Give campers the confidence they need to handle their horses properly on the ground as well as challenging them with in-hand games. Campers will have a lot of fun playing these games with the horses - it will tire them out and allow the horses a rest from riding.
Be sure to give clear and concise directions to campers on how to correctly handle a horse on the ground before attempting any games:
1. Hold the lead rope in your right hand approximately 12 to 18 inches below the clasp. Hold the remainder of the lead rope in your left hand - be very careful not to wrap the slack around your hand!
2. Walk your horse from the near (left) side.
3. Leave at least a foot or so between you and the horse.
4. Keep your shoulder between the horse's shoulder and its head.
5. Cluck, kiss or tell your horse to "Walk."
6. Look forward as you walk, don't look at your horse (it is a sign of aggression that may scare the horse or make him move away).
7. Tug on the lead rope if the horse walks faster or tries to walk away.
8. Tell your horse to "Whoa" periodically to make sure he is paying attention. Do not let him walk off; make him stop. Pat and praise him to reinforce good behavior.
Let the kids practice the basics first with corrections from the counselors as needed.
It also should go without saying, that all of the horses the campers are handling on the ground are ones that have the best manners!
In-hand game ideas can include:
- Obstacle courses. I love these especially since you can create a different obstacle course every time so its always new! They are super easy to set up and I normally use whats already in my arena and just bring out a few other items if needed. Examples of obstacles can be, walk your horse past a bucket of grain without them reaching for it, circle around the jump standard two times, walk the horse into a box of poles and turn around and walk out, trot over the ground poles, answer a question about parts of the saddle, horse must walk through hoola hoop with at least one hoof, etc. I will even allow each camper to make their own course for everyone to complete). I will score obstacles one of two ways - fastest time or what horse/handler pair completes the course the smoothest.
- Jumping course. This can be as simple as ground poles or little cross rails. Make sure kids stay next to the horse, even while going over jumps and that the horses used for the in-hand jumping aren't ones that are going to yee-haw or take off afterwards! I like to have one camper make their own course and everyone else repeats the same course. Time the course for fastest round with least amount of faults or judge on who jumped the course the smoothest.
- Western speed patterns such as barrel racing, pole bending, keyhole, barrel dash, etc. I would allow the kids to warm up by completing the pattern once and judging it on who ran it the smoothest and then the kids would do the same pattern again and the winner was the camper with the fastest time. The campers really like doing each pattern once or twice do feel comfortable with it before being scored on time.
- Cone weaving. Believe it or not, you can create MANY different types of cone weaving patterns such as weave the cones up at a walk, and trot back. Trot cones up and circle last cones twice, walk back to finish line. Fastest cone weaving at a walk. Weave every other cone at a trot.
- Simon Sez. Examples of actions include "Simon Sez" walk your horse while tracking to the left, walk your horse on his off-side, stop and touch your horses wither, etc.
- Red Light, Green Light. Everyone will line up at one end of the arena while the campers and horses are spread out at the opposite end. When you say Green Light, campers will walk (or trot if you wish) horses towards the instructor, first person to pass wins. When you say Red Light, I count down on my fingers from the count of 5 or 3. All horses and riders must be stopped when the count goes to zero. If anyone is moving around - they are out. You can have them be totally out of the game or restart at the starting line.
- Fastest walk race, slowest walk race, fastest trot race, and slowest trot race. Make sure horse/kid pairs are spread out from each other.
- Shrinking chute. Use two poles to create a chute for horses to walk through. Chute gets smaller after each round of horses/campers walk through. Any horse that touches the pole is out! Can also be done at a trot.
- Shrinking box. Use four poles to create a box and each camper/horse must complete one circle inside. Box shrinks each round. Any horse/camper that touches the poles during the circle is out - I don't count if the horse touches the poles while entering or exiting the box.
The possibilities are endless. The games can be played in an arena or even an open field where the horses can hand graze in between games.
The in-hand games allow the campers to use ponies or miniature horses too - easing the load off the horses. We have also done most of these games with very well behaved goats who knew how to lead.
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