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Horse events you might not have heard about

Horses feature in various sporting events around the globe.

How many horse events can you name off the top of your head? Most people have heard of races like the Kentucky Derby, while others watch the Olympics purely for dressage or show jumping. Yet horses are powerful, magnificent animals and capable of so much more. Equestrians around the world have used their strength to envision all sorts of amazing games. Here are some little-known equestrian sports and events that might catch your interest:

Ban’ei
Draft horses are primarily known for their manual labor, but some Japanese jockeys use them in races. This sport is called ban’ei and focuses on a horse’s strength as opposed to its speed. Jockeys stand atop iron sleds and direct draft horses up two mounds of sand.

“By the time you reach the finish line, your horse is just about ready to collapse,” Toichi Sakamoto, a 53-year-old ban’ei jockey, told the New York Times. “When it’s really tired, it’ll suddenly drop its head, just once, before raising it back. This requires an incredible amount of strength.”

According to the publication, ban’ei emerged from the island of Hokkaido out of a pioneer spirit similar to the one in the American West. Its popularity peaked in the 1980s, but many enthusiasts fear its time is coming to an end. Ban’ei culture nearly shut down just a few years ago. Most of its participants – both jockeys and gamblers – were growing old, and the younger generation was more interested in Internet gambling. What’s worse, the sport incurred almost $34 million in debt. In 2006, however, the Tokyo-based communications company Softbank took over the business, although it will still close several racetracks. Still, some fear the generational divide will bring about ban’ei’s end.

Ban'ei emerged out of the island of Hokkaido.Ban’ei emerged out of the island of Hokkaido.

Para-equestrian events
Everyone is familiar with the Paralympic Games, the sporting event for people of limited physical mobility, but most people only think of men in wheelchairs playing basketball when they hear the term. Yet there are many equestrian sports for disabled athletes, including dressage, driving and reining.

Para-equestrian dressage first debuted at the Paralympic Games in 1996 and remains the event’s only equestrian sport. It fell under the regulation of the International Federation for Equestrian Sports in 2006, making the FEI the only international organization to regulate a sport for both disabled and able-bodied competitors.

The FEI began to oversee para-driving the same year the same year as dressage. Para-reining, however, wasn’t introduced as a sport until 2013. That year, para-reining competitors performed at the American Quarter Horse Association World Championship Show in Oklahoma City. Other competitive para-equestrian events in the U.S. include the Gold Coast May Dressage in Wellington, Florida, L’Aperitif in Kirkland, Washington, and Harmony in the Park II in Edinburgh, Indiana.

“Horseball is like a combination of basketball, polo and rugby.”

Horseball
The International Horseball Federation describes the sport as a combination of basketball, polo and rugby, but one couldn’t be faulted for mistaking the game for Quidditch played on horseback. Players in two teams score points by shooting a ball through a hoop raised high off the ground. The ball must pass between three players before one attempts to score, and each person can only hold it for a maximum of 10 seconds.

The French Army Captain Clave brought the sport to his home country after witnessing a similar activity, pato, in Argentina. Athletes have played pato since at least 1610, according to Argentina Independent. The name means duck in Spanish – originally, players tossed a duck in a basket instead of a ball. The sport fell out of favor due to government regulations in the 19th century but gained support once again in the 1930s – sans duck. It became Argentina’s national sport in 1953.

Horseball was officially adopted by the French Equestrian Federation in the 1970s, and the International Horseball Federation formed in 1999 to govern the sport’s rules and regulations internationally.

Equestrian skijoring 
People who feel most equestrian events occur in weather too warm for their liking should try their hand at skijoring. As the sound of its name suggests, the sport began in Scandinavia, where it was originally a method of transportation during the winter. In equestrian skijoring, horses race and pull ski-equipped athletes along behind them. The skiers guide the horses’ movements with an extended pair of reins. Sometimes a rider sits on top of the horse as well. Other animals that appear in skijoring events include dogs, reindeer and yaks, Mashable noted.

The North American Ski Joring Association formed in 1999 and merged with Skijor America in winter 2015. Other organizations include the North East Ski Joring Association which promotes events in the north east and New England areas. The World Skijoring Championships are held annual in Whitefish, Montana.

“High-level buzkashi matches use calves instead of goats.”

Buzkashi
Buzkashi is a Persian word that translates to “goat-grabbing” or “goat-dragging.” The sport is appropriately named, as it involves players on horseback fighting to grab hold of a goat carcass. The rider then drags or carries the animal to the scoring area. In high-level matches, calves are used instead of goats. This increases the sport’s intensity, as calves can weigh up to 100 pounds.

Buzkashi is Afghanistan’s national sport. The Afghan Olympic Federation technically sets the sport’s standards, but players in various regions tend to use their own rules. The horses train hard and can play for up to 20 years. They’re also incredibly valuable, according to NPR, and can cost up to $50,000 each.

The activity itself is surrounded with lore and cultural significance. The goat or calf is ritualistically slaughtered, and sponsors use the sport as a way to display their wealth. Buzkashi also represents the history of horses and riders in the Middle East. According to the Afghan Embassy, the ancient Greeks believed these horsemen were actually the mythological centaurs. Today’s players epitomize this idea of strength and power.

Men and horses have worked alongside each other for thousands of years. Their domestication started as a means of transportation, but humans began to celebrate these animals through sporting events. Some gained worldwide recognition and others are less well known, but they all celebrate a horse’s spirit and power.

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