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Gymkhana-Fun and Games on Horseback

Updated on August 2, 2017
Linda Courtney profile image

I have always had a love of animals. While I had an assortment of pets growing up, horses and dogs were always my favorite.

Gymkhana barrel racing

Gymkhana Barrel Racing
Gymkhana Barrel Racing | Source

Gymkhana, in regards to the equestrian, refer to competitions that require speed and skill for riders and their horses or ponies. In the Western part of the United States, it is also known as o-mok-see which originated from Native Americans. Most of these events are held on closed courses and require not only speed but skill in maneuvering your horse on tight turns. These competitions are usually sponsored by local Pony Clubs or 4H and feature young riders between 8 and 25 years of age. Horses or ponies cannot be more than 15 hands. Measurements are taken at the withers, and one hand is approximately 4 inches. Many specifically for young riders also will require helmets. Rules are created to keep it fair for everyone. There are also gymkhana events that include adults as well as larger horses. Some research could turn up where your local events are for adults.

Anyone looking to participate in gymkhana events should first develop a good firm seat in the saddle. You will also need to have a good sturdy horse that will listen to your commands. Taking lessons at a reputable riding stable would be a good start. Pony Clubs and the 4H have programs to help you get on your way too. You will be starting slowly to learn the course. Walking the course will teach you the pattern. Once you have learned the pattern you can try a jog or trot, and then a lope or canter. When you have mastered it at a lope, then you can press on for speed. The slow start will help to keep you and your mount safe.

Some of the games and races found in gymkhana events are found in other types of horse shows or even rodeos. Barrel racing, sometimes known as cloverleaf racing, is one of the most popular. This competition has three barrels in a triangle pattern. The horse and rider must follow a set pattern circling the barrels and racing home. The pair with the fastest time is the winner. You will get penalized if you knock over a barrel. Many other races involving barrels with different patterns can be found at events. Pole bending requires horse and rider to weave in and out of poles. It is a timed event, and anyone who goes off pattern can be eliminated. As with barrels, many pole patterns can be set up for different races.

In addition to timed races, gymkhana can include some fun classes that require a steady rider and smooth horse. These classes can include the dollar class. In this competition, all riders will have a dollar bill placed under their leg. Most times the rider will be riding bareback. The class will take the riders around the ring starting at a walk and work up to a canter. As the class moves on it can include some sudden stops or turns. The object is to hold the dollar bill under your leg. There is no touching it with your hands. The last person with a dollar bill in place wins the class. This class will force you to keep a steady leg on the horse to hold the dollar bill in place.

The egg and spoon class is just that. Each rider is presented with a hard-boiled egg on a spoon. The object is to keep the egg on the spoon as long as possible while being put through the paces as in the dollar bill class. If you have a steady hand and smooth riding horse, this may be the class for you. Other classes of similar nature can involve tennis balls or water balloons. Use your imagination; just keep it safe.

Some classes can involve pairs of riders riding in tandem and working together. They may hold silk banners or ribbons between them and be required to hold it taut while going through their paces. Relay races require a handoff of a flag from one rider to the other at some point. These types of classes teach riders to work together for the win. Teamwork is a good skill to have for anyone.

For those with a sense of humor, there are fun games like the panty race. Two riders at a time will enter the ring. They will race to the other side, dismount, grab a pair of panties and put them on. Then they must mount up again and race back. Pairs of two will race with each winner going to the finals. The races will continue until the last one wins. With this game, you should try to pick the biggest pair of panties. This game puts the fun in gymkhana.

These races and games can be played by both Western and English riders. Not all competitions will allow both though, so you should check before game day. Some may work better in Western gear and some in English, but mostly these games are fun and can be a learning experience for many. As they compete, a rider can get a sense of his or her strong points as well as the horse's. Many events will have different divisions for different ages and riding abilities to keep it fair. Just remember, this is supposed to be fun as well as competitive.

If gymkhana sounds like something you would like to learn about or compete in, check out your local Horse or Pony Club as well as 4H. Many of these types of classes are included in your local horse show also. Some county fairs will put on these type of events for their equestrians too. A search on the internet might surprise you with events nearby. Local riding stables might also be able to direct you to them, as well as teach you how to become the type of horse and rider needed to excel in these shows. Just get out there and have some fun with your horse, but do it safely.

Highlights of Gymkhana Competition


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    • Linda Courtney profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Courtney 

      15 months ago from Bensalem, PA

      Yes, competing on horseback can be dangerous. I've had numerous falls and broken bones myself. It's just a chance you take when you love a sport. Riding lessons help tremendously in learning the proper way to ride.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      These events sound like they would be great fun for competitors and spectators, as long as the horse and rider stay safe. Thanks for sharing the information.

    • passionatelearnr profile image


      15 months ago

      I have always loved horses.I'd love to ride one.Taking part in a competition is a bit frightening though.I have this fear that i will fall off a horse's back and get injured.


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