Games on Horseback

Playing games on horseback can help you develop your riding skills. They teach your body to respond to and direct the horse's movements while you focus your mind and attention on the task at hand, whether you're trying to hit a ball with a stick, weave through poles, or balance a hard-boiled egg on a spoon.


Polo is a fast-paced game played on horseback in a field 160 yards wide and 300 yards long. It is played in six seven-minute chukkers over approximately ninety minutes. To compete, you need access to a string of polo ponies, which makes it expensive. Polo ponies are not a specific breed; any horse that is trained and well suited to the game can be a polo pony. They are compact, usually short in height, and have been exposed to the idea of having a mallet-wielding rider on their back. To play polo, you must be a confident and extremely well-balanced rider to make the quick turns and stops and to gallop for most of the game.

To find a club near you, learn all the rules of the game, and obtain lots more information about polo, visit the United States Polo Association website at

Gymkhana and Omoksee

Gymkhana is a collective term for competitive games on horseback, organized mostly for youth participation by a 4-H or Pony Club. The events are usually won or lost solely on timing, but they typically require some riding skill, depending on the game. For example, pole bending, in which the horse and rider weave a serpentine path through a line of tall poles at a gallop, requires the rider to make alternating changes of hand and leads.

In the western United States, gymkhana-type horseback games are called omoksee, a Native American term meaning games on horseback. Other types of gymkhana and omoksee games include barrel racing, flag races, keg races, and relay races, all of which are excellent ways to hone your riding skills.


In vaulting competitions, riders perform acrobatic exercises to music on horseback. Most people have seen vaulting at the circus, where bareback riders perform stunning gymnastic feats such as mounts, dismounts, somersaults, handstands, and flips on horseback while the horse trots or canters in a circle. It is an extreme sport that dates back to the Roman games. The horse is carefully trained, usually works on a lunge line, and wears a bridle, side reins, and a surcingle around its girth instead of a saddle. The surcingle has handles, which the rider uses to execute certain moves. In competition, vaulters are judged on the difficulty of their moves, technique, balance, and form.


An interest in the ancient activity of jousting, typically associated with knights in armor, has cropped up over the past several years. Although not widespread, jousting competitions can be found in pockets around the country and are enjoyed at popular Renaissance festivals. Today's rider aims a long lance at a ring instead of an opponent. With each round, the ring gets smaller, so accuracy at top speeds is the name of the game.

Drill Teams

Drill teams consist of lines of riders executing moves in formation. If you viewed them from above, you would see horses meeting at a point at the exact same time, moving together in the same gait and rhythm, and drifting apart at the same point. Every pairing in the drill team does the pattern in unison and in the same way as every other pairing, at the same point, in the same gait, and so forth.

Participation in a drill team teaches you great precision in your riding and requires lots of practice. They are organized mostly for youth participation by 4-H and Pony Clubs and by university riding programs. Drill teams are popular with spectators and are often invited to perform exhibitions at horse shows and other events with a sports or equestrian flavor.

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