Gymkhana offers many great patterns and events to incorporate into your TR lessons!
What is Gymkhana?
Gymkhana is an equestrian event in which riders are timed individually racing through a pattern (such as weaving poles), or compete in games on horseback (such as the egg and spoon race). Riders are given penalties or disqualifications for touching, knocking over, or dropping objects. Specific games and patterns are given at the end of this post.
What Do I Need?
It depends on the pattern! Common props needed include:
- barrels (check out these pop up barrels!)
- vertical poles (make your own by filling a coffee can with cement and sticking a pvc pipe in it, or stick a pvc pipe into a cone)
- cones (for patterns, and to mark of the start/finish line)
- blocks and poles for patterns that include small crossrails, like the Hurry Scurry
- buckets (with sand in them)
- flags (small, to go in the buckets)
- Asti Equestrian and Sportsmark show a great collection of gymkhana props, located in the UK
It’s fun to teach your students a little history about what they’re learning! Here are some sources for the history of Gymkhana.
- Gymkhana, An Equestrian Sport, by Squidoo
- How Gymkhana Works, by How Stuff Works
- Eqestrian Gymkhana, by Wikipedia
- Gymkhana General Information, by Fullerton Riders
- TNT Stables Gymkhana
These rules are from the California Gymkhana Association Rulebook. I have summarized them to make them easy to apply to a TR class.
Order of Events
- Rider is notified when it is their turn to enter the arena, which they must do within 1 minute
- After entering the arena, the rider must show control of their horse before the judge will signal they may start. The rider uses this time to set their horse up to run.
- The judge loudly signals they may start. The rider has 1 minute after this to start.
- Run the course.
- After finishing the rider must bring their horse back under control and acknowledge the judge, watching for the judge’s signal to exit.
- The judge signals to exit the arena.
- The rider should not dismount in the arena without permission from the judge, except for safety reasons.
- Re-Rides: Only if the timer malfunctioned, the course was improperly set, there was an interference, or the ground was unsafe.
- going slow naturally results in increased time
- knocking down obstacles = 2 second pentalty each (even if bounces back up)
- no penalty for touching an obstacle
- going off course – unless the rider corrects it
- offensive language or poor conduct by rider or their family
- inhumane treatment to horse, like excessive spurring or jerking of reins
- loss on control of horse
- takes too long, according to judge
- breaking or knocking down any part of a barrier or timing equipment
- in team events, if more than one rider is on course at a time
- schooling the horse prior to running the course, by going around an obstacle more than once in a close circle
Gymkhana and Therapeutic Riding
Why use Gymkhana in TR lessons?
- patterns and games are made to show off a horse and rider’s teamwork and precise control
- work on focus, memory
- work on balance through turns, being in balance helps your horse keep going
- work on riding straight lines and turns
- work on looking where you want your horse to go
- work on bending
- work on precision steering (staying as close to the barrel/cone/pole as you can without knocking it over)
- work on precision woahing (to pick up flag, ring, etc.)
- work on mounting and dismounting (in certain games)
- work on separating their hands and seat (carrying items)
- work on maintaining pace
- work on teamwork, social interaction
- work on fine motor coordination
- work on competition skills, dealing with winning/losing, congratulating others, saying thank you
- it’s fun!
Ideas for Teaching Gymkhana Patterns
- teach pattern by verbally describing it
- teach pattern by having them ride through pattern physically, even following you through it
- show them a pictures of the pattern
- use a dry erase board to draw the pattern
- put arrows on the ground (printed on paper, cut out of construction paper, etc.) for them to follow through the pattern
- walk through the pattern first on foot before mounted, to help memorize order
- practice leading their horse through the pattern
- checklist for which patterns they have learned
- each week do the same pattern then a new one. keep track of their times so they can compete against themselves.
- at end of session have a mock competition of several patterns, in which they must follow all the rules, and are timed
Using Progression in Gymkhana
Note: “>” indicates moving up in progression, difficulty or independence.
- gait progression: walk > jog/trot > extended trot
- teamwork progression: 1 at a time > in teams, or relay race, or two courses side by side for two students to “race”
- assistance progression: demonstrate pattern > tell pattern > give a picture of the pattern
- steering progression: just barrels > add cones around barrels so help them stay closer > move cones even closer
- pattern progression: single barrel > double > 3 weaving barrels (see patterns below)
- pattern progression: single barrel > Two Barrel Cowhorse > Figure 8 Cowhorse (see patterns below)
- pattern progression: single barrel > Big O > Barrel Back Through > Crazy 8 (see patterns below)
Teach Your Students How To Ride Around a Barrel
From the CHA Composite Horsemanship Manual.
