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By Stephanie Kwok

Take a K I C K at

issue 6-2012 | www.horsecountry.ca

If you are like me, you’re always on the lookout for new ways to have fun with your horse. When I saw a photo of two riders playing soccer on horseback with a giant ball, I knew I had to learn more about the sport. The smiles on their faces clearly expressed their delight as their horses competed for the ball with focus and energy. With that image stuck in my mind, I did some research into equine soccer. Although the sport has been played for about 100 years, it is relatively new, especially when compared to the ancient team sport of polo (over 2000 years). Formal leagues have been competing in Europe since the 1980s, and a few have now started up in the USA. Equine soccer is an exciting game that can be played with two competing teams or on one’s own. During play, the rider encourages her horse to manipulate an oversized ball at a walk or trot, using only his shoulder, front legs and nose. This activity challenges the rider to communicate effectively with her horse to control his lateral movement, gait, energy and, in competition, to also score goals. Sound like fun? Want to try it? You can get started right away by reading the following tips, based on my workshops introducing other riders to equine soccer:

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Equine SOCCER

Preparation

Set your horse up for success with the big ball by doing groundwork that introduces him to other things that roll, such as large horse toy balls or empty barrels. A familiarity with these types of objects makes the transition to the big ball easier. Touch your horse’s legs with them, roll them towards him and encourage him to push these objects with either his nose or foot. Be attentive and reward as you normally would for courage and effort.

Equipment

Besides a horse, all you need to play equine soccer is a large, enclosed space, such as an arena, and an equine soccer ball. These oversize balls, often advertised as “cage balls”, have a heavy-duty, burst-resistant vinyl bladder and a separate cover of sturdy fabric such as heavyweight nylon. They can be ordered online through playground equipment suppliers. I sourced 36” and 48” balls through a Canadian supplier for less than $100, including shipping. Before you purchase a ball, determine the size you need for safe play. The diameter should not be less than the height of your horse’s breastbone. If the ball is too small, it could easily become trapped under his belly during play, creating a potentially explosive situation for the rider. At first glance, you might think that the ball’s bladder looks too small to ever fill the cover. Rest assured, it will. My advice: let the bladder warm up to room temperature before trying to inflate it, be patient, and use the right type of pump – one designed for the “high volume, low pressure” inflation of water tubes and towables. When the bladder is fully inflated, the cover will be stretched taut. A warning: unless you wish to repair your new ball very soon, avoid letting a horse play with it at liberty. An equine soccer ball can be damaged by a frisky horse jumping repeatedly on top of it!

Horse Country 6-2012  

The September 2012 publication. The "Horses for Sale" issue. Covering "Finding Mr Right" - a reader's search for her new horse; what to expe...