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19 Games to Play on Horseback

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Horseback riding is a real adventure all on its own. However, occasionally, just riding around an arena in circles can get repetitive. The good news is, there are plenty of games that riders can play on horseback to breathe a little fresh air into the mix.

Games vary according to riding styles, but whether you ride English or western, the basic ideas of the games are all the same. Each of these games can be played by both riding styles and varying experience levels, although a little tweaking may be required.

Here are 19 games to play on horseback.

Barrel/Pole Weave

The barrel or pole weave is one of the most exciting games to play on a horse. Several barrels or bending poles are set up in a straight line, far enough apart so that a horse can safely weave through them.

Riders take turns weaving their horse in and out of the line of barrels. The horses will usually pick up on the pattern quickly and smoothly weave through it with ease.

This is a timed game, but most riders can only go so fast through the weave. It is a fun game for both beginner and experienced riders, although beginners may want to keep it slow.

Cola Race

In this game, a cup of cola or water is placed on a barrel or table at the other end of the arena. The participating riders take turns completing the events.

The rider is mounted on the horse and together they move as fast as they can to the cup of cola.

The rider dismounts, swallows the drink as quickly as possible, then mounts the horse and returns to the starting point.

Potato Grab

The potato grab race can be played using a potato or another easy-to-carry item. The item is placed on a table, barrel, or another type of stand on the opposite end of the arena.

Riders are timed as to how quickly they can ride their horse to the other end of the arena, bend down, grab the potato (or other item), and get back to the start line.

While potatoes are used often in this game, any other easy-to-carry item that a horse will not want to eat will work.

Horsewoman riding on brown horse and jumping the fence

Obstacle Course

Another fun game is to set up an obstacle course in the arena and see who can complete it the quickest. The obstacle course should fit the riding style and experience level of the riders participating.

Cones, small jumps, bending poles, barrels, and more can be used to create a course of sorts for riders to maneuver through. The one that completes the course the quickest, without breaking the course path, is the winner.

Red Light, Green Light

This is a simple, yet surprisingly fun game to play, especially for young equestrians. The person in charge will say “green light” for the riders to move freely about the arena.

When the same person yells “red light”, the riders are all supposed to stop moving immediately. The rider that stops moving last loses the game.

The game repeats until there is only one rider remaining in the arena and they are the ultimate winner. This game tests the rider’s ability to stop their horse quickly and effectively.

Cup Race

In this game, instead of drinking the water or cola, the goal is to not spill the drink. The rider has to hold a full cup of drink, usually water, while they ride a horse across the arena and back.

If the drink is spilled, the rider is out of the game. The rider that successfully returns the full drink the fastest wins.

This is a great game for intermediate riders that are comfortable with riding with only one hand.

Follow the Leader

This is a fun game where a “leader” rider is chosen and the rest of the group has to copy whatever the leader does. If the leader trots to the other end of the arena, then everyone else does as well.

The game typically pulls new riders a little out of their comfort zone and tests their different abilities. Rules can be established so that nothing too advanced is attempted before riders are comfortable completing those tasks.

Boot in the Bucket

In this game, boots or other objects are placed in an easy-to-grab area and riders have to pick up the item and carry it with them to the bucket. The bucket is usually located in the center of the arena or completely on the opposite end.

The rider cannot drop the boot or object and they have to ring the bucket without getting off their horse. The rider that completes the task the fastest wins.

Couple riding horses in countryside tour

Egg and Spoon Race

This game is a lot like the cup game, but instead of a cup of water, the rider carries a spoon that is cradling an egg. The rider has to maneuver their horse steadily at a slow speed to the finish line.

The rider that completes the ride first and still has the spoon with the egg in one hand wins. This is another great game that may not be ideal for beginner riders that are not comfortable riding with only one hand.

This game can also be played as a relay, with riders passing the egg off to each other as a team. The group that completes the relay with the egg intact first wins the game.

Bounce Pony

For this game, riders set up several small jumps at least one stride away from one another, all in a row. The jumps are small, only about a foot high, to make the game safe for beginners.

Mounted riders ride through the course, completing the small jumps. Since the jumps are so small, this is a great game for a rider of any experience level.

Musical Horses

Similar to the musical chairs game most of us played as children, riders on horseback in an arena ride around while the music plays. When the music stops, the riders must return, on their horses, to a safe zone.

Safe zones can be set up with cones, barrels, or bending poles, but either way, there will be one short for the number of riders in the game. The odd rider left standing without a safe zone, loses.

The game continues until there is one rider and horse left. That rider is the winner of the game.

