Horseball is mounted team sport for horse and rider, involving play centred on a sturdy round football sized ball with handles on it which is thrown from player to player and used to score goals.Horseball is a fast paced energetic game, most closely likened to a cross between rugby, basketball and mounted polo. But if that description leaves you scratching your head, you're probably not alone!
Horseball has a history going back to the early 1700's in its native Argentina, where the game enjoyed a wide following and popular appeal for many decades- until being outlawed for a short period of time during 1790 due to the high mortality rate among players! While the form of Horseball which we know today is still very much a rough and tumble contact sport for horse and rider, the game is now considered to be significantly safer than it was in the 1700's, thanks to a moderated rule structure and technological advances in the construction of the ball. Horseball is now the national sport of Argentina.Horseball play in Europe is a fairly recent development, which first becoming popular in France during the 1970's, and is now one of the ten disciplines recognised by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports. While relatively new to Britain, Horseball already has a keen following of enthusiasts, with more and more teams forming and getting involved every year. Horseball in the UK is overseen by the British Horseball Association.
The rules of Horseball involves two teams of four players (with substitutions and reserves available if necessary) attempting to score a point by putting the ball through a hoop shaped goal, after a minimum of three passes of the ball between three separate players on the same team have been made.The opposing team attempts to defend ownership of the ball and take it from the other team by means of a variety of tactics, including physically pushing the horse and rider off course, snatching the ball from the hands of another rider, and obstructing the goal to prevent a clear shot. The rider who is tackled by another while in possession of the ball must attempt to both retain possession of the ball, and stay in the saddle. In a wrestle over the ball between two opposing tem members, the first party to be pulled out of the saddle loses a penalty. If the rider defending the ball manages to both stay seated and keep possession of the ball for more than ten seconds, they are then awarded a penalty in their favour.At any point where the ball is dropped by a player or falls due to a missed catch, any player from either team can pick it up, provided that they are facing the same way as the flow of the game at the point when it was dropped. This is to avoid the possibility of a head on collision with another horse and rider. However, it's not as simple as simply trotting over, stopping the horse and dismounting or reaching down- in order for a pick up to be counted as valid, the horse must be at a gallop while both on the approach to the ball and when grabbing it! For the experienced Horseball player, high speed pick ups are actually easier than they would be at low speed, as the movement of the horse means that the rider can build up a good momentum of swing to pull themselves back upright after reaching for the ball. Understandably, a well secured saddle and a tight enough girth are essential!
One of the main tactics in play involves 'crossing'- where a team sends three of its members in the same direction crossing each other's paths, in order to encourage the other team's offence to concentrate on one area of the field of play- while the fourth member of the team comes up from behind into the cleared space with a free line of sight to receive the ball. Players of the defending team may abandon a crossing diversion and return to their side in a similar manner, but they are not permitted to cross members of the opposing team. This is to minimise the likelihood of a head on collision at speed between two riders, something which had proved fatal on several occasions in the history of the sport before this rule was introduced.
Riding clubs, pony clubs and horse shows will sometimes organise Horseball displays and 'have a go' sessions, so keep a look out for events in your local area. The British Horseball Association also keeps a register of all approved clubs and local organisations within the UK, and will be able to put you onto a local group or club which welcomes beginners. Both children and adults are able to play Horseball, providing that they are reasonably competent riders and have access to a suitable mount. Horses and ponies that are particularly skilled at games, other team field sports such as polo or show jumping are often a good pick for potential Horseball teams, although any horse or pony can have a go and may well come into their own on the field. It's important to be aware of the fact that Horseball is a potentially dangerous sport if the rules are not followed correctly, and so any potential team or player should be prepared to start from the bottom by gaining experience with a knowledgeable and established Horseball club or organisation. Riders do not go onto the field on day one skilled and able to make passes, pick ups and obstructions at high speed, and reaching a good level of competency in the sport can take months or years to achieve. In the initial stages of Horseball training and building up the requisite skills, techniques and experience is built up slowly at low paces such as walk and trot, before being able to move onto the fast paced organised games of Horseball that are played by competent teams and leagues.Horseball is clearly not a sport for the faint hearted, but it certainly is an incredibly invigorating game for all involved! If you like what you've heard so far and would like some more information, contact the British Horseball Association to find out more.