward the riders. Any horse still in motion is eliminated. The first rider to ride up even with the caller wins.

Tell us what kind of things you do to keep practice interesting.