Gymkhana games to play with your pony

Gymkhana games to play with your pony

One of the joys of owning a pony is competing in Gymkhana games. They are not only fun for rider and pony, but help improve fitness, agility and control. Many shows will host a range of games, sometimes with qualifying heats so everyone can compete. The Pony Club also run Mounted Games competitions, with every region building teams to enter regular qualifiers to compete at big events such as the Horse of the Year Show. This is the pinnacle of gymkhana competitions; many famous riders started with gymkhana games. Joining your local Pony Club branch( See )means you can also attend summer camps and sessions to get professional advice and compete to get on the branch team.

Practice makes perfect

Before you enter any race, you should practice at home or with friends. Most games are easy to set up. First set up your “arena”. The Pony Club use an arena 125m by 74m, with a line marked 6m at both ends of the course. These are the start and change over points. If you are practising you can use less space, especially if you aren’t racing against another pony. Make sure you always have room to turn safely!

You will also need to collect props from around the yard. This should include (these are given per course, so if you are racing against others increase the numbers per lane):

  • 5 cones – these should be set up in a line, 7 to 9 metres apart.
  • 5 poles – these should be thin, not sharp, and preferably with a flag attached to one end.
  • 1 sack – these should be hessen. Don’t use plastic bin bags.
  • 5 mugs – camping or plastic mugs that bounce only.
  • 4 sturdy buckets – they must hold your weight,.

Now for the games…

Popular gymkhana games

Walk, Trot and Canter

This is excellent for getting your pony off the leg, or in other words listening and active. The course, three laps with a gait each lap, must be completed in the fastest time. You must make your horse walk, trot and canter as fast as possible without breaking into a different gait. Should your walk accidentally turn into trot before the turn, you must circle before you keep going. A simple game to start with, and very easy to practice anywhere.

Bending race

This is the most common game at events, and is usually done at breakneck speed. Five upright poles are placed in a line at 7 to 9 metres apart. If you don’t have poles, cones can be used at home. At the whistle, pony and rider must bend through the poles as quickly as possible, turn round the final pole and bend back to cross the finish line. You must not miss or knock a pole over as you will have to track back to complete the course or be disqualified.

Flag race

This race is can be done as a team relay, or individually. Place four flags in the first cone. The poles should be long enough to grab, and sturdy enough not to break too easily. You will start the race with one flag. On the whistle you must sprint to the cone at the end of the course, as you turn you will slot the flag into the cone. As you near the finish line, you must grab a flag from the first cone and pass it to your team member waiting on the line. Racing individually would mean you having to collect and move all of the flags on your own. If you drop a flag, you must dismount (or lean if you are near the floor) and pick it up. Flags should only be put in the cone from horseback.

Sack race

Just like the school sports day race, but with a pony. You start the race mounted, and must race to the end of the course where the sack is laying. Dismount as quickly as possible, and jump in the sack. You will either have someone waiting to hold your pony, or you must race back in the sack whilst leading it. Make sure your pony knows not to race off, as running in a sack is hard enough when you are on your own. Develop your sack running technique before you attempt with pony!

Mug race

Before you start put all of your poles in the cones. In front of the first cone place your upturned bucket with mugs on it. At the start you will need to rush to the bucket and pick up a mug, race to the end of the course and put the mug on the top of the pole. If in a team, race over the line so your team member can do the same thing, but placing the mug on the fourth pole after the turn. If playing individually, you must place all mugs on the poles. Don’t drop or knock any over as you must pick them up before continuing.

Stepping stones

Set up your stepping stone in the middle of the course. At the start, race to the end of the course and turn. At the buckets – aka the Stepping Stones – you must dismount and run over them without falling off. Once completed you must get on as soon as possible and race to the finish line.

Key things to focus on

  • Always be safe – look after yourself and your pony. It is easy to get carried away.
  • Get your pony used to the equipment – ponies will get scared of flags, and won’t understand in the beginning what you want them to do. Put the items round the yard, teach them slowly. It will help build their confidence and experience.
  • Be aware your pony will act differently at the showground – all of the sounds, ponies, and scenery will be new. They are likely to get over excited. Keep them calm and adapt your riding until they get used to it.
  • Focus on the key things in practise: speed; stopping; turning; picking up objects; and mounting and dismounting quickly. The top riders can remount as their pony is cantering.
  • Have fun!


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