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Games on Horseback: We play games with our Horses/Ponies to improve equitation, increase confidence and add some fun for our school horses and young riders.

Practicing your riding skills does not need to be repetitive to the point that it becomes boring. There are many ways to improve your riding, your automatic use of the aids and your horse's responsiveness. By using the group game events below, you can learn and have fun at the same time. You don't have to be a kid to enjoy mounted games, so no matter what your age is, get your lesson class or a few riding friends together and try your rein at some of our favourites:

Obstacle Course

This game is an excellent way to work on a variety of skills at the same time. We use a course of cones which must be steered between, poles which are walked over or between (like parallel lines) and, depending on the rider level, we use small jumps. Because new obstacles can be added, new levels of difficulty can be incorporated. In addition, changing the obstacles each time the game is played will challenge riders. It will also help to introduce the horse and rider to a variety of unfamiliar situations. We also use the obstacle course as a precursor to jumping small courses, and on days when the outdoors are lovely, but the footing may not be good enough to jump.

Egg and Spoon (We use a small rock, so we don't waste food that a chicken has worked so hard to make!)

You will need a large spoon and a rock big enough to fill a tablespoon for each participant. This game is often offered at horse shows as a "fun" class. A rider must have good, still hands in order to be really good at this game.  Riders must be able to hold their hands steady enough to keep a rock from falling off the spoon at a walk, trot and canter. Playing this game is a fun way to work on developing quiet, steady hands. 

To play the game, have one person be the "judge" and stand in the center of the arena to call out the gaits. Each rider places the rock in the spoon, which is held by the the handle. Riders circle the arena at the appropriate gait until they lose their eggs. The last person to have a rock is declared the winner.

We also play with relay teams. Each rider takes a turn. The first team to have each rider make it back and forth across the ring with wins.

Barrels

You will need three barrels, cones or jump standards. We like to use plastic barrels as there are no sharp edges and neither horse nor rider will get hurt by bumping into them. This game can be done at a walk for beginners. We sometime get a leader to help out with the smallest children so that they can be a part of a team.. About at the midpoint of the ring, place a barrel about 10m from the track, towards the middle at each of B, E, and A, to form a triangle at one end of the ring. Riders must do a complete circle around each barrel and then "run" home. Even at a walk, riders feel like they are "racing". We do this in teams as well. Often there will be a rider in each group who needs to be led, one who is allowed to go up to a trot and a third team player who is allowed and able to canter. The goal is always safety first. The individual or team with the best time wins.

This exercise teaches the rider planning, balance, steering, and is lots of fun for ponies.

Paper Chase

In this individual game, the horse or pony is ridden without stirrups. A piece 2" x 4" piece of paper is placed under the rider's leg about mid-thigh. The riders then ride around the ring or arena at the walk, trot, and canter while trying to keep the paper from falling on the ground. This game emphasizes the rider's ability to ride without stirrups while still maintaining contact between the horse's back and the seat. The rider who jiggles will lose the paper.

Once again, this game may be played by beginners by riding just at the walk and/or trot. Interest may be added by adding a few cones to steer around.

Keyhole

To play the game, four ground poles are needed. These are placed at right angles to each other so as to form a square. The ends of the poles should be touching each other. One at a time, the riders walk or trot into the box. Once inside the box, they must stop without touching any of the poles. The rider then turns the horse completely around in a 360-degree circle without disturbing any of the ground poles. The rider exits the box on the same side which he or she entered.

This game improves the use of the rider's leg as an aid as well as the effectiveness of the rider's use of the reins. In addition, walk-to-halt and trot-to-halt transitions are practiced. This exercise can also be thought of as a tune-up for the horse's responsiveness. To be completely beneficial, both sides of the horse should be worked by alternating between clockwise and counterclockwise circles. Once a certain level of proficiency has been reached, the difficulty of the game can be increased by reducing the size of the box.

Since this  game does not need to have a winner, it is ideal for riding classes where instructors wish to keep competitiveness to a minimum. If desired, a winner can be determined by eliminating those horses that touch or move the poles. Remaining riders play subsequent rounds in which the size of the box is decreased. This continues until only one rider remains.

Pole Bending

This game is also based on the gymkhana version of the same name, but precision, not speed, is the desired element here. Because this game can be performed at a walk, trot or canter, it is adaptable to all levels of riding. To play this game at a walk, upright poles or cones are spaced 12 feet apart in a straight line down the center of the arena. Beginners who are just learning how to turn their horses will walk their horses in and out of the poles. As the rider's skill level increases, emphasis is put on executing a good turn, with the horse bending correctly around the inside leg.

At the trot, the poles or cones should be moved 18 to 24 feet (two strides) apart. The game becomes harder as riders try to maintain both cadence and good turns. In addition, pole bending is an excellent way for English riders to practice diagonal changes. As riders weave in and out of the poles, they must sit one-half stride (one bounce) in order to change their posting diagonal. This should be done precisely at the same time they cross the center line.

For advanced students, cantering the pole-bending pattern offers the greatest challenge. The canter should be kept slow, with the riders concentrating on using their aids to ask for the correct lead. At first, riders may need to trot a stride or two before asking for a canter on the other lead. As they improve, the trotting steps should be eliminated until they are executing flying lead changes.

To make pole bending competitive, someone will need to act as a referee. Points are then awarded for each correct lead or diagonal change, with the referee having final say on any disputes. An alternative method of play is to eliminate a rider who fails to make the correct change. This works well with English riders who are learning to distinguish diagonals. In this version, riders circle the arena utilizing the pattern in one direction only. As the instructor or referee eliminates riders, they either leave the arena or stand to one side. The last rider remaining is declared the winner.

Walking Race

This is an excellent game for teaching impulsion and extension at the walk. Once learned, these skills can be easily translated to faster gaits. Riders line up at the starting line. When the signal is given, riders have their horses walk to the opposite side of the arena. If a horse breaks stride, it is disqualified. The person who reaches the finish line first is the winner. The key to winning is learning how to extend the gait. By using one's legs while keeping the horse on the bit (to prevent the horse from trotting), the rider can engage the horse's hindquarters. This causes the horse to reach farther forward with the legs, thereby lengthening its stride.

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