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Games Day- Another Success

With threatening HAIL and emergency weather broadcasts- (the weather gods must have it out for me this year)- we still had a great group of riders show up for our Games Day. Most people think the "games" are for kids to just play on horseback. For me, I try to come up with games, that present questions that require clear communication between horse and rider, promote "thinking" partners and perhaps expose a few "gaps" by presenting scenarios where the horse and rider MUST get the job done NOW.
Light morning clouds coveted the sky but we all vowed to ignore them and continue on. I was proud of the group that participated- in their ability to "help" their horses through different tasks and their "open mindedness" for trying a few new games.

I will run through the list of classes to give you an idea of the point of a Games Day. As I told all of the riders, the point of that day was not for "training" but rather to allow an assessment of their own partnership with their horse and the level of communication with horses and people.

Game 1- Musical Stalls- same as musical chairs but with poles on the ground to make the "stalls"- one less stall than the number of riders. Each round the music stops, the rider who has not found a stall is eliminated.
Object: We hold this class at a walk- it's amazing to see the most "sluggish" horses suddenly wake up when their rider has intention about "getting the job done" and finding a stall. If more people worked on their own energy levels in the saddle to range from 1-10 our horses would be more responsive.

Game 2- Water Cup Handoff Relay- Team of three riders who must move at the same pace (walk heading out and trot and the return trip) and must handoff a cup of water to their team mate. Whoever has the fastest time AND the most water wins.
Object: Intention when riding, finesse when one hand is off of the rein, communication to their team mate when passing off the rider, and relaxation while carrying the cup of water so as not to spill it.

Game 3- Carrot on a stick Team Race- Rider has no reins and is being "led" by the person on foot that is holding the carrot- except they have to navigate obstacles while doing so. Then team switches for return trip home. Whichever team has the most carrot remaining and the fastest time wins.
Object: Although I don't personally choose to feed my horses treats because I don't want my horse to be with me for the sake of "food motivation," many horses at some point in their life have been "bribed" with treats. Ideally, if you are playing at liberty your horse should follow you because he wants to be with you. In this case we happen to have MANY food motivated horses and one Percheron thundered her way around the "course" to win the class.

Game 4- Follow the Leader- Most trail classes have the person riding the course, so this time I set up obstacles that included: Walking on tarp, walking on empty plastic bottles, dragging a 8' tree branch (still with the leaves on it,) backing the horse through an L, carrying a heavy duty black garbage back (had to let the air get inside so that it was inflated while being carried,) and dragging a sled across the finish line.
Object: Many people handle their horse on the ground by "working around the horse" instead of having their horse "work around them." The point of this game was to show when you had to accomplish a specific task, using only physical communication through the reins or lead rope, could the person effectively direct their horse's brain, head, shoulders, ribcage, hindquarters, and could they increase and decrease their horse's energy all with the distraction of "stuff" happening (bags, branches, tarp, etc.) close by.

Game 5- Sit A Buck- Bareback class where the rider places a dollar bill under the inside of their thigh. Announcer asks riders to demonstrate tasks, slowly increasing the difficulty until all riders are eliminated except one. This particular class increased to where riders were jumping fences and doing flying lead changes.
Object: Too many people are "reliant" on equipment to keep them on their horse. Pulling off your saddle is a great way to assess just how balanced you are.

Game 6- Banana Race- This was a literal race where riders could go as fast as they wanted- while carrying a peeled banana that had been dipped in water. Whoever finished with the fastest time and most banana won. There were three obstacles in the arena that the riders had to go around- the original winner did not pay attention and go around all three.
Object: Moving one's horse out at speed, feeling balanced riding with one rein, maintaining clear communication with your own horse while having the distraction of passing other horses at high speed and still having to ride accurately.

Game 7- Horseless Race (Partners)- This is one of my favorite events, and I actually do this as an exercise in some of my clinics. One person who will be "the horse" is blindfolded. The second person is the "rider." The rider only has "reins" (in this case a piece of baling twine that is held by the horse) to communicate. The rider must then steer the horse over a jump, weave cones, back through poles, etc.
Object: This is a great way to find out if you are a "heavy" or unclear rider. It forces the "rider" to have to assess how to communicate with their "horse" in a way that the "horse" can differentiate between slow, fast, turn, etc. It's great for the "horse" to feel what it's like to be "lost" due to unclear communication from their rider.

Game 8- Pairs Class- Two riders holding one piece of baling twine must move in sync to announcer's instructions. Class starts off at slower gaits and then increase in tasks until all teams except one are eliminated. Difficulty in this class increased to include jumping fences and weaving cones.
Object: Riders have to communicate with one another and their horse. They have to "plan" when they are going to ask what of their horse. They also must be clear to ride accurate so they don't accidentally "bump" their partner. Their timing must be accurate in order to work together.

The wind started to pick up by the end and we did get weather in the afternoon. It was another great experience that riders and horses both seemed to come away the better for!
See you next time

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