- first walk around the barrel to learn how to keep a good distance away from it
- a few feet away from the barrel slow down and sit deep
- stay 3 feet away from the barrel, look into the turn
- ride “straight lines” and “the pocket”
- ride straight to the barrel, swinging wide wastes time
- going into and around the barrel leave room between it and your horse, called “the pocket”, because wider turns help you keep momentum
- look where you want your horse to go
- stay in balance, the better you stay in balance the better your horse can turn and keep going
A Note About Speed
Although Gymkhana’s goal is to have the fastest time, therapeutic riding’s goal is always to first benefit the rider and teach riding skills. More important than speed is that the rider learns to control their horse, remember patterns, and has fun!
A Note About horses
Make sure horses are desensitized to all objects used in patterns and games before a student gets on them!
Gymkhana Patterns and Games
The 13 Standard Events in the California Gymkhana Association. Click for a bigger image.
Gymkhana Patterns 1, drawn by me. Click for a bigger image. References: google images.
Gymkhana Patterns 2, drawn by me. Click for a bigger image. References: google images.
For dimensions on most of these, see this website: Chandler Vaqueros Saddle Club Gymkana Patterns
More Games and Patterns
There are so many, but those described here I thought were best for TR.
SPEED AND ACTION (SINGLE BARREL AND BOX)
A sixteen foot square box is marked in the arena. Rider starts in the box and then runs around the barrel at end of the arena. The rider returns to stop in the box and then stay within the box for five seconds. The horse must not step on or over the box line during the five second hold or the rider is disqualified.
Two barrels are at one end of the arena, one on each side. Ride down to the first one, pick up a flag out of the bucket on the barrel, ride to the next barrel, put the black in the bucket, ride back to the finish. Time penalties for missed buckets or knocked over barrels. and if you go on the inside of the barrels you are disqualified.
SIT-A-BUCK or BAREBACK DOLLAR
A dollar bill is placed by the judge under the rider’s knee, seat, thigh or calf. This class is run as a typical pleasure class – walk, trot and lope – although other maneuvers may be added. If you lose your dollar, you’re out. To rider who keeps their dollar the longest wins all the dollars. Can be played bareback.
WATER BALLOON RACE
Each person receives a balloon full of water. This class is run as a typical pleasure class – walk, trot and lope – although other maneuvers may be added. As the different gaits are performed, balloons will break. The rider with the last balloon at the end of the class is the winner.
EGG AND SPOON RACE
The participants each get an egg on a spoon and have to go from the start to the other end, usually around a poles, and back as fast as they can without dropping the egg. Or it can be run as a typical pleasure class – walk, trot and lope – although other maneuvers may be added. The last person with an egg wins. Can be played with tennis balls or potatoes or anything else, just don’t let the horse eat it.
The first entry rides around the outside of three barrels, between the rail and the barrels. The hand-off of the baton to the next rider must occur in the designated hand-off area. Knocking down a barrel, hitting the horse with baton, not completing the hand-off in designated area, crossing through the timer prematurely or dropping the baton is disqualification.
Riders are put in pairs, who ride next to each other holding a ribbon between them. They must ride from one end of the arena, around a barrel, and back without losing the ribbon or breaking it.
They race from the starting point, put on a shirt (preferably button up), as well as a large pair of pants, and get to the finish line. Most versions have the rider dismount to put the shirt on then remount. Can teach mounting, dismounting. Make sure horses are desensitized for this!
One rider starts on the pony, goes as fast as they can to the other side, where a partner waits. They then help the partner mount and get back to the finish line as fast as possible.
WALK, TROT, CANTER, LEAD
During this race the riders walk from the start to a predetermined point. They then turn and trot back, to the start, where they turn again, canter to the same point as before, dismount and lead their horses back to the finish line. If they break gait they must turn a small circle.
They all line up at the start, and race to the opposite side where sacks are waiting for them, dismount, jump into the sacks and hop back to the finish line. The first one home wins. Desensitize horses to sacks and people jumping in them
Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement!