Monday, February 13, 2012

Four Weird Horse Sports You've Never Heard Of

The curiosity and self-destruction inherent in human nature has ensured that everything that can be done, will be done, at some point. For proof, just watch Failblog, America's Funniest Home Videos or any group of average teenagers. In regards to the equestrian world, that also means that everything that can be done with a horse has already been tried. Many of these activities undoubtedly ended when the participants were killed or arrested, but some of them were safe enough (and cool enough) to became actual horse sports, albeit rather obscure ones. So strap on your helmets cowgirls, let's go!


No ski hills in your area? That's okay-- if you've got a horse, a rope and a field, you're in luck. Skijoring involves a person on skis being towed behind a horse and rider, at full gallop. Oh, and also steering around obstacles, flying off jumps, and grabbing rings like in jousting. Awesome. It's even more incredible when a competitor skis behind a horse without a rider, meaning they're steering the horse while controlling their own bodies/skis. That would be way too much coordination for me. Want to join? Check out the North American Skijoring Association, and be prepared to travel long distances for events; sanctioned competitions are few are far between. Amazing video below:


Everyone knows about jousting. Guys dressed like knights get up on horses, etc. However, that's just the euro-centric version of weaponized horsemanship. In central Asia, India and the Middle East "tent-pegging" was invented instead. Rather than stabbing at each other with long pointy poles, they stab at tiny targets on the ground with long pointy poles. There are two possible historical origins for the sport, according to the ever-reliable (cough) Wikipedia:

The most widely accepted theory is that the game originated in medieval India as a training tool for cavaliers facing war elephants. A cavalier able to precisely stab the highly sensitive flesh behind an elephant's toenail would cause the enemy elephant to rear, unseat his mahout, and possibly run amok, breaking ranks and trampling infantry.

The term "tent pegging" is, however, certainly related to the idea that cavaliers mounting a surprise pre-dawn raid on an enemy camp could use the game's skills to sever or uproot tent pegs, thus collapsing the tents on their sleeping occupants and sowing havoc and terror in the camp. However, there are few reliable accounts of a cavalry squadron ever employing such tactics.

The sport later became quite popular in Great Britain after those guys conquered everything and set up colonies, then brought home the foreign fun stuff they'd found. The British connection also explains why Canada's team is one of the top three national teams. Want to join? Americans are mostly out of luck, but there are major organizations in Canada, Australia, Britain and other countries.

Horse Agility

You've probably heard about dog agility, where dogs jump through hoops, balance on teeter-totters, walk balance beams, crawl through tunnels, etc. However, there's no way that could be done with a 1,000 pound, spooky prey animal like a horse, right? Right? Wrong. And it's done without so much as a lead rope.

I'm slightly inclined to be snarky about this sport. Can you say, "wackier natural horsemanship types?" However, I can totally see this sport used for good--  to work on trust, desensitizing, ground manners, and perhaps most importantly of all, to give young horses or non-riders something to do. Even though I knew better, I was extremely tempted to start Annie under saddle at age two. I didn't, but I got impatient waiting for her to grow up. This would have been a welcome diversion. I also know plenty of people who, for one reason or another, keep horse "pets" and don't really ride them. Those people could do this instead, giving their horses a skill set that would make them more likely to find good homes in case the owner died or had to sell. Plus, it just looks cool. My only worry is building something like this yourself; I can just imagine a makeshift obstacle collapsing under the weight of a horse. Hire a good carpenter, people, or figure out how to do it right.

Oh, and I could totally see chubby pet ponies and miniature horses doing this with their people-- a great workout, no riding involved! Want to join? So far this isn't a very established sport (more like people doing stuff in their backyards) but you can check out The International Horse Agility Club.


Every ballgame ever invented has been tried with horses. Everyone knows about polo, of course, but there are tons more horse-and-ball sports. Equi-soccer, with a giant ball, looks like huge fun. Horseball, which is rugby-basketball on horseback, is incredibly action-packed when played by professionals. There's also donkey basketball. I don't really like that one. I first saw it when my high school FFA club hired a donkey-b-ball-provider for a fundraiser. The event was huge fun, but the donkeys didn't look happy. I know they're sturdy beasts, and the donkeys don't do more than mill around at a walk, but some of the "players" were big guys with beer-bellies; easily 275 pounds. That's too much for a donkey. Many of their backbones were hairless from being sat upon, and since obviously no one playing knew a damn thing about equines, they were subjected to the worst kind of yanking and kicking. There were no bits, only halters, but still... Anyway, I'll post videos of all three sports, and you can decide for yourself what's fun and what's not:

This video is a little too commercial (and touchy-feely) in my opinion, but has great action shots!

 ZOMG this looks so awesome. Proof once again that Britain produces the best entertainment.

...and finally, donkey basketball. Not at my high school, but a different one. Sorry it's a link and not an embedded video; for some reason I couldn't get it to post directly. Note the message at the end of the video: "Prays and glorie be to the South!!" Uh huh.

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