Mounted Games is one of our favorite equine sports for the Ponies and I. Being that it is a somewhat obscure sport, I thought I would explain a little further. Its necessary to first explain how I ended up falling in love with this discipline.
It was 1998 and I was 14 years old. I had just joined the ranks of the United States Pony Club with my little Arab/Welsh, Oopsie Daisy. I had a complete love affair with Dressage and Oopsie and I were having a ton of fun in Pony Club going to the rallies and meeting other Dressage riders. Soon I noticed that my Dressage scores weren’t as high as they once were, wondering why – I finally was told by a trainer that I was getting too big for my pony. Topping out at 5’11” didn’t go over well when you ride a 13.3 hand pony, at least in the Dressage world. As I looked for a new, larger mount, I was saddened by the thought that I would no longer be able to ride my beloved Oopsie. Then someone suggested I check out mounted games because most of the riders all rode ponies. Having never heard of it before I decided to go check out the Pony Club Games Rally that year.
I watched as riders vaulted on and off their horses at top speed. I watched as they weaved bending poles, picked up objects, popped balloons. More importantly I noticed that all riders were on ponies, no matter how tall they were. I was hooked, it looked like so much fun. I immediately went home and began practicing my vaults on Oopsie – I wanted to have it perfected when I showed up for my first practice! Vaulting in the mounted games world is basically the act of getting yourself into the saddle without the use of a stirrup or a mounting block.
I showed up for my first practice that year, and Oopsie took to it with ease. Surprisingly for a spooky Arabian he was not afraid of any of the strange equipment. Not only that but I was ecstatic when my coach told me that Mounted Games was like Dressage on horseback – and it really was! Many of the skilled games ponies are actually top level Dressage horses as well. The ponies need to know how to move off of leg pressure, they needed to leg yield, back up, spin, do flying lead changes and on and on. Since that very first practice I fell in love with the sport.
Here is a video that my brother made that showcases what the sport is all about:
Now I’m sure you are still wondering….what is Mounted Games exactly? So I’ll start with a little history.
Mounted Games were first played in India by the British Army soldiers. However, many of their first games were played on camels and mules instead of horses. The returning military brought back the games to England where they became very popular with The Pony Club members. Prince Philip presented the first trophy cup for mounted games in 1957 to promote the sport amongst youngsters. From those beginnings, mounted games gained popularity and spread to the US and other countries.
To best explain the sport, it involves a team of riders (typically 4 with 1 alternate) who participate in relay type races on horseback. The team who finishes the race first gets the highest points. At the end of a competition, the team with the highest points wins. The amount of races played per competition is usually determined by the show’s organizer.
To begin a race riders will start at a starting line, waiting for a flag to drop, when the race begins the first rider will complete a specific task (each race is different and has a different set of rules), they then cross the change over line allowing the next rider on their team to go. When the last rider on the team (signified by a white helmet cover or band) crosses the finish line the team’s placing is set. A team can, however, be eliminated for various things during the course of a race, such as not properly completing the race, breaking equipment, interfering with another team’s play, hitting a pony. Elimination results in 0 points for the race, and for less serious offenses disqualification results in 1 point.
Mounted Games is one of the very few equestrian sports that requires a team. In general horseback riding is a fairly solitude sport. You may Event or do Dressage with a team, but you are scored individually and your points are added to your overall team score. Mounted Games is different in that you have to rely on your teammates, one of you fails (or messes up) and you all fail. This is one of the reasons I enjoy mounted games, it’s as much a social sport as it is a speed sport. Below is a video I made as a self-portrait while in college, “My Life as A Games Rider”.
So now onto the races. There are TONS of races that could be played at any given competition, most mounted games organizations (there are only a few) have their own rulebooks that explain each race, but pretty much all of them are relatively the same. Its best just to explain a few races so you can get the gist of what types of races are played. The first race I will explain is the Canadian Race. First watch the video below of Blitz and Boomerang running through this race in a PAIRS competition.
As you have seen, each rider needs to weave the bending poles while carrying a hockey stick. When they reach the end the rider has to hit a tennis ball through the cones and over the line on the ground. When the task is completed the rider then weaves the poles back and hands off the hockey stick to the next rider.
The next race I will show you is 5-Flag. Each rider crosses the start line and places a flag into the end cone, then picks up a new flag from the cone on the way home, handing it off the the next rider. The last rider just carries the flag across the line. Watch Boomerang win this race as the last rider on his team.
Here is a race that shows vaulting – Old Sock. Riders first dunk a sock in a bucket then dismount at the end and pick up a new sock handing it off to the next rider. The last rider on the way home dunks the last sock in the bucket. Watch as an Advanced Pairs team plays this race – don’t blink or you might miss the vaults.
These are just a few examples of the races that are played at a mounted games competition. Now you may be thinking thats great but I’m too old, too young, too short (insert excuse here) to be vaulting on and off horses/etc. Well I’m going to tell you that mounted games is for everyone! Yes everyone! There are divisions for leadliners, adults, intermediate riders, and advanced riders. There are also organizations and clubs that play all over the world, international exchanges are frequently set up between countries. Strides are even being taken to someday have mounted games recognized as an Olympic Sport. But if being an Olympian isn’t in your dreams there are hundreds of competitions a year where riders just come out to play and have fun. Many competitions are set up as overnights as well, where competitors spend the weekend camping with their horses and fellow competitions. It can be a great way to get involved with your local horse community.
So if by now I may have sparked your interest (I hope I have) here’s how you can get involved, or simply go to watch a competition in your area.