University of Vermont AAHS


Mounted Games

Jan Dawson
AAHS President

[reproduced from Caution: Horses Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 1999]  

In a recent informal survey it was discovered that mounted games, the mainstay of many summer programs, and touted by some as “necessary” to a well-taught lesson, are not used by many professional or full-time instructors. We discovered many reasons for this.

The full-time, professional, or year-round riding instructors tend to make games out of that day’s lesson.  This certainly aids the students in learning that day’s skill but requires a great deal of creativity on the part of the instructor .

When questioned about using the “traditional” games most were not in favor.  Their position tended to be that the school horses were too valuable to subject them to the amount of “enthusiasm” found in novice hands and legs while playing a game.  It appears that the professional riding instructor stresses learning solid, correct, basics before asking the students to participate in more aggressive activities.

The line was not drawn between those who prepare students for the show ring and those who don’t.  Rather it was drawn between those who are attempting to train riders to sit and ride with finesse and who will have the training to go on if they choose, and those instructors who are supervising kids’ fun activities with horses without focusing on a definite goal in the future.  The difference also seems to separate those instructors who would agree with the principles of a “horse whisperer” and professing “natural horsemanship,” as opposed to those who see the horse as more of a means to a fun activities.  The latter by no means needs to be abusive, although, according to some, it often is.

At the root of the question seems to be the school horses and what these horses do to make a living.  In the programs where they work as camp horses during the summer, and trail ride horses in the winter only being used in a few lessons, mounted games are more prevalent.  In the programs where lessons are the mainstay and the school horses are used in shows, even lower level ones, and they are usually acquired from former students, mounted games are almost non-existent.  Those instructors report that it is too hard to keep the horses schooled for proper lessons as well as safe for beginners when the horses are used in the traditional games.  Some of the games mentioned were the barrel race at any gait, keyhole race,  ring toss, tag,  musical chairs, and the boot race.

The games that found favor with everybody were Simon Says, Red Light/Green Light, the “Backwards” Race (The one who reaches the finish line last wins; a competitor who stops completely or breaks gait is disqualified).  The games that were shunned were games that failed to utilize a skill featured in a lesson or that emphasized speed over other skills.

Most professional instructors seemed to be of the impression that gymkhana type games had an adverse effect on school horses who needed to be used in formal lesson programs and for beginners.

That point of view was criticized by several summer camp instructors.  However, they did say that many of the horses in the summer camping programs did exhibit some problems, especially with leads, that would make them unsuitable for use in a riding school.  Just as opinionated were some professional instructors who complained bitterly when forced by necessity to accept “camp” or “backyard” horses into an expanded summer program.  Their position was that they were already working ten hours a day and they did not have time to train these horses to be appropriate school horses.

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