Horseback Riding Games That Test Horsemanship Skills

Horseback Riding Games That Test Horsemanship Skills

Are you game for some fun ways to test your horse and improve your riding ability?

trail riding in the fall autumn leaves (Credit: Georgianna Renouard)

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Whether you are a riding instructor, show coordinator, 4-H leader or just a borderline-bored rider looking for something different, horse games can be a fun change from your usual routine. Horseback riding 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.

Simon Says 

Yes, just like the game played as a kid. 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.

Speed Trail 

Whoever makes it through the course the fastest, wins. Set up barrels, hay bales, jumps and poles, or anything that won’t spook or injure the horse. Wooden “bridges,” a stream (try running a garden hose), sand pits or a course through Mother Nature’s terrain are also fun ideas to try.

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 Relay 

This game is played in pairs and requires 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 could 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 

The “shark” tries to tag a “minnow.” The tagged rider also becomes a shark and goes after the minnows. The game ends when all minnows are turned into sharks. Your mount must be a sociable animal – refrain from using horses that kick or bite. For safety reasons, keep all at a walk. 

Scavenger Hunt 

Riders trek out in pairs to find a list of hidden items. 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.