A game played by people who know no fear, horseball has been called a cross between rugby and polo and an accident waiting to happen.
The origins of horseball and its relative, polo, lie in Central Asia but the modern game was devised by Frenchman, Jean-Paul Depons. He was a riding instructor and a rugby player and saw how the games could be combined to create a discipline that would be challenging and educational for both horse and rider.
How to Play
Horseball is played by two teams of six players, although only four players from each side are allowed on the pitch at any one time. The game consists of two ten-minute halves. The game takes place in an arena 60-70 metres long and 25-30 metres across. At each end is a basketball-style hoop, which is 3.5 metres off the ground. The aim, as in all great games, is to score more than the opposing team.
At the start of the game a coin is tossed to decide which team will start and which goal they will aim for. The ball is then placed in the centre of the arena while both teams congregate deep in their own territory. The team who has won initial possession, rides in a line towards the ball. Any one of the players is allowed to lean out of the saddle and grab the ball. However, if they fail to pick it up cleanly, the opposition are awarded a penalty.
The defending team cannot swing into action until the attackers cross the halfway line or the attacker with the ball has turned back to face towards their own goal. The ball must be passed three times between members of the same team before a goal can be attempted. The shot at goal must be taken at a canter, with the rider standing up. Just to make the game faster, the rules decree that you must release the ball after a period of ten seconds.
Possession of the ball changes either by interception of the ball while it is being thrown or by tackling. This must consist of a clean grab for the ball rather than for your opponent. Contact between players and their mounts is allowed and, as in polo, players can be ridden off the field of play.
The only specialist equipment you will need is a horse, a size four football encased in a leather net and a strap which is attached to both stirrups and which runs under the horse. The latter allows the players to lean right out of the saddle and pick the ball off the ground. For safety, riders should have helmets, knee and leg guards and their horse should have bandages and/or boots.
What Skills Are Needed?
Firstly, you must be brave and trust your mount. Top-class horseball is not a game for the faint-hearted, as most of the action will take place at a canter or gallop. Secondly, as in most equestrian disciplines, you need good balance and an independent seat. This is because much of the game will be spent riding without reins. Hence the need to trust your horse and the ability to control its speed and direction using your legs and body weight. Beginners play the game at a much slower pace and it is a useful way to learn to ride with your body as opposed to your hands.
The Horseball Horse
As in polo, the ideal mount for horseball is strong, quick, agile, intelligent and brave. Horses are asked to go into close proximity to one another without the normal social niceties that a herd animal would expect. Top-class horseball horses tend to be thoroughbreds or have thoroughbred blood in their pedigree, as this gives them the speed the players value.