Simon Says

This game is based on the “Simon Says” game many of us enjoyed when we were young. A mounted rider is chosen to be “Simon” and stands in front of the other riders in the game.

Riders have to follow every command that begins with the phrase, “Simon says…”. If any of the riders follow a command that does not include the phrase, they are out of the game.

The last rider left in the game wins.

Female friends horseback riding on field

Around the World

In this game, mounted riders get to practice their ability to move around in their saddle. With the help of a person holding their horse in place, riders listen for the start command.

The rider lets go of their reins, pulls their feet from their stirrups, and moves their right leg to the left, across the neck of their horse so they are sitting sideways in the saddle.

The rider will continue by tossing their left leg over the horse’s rear so they end up facing backward in the saddle. They will continue this repetition until they return to their starting position.

The winner is the rider that finishes the game first by picking up their reins once they are facing forwards again.

Dollar Game

In the dollar game, riders will take a dollar bill and place it under one of their legs, holding it in place between their thigh and the saddle. The riders will then be instructed to complete a task—usually something like a pattern or a small obstacle course.

The rider has to try to keep their legs in place to hold the dollar in place as well. The game continues until only one rider is left with a dollar bill under their leg.

This helps teach riders to stay balanced in their saddle by using the strength of their upper legs.

Exchange Game

In this game, two stands like tables or barrels are set up across the arena from one another. A bottle or other easy-to-grab item is placed on each table.

Riders have to ride their horses to the first table, grab the bottle or item, and then carry it to the other table. They have to bend down and exchange the item they are carrying with the bottle or item sitting on that table or stand.

The person that completes the task fastest without falling off or dropping the item wins the game.

Ribbon Run

In this game, two riders and their horses team up and hold one end of a ribbon, string, or strand of toilet paper. They have to ride in sync with one another to avoid breaking, tearing, or dropping the ribbon.

The first team that successfully completes the task with the ribbon intact and still in their hands wins the game. This is an easy game that helps riders learn to work together.

Horseback riding ladies on the countryside in snowy landscape

Fill a Bucket

This is a really fun game, but players should be prepared to get a little wet. Buckets are placed on one side of an arena or pen and riders are given either cups or sponges to fill with water.

The mounted riders then have to ride back and forth either alone or as a part of a team, dismount each time, and fill the buckets up with the water they have in hand. The first rider or team to fill their bucket wins.

Item Relay

In this game, any safe item that is easy to carry and does not scare the horses can be used. Riders will mount their horses, carry the item to the next rider on their team, and hand off the item to that rider.

Teams will make a certain number of laps or rides through an obstacle course, handing off the item repeatedly. The first team to cross the finish line wins.

If the item is dropped, the team is either disqualified or has to start over.

Barrel Pattern Run

Riding a horse through the barrel pattern is fun in itself, but you can make a game out of it as well. If you do not have any barrels on hand, orange or red cones can be used instead and placed in the normal barrel pattern or you can create your own unique pattern.

The rider that completes the pattern fastest is the winner. The pattern can always be shortened or lengthened to accommodate riders of different experience levels.

5 Things to Keep In Mind Playing Horseback Games

As with all horseback riding, there are several things that riders should always keep in mind, especially when playing games.

Safety First

Although playing games on horseback is fun, it is important to remember that horseback riding can be dangerous. It is imperative to always put the safety of the riders and the horses first, even when playing games.

If children are playing the game, make sure they wear their helmets at all times.

Ride a Horse You Trust

If you are going to be playing games on horseback, you should only ride a horse that you trust fully. This is not the time to hop on an unfamiliar horse since you have no idea how it will respond to the game itself.

Horses that are involved in games should be used to hearing large noises, being around large crowds, and should get along with other horses. Avoid riding new horses or horses that spook easily for game day.

Side view of girl wearing riding hat galloping on horseback

Do Not Be Afraid to Voice Your Concerns

If you are not comfortable with a riding game, do not be afraid to let someone in charge know or skip that game.

The same is true for the opposite situation: if a rider in your group expresses concern, listen and do not make them participate if they do not want to.

Get Creative

Do not be afraid to get creative with games and really make them your own. If you are with a large group, ask for ideas on new games to play.

It Is All Fun and Games

While some of these games can get competitive, remember that it is really just all fun and games. Do not let anyone take the games too seriously.

These horseback games should be exciting, not scary or frustrating.

Final Thoughts

There are so many different fun and exciting games that riders can play on horseback. The problem really is deciding which ones to play today and which ones to save for tomorrow.

Do not hesitate to create your own horseback riding games in the future.