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|Written by Kelsa Staffa|
|Wednesday, 14 April 2010 11:23|
There are two main types of riders: those who like to school, and those who don't. Schooling involves hours of practicing circles, lateral flexion, basic dressage moves, and gymnastic exercise . . . ad nauseum. I more or less go into a trance, chasing the perfect 20 m circle, and don't notice the time go by. There are many other people (and horses, no doubt) who groan when told to school.
To avoid unhappy students, instructors often incorporate games into lesson plans. I have given my students spoons and wooden eggs to practice body control, set up obstacle courses to practice steering, and used scary grain sacks as jump decorations to desensitize horses. My games, however, seem pitiful compared to some of the more complex games that have arisen from what I suspect is the avoidance of traditional schooling. Below I've outlined two of the games I came across in researching horsey games that I fully intend to play.
Horse Soccer/Equine Soccer/Pushball/Hoofball
As there are at least four different names for the same game, depending on what part of the world you come from. I have chosen to call this game hoofball in honour of the old adage, "No hoof, No horse" (the hoof is the single most important and vulnerable part of a horse).
Unsurprisingly, hoofball is exactly the same as People Soccer. There's a ball proportional to the players' size (in this case a 40" - 50" rubber ball resistant to hooves and teeth and, for safety reasons, at least as tall as the player's breastbone), there are players (and their humans) on two teams, and there are goals (anything from poles to pylons) at either end of the arena/ring/field. The goal is to get your equine athlete to kick the ball down the field and through the goalposts. Score!
The specific rules boil down to safety and etiquette:
According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, pushball on horseback was introduced in 1902 at Durland's Riding Academy in New York. It has only recently begun to be an organized sport outside the military and guard industries.
There are many advantages to teaching your horse to play hoofball. Horses are naturally curious and playful and like to learn new things. Stretching your horse's brain by constantly introducing new stimuli is a good way to keep him alert, interested, and developing intelligence, just like a young child. Secondly, having a big, bouncy thing hitting your nose, knees, tail, sides, and chest and being completely unharmed by it is a great way to desensitize your horse to other "scary" objects such as a flying plastic bag, children playing basketball, or branches brushing up against his flanks on the trail.
Not being a western rider I didn't know that hoofball also allows a horse to become more "cowy." The horse learns to "read" the ball; for example, if you hit it on the left side, it will move right, and vice versa. When herding cows, the exact same principle is used: to cause a cow to move to your right, you approach him on the left. It also teaches him to be quick to react and turn, increasing his flexibility.
And what do I think the best part about hoofball is, you ask? The ideal speed for hoofball is a trot, so that the horse can easily kick the ball. That means that anyone who isn't on a horse for their very first time (and some who are!) can play hoofball. Hoofball New Zealand boasts that it has riders from children to 75 years-old. Not only that, but any equine is invited to play!
Polocrosse is described as a mix of polo and lacrosse, requiring fast horses and even faster riders. Polocrosse Canada describes it as "a bit like hockey on horseback," but I'm guessing that's because we Canucks are much more familiar with hockey than we are with lacrosse (our national sport!), as there is no physical contact allowed. What's different from either lacrosse or hockey is that players have restricted spaces they must remain in.
There are two teams, each with six horse/rider pairs. As only three pairs can be on the field at a time, two "chukkas," or strings, are used with one chukka coming onto the field to replace the other. Each player on a team has a position - Number 1 is the Attack, Number 2 is the Centre, and Number 3 is the Defence. Number 1 is the only person allowed to attempt to score a goal from within the goal scoring area, which is 30 yards from the goalpost, and Number 3 of the opposing team is the only person allowed in the goal scoring area with him.
Now we get to the violence! Hitting at an opponent's stick to prevent a catch or to dislodge a ball is perfectly fine as long as the motion is upwards, not downwards, which would constitute a foul. Riding off is allowed, but crossing, stopping over the ball or wedging yourself between two opponents is forbidden.
The history of polocrosse is similar to that of hoofball; they were both products of inventive training aids. Polocrosse was developed at the National School of Equitation near London, England, by instructors wishing to teach their students more flexibility and confidence in the saddle and to encourage them to have more control of the horse. Originally there were nets, similar to basketball nets, at each end of the arena, and polo sticks with the mallet removed and a loosely-strung squash racket head attached were used to scoop and throw the ball. To this day, polo sticks are used with a specifically-designed polocrosse head.
Mr. and Mrs. Edward Hirst saw the game in England in 1938 and returned to Australia where they established a formal set of rules with the assistance of a polo player. Over fifty years later the basic concepts have not changed, and polocrosse is an international sport, including countries such as Zimbabwe, Canada, South Africa, Papua New Guinea, Chile, New Zealand, the United States, Uruguay, Ireland, Argentina, and Vanuatu in play.
The most intriguing thing to me is that polocrosse uses only one horse per rider. Traditional polo players have strings of ponies that are used, but each rider is only allowed one horse per game or tournament, barring injury. This makes it infinitely more accessible to players of all backgrounds and social status, not just the elite. I would say that with its fast play, simple rules, and international recognition, polocrosse truly is, as Polocrosse Canada states, "King of the One Horse Sports."
Tags: culture, equine soccer, equine world, hoofball, horse soccer, horse sports, horses, king of one horse sports, play, polocrosse, pushball