It’s that time of year again. If you run a horse farm or teach riding lessons you might be starting to plan out your show schedule and summer camp dates. If you’re a parent, you’re likely trying to figure out what to sign your children up for this summer. Horse camp is a great way for equestrian kids to ride and have fun with friends and learn about horses this summer. If you’re still on the fence, check out this article about the benefits of sending your child to horse camp this summer!
In this article you’ll find a complete list of mounted and unmounted games to play at horse camp this summer! Along with instructions on how to run each game.
This is always a hit at my mom’s summer camp for a few reasons. First, anyone no matter their riding ability can participate. Second, there is always lots of laughter and cheering as the campers try to get their horses to walk fast without breaking into a trot.
Set up a starting line at one end of your arena, you could use two cones or a ground pole. Set them far enough off the rail that the horses can line up side by side behind the line. Next, set up a finish line at the other end of the arena. You could use ground poles to create lanes for each horse too but it’s not totally necessary.
Separate the kids into groups by ability level so that if you have any little children who don’t really ride independently they won’t have to compete against the older kids. And, small children who are still learning to steer should have a counselor lead their horse or walk with them to spot them during the race.
Next, line up your competitors and send them off. The rules are simple, whoever makes it past the finish line first wins. If any of the horses break into a trot you can either disqualify them or send them back to the start line to start over.
You can get really creative here depending on the types of obstacles you have and how bombproof your horses are. You can also set up one course and change the pattern depending on the skill level of your riders.
For example, you could have your beginners do the entire course at the walk. For more advanced riders set the poles an appropriate distance for trotting and cantering.
Some of our favorite obstacles include a bridge for the horses to walk over. Two barrels with an empty water bucket on top of one. Riders then walk up to the bucket, pick it up and ride to the next barrel where they place it down.
If you have an old mailbox, mount it to the fence or wall in the arena and let riders try to get close enough to open it and pull out the “mail.” You could use anything as the mail whether it be an envelope, dog toy, horse toy etc. You can also set up ground poles for campers to walk, trot or canter over. An L made of ground poles for side passing, or a back up chute using two poles.
If you have pool noodles you can hang them from a frame for the horses to walk through. You can also set up cones for your riders to weave. If you have pole bending poles they are equally fun to serpentine. You can also set up a box with ground poles for kids to try to turn around inside without hitting or stepping over the poles.
Place your obstacles in any order that makes sense for your arena and draw up the pattern for your campers.
Simon Says On Horseback
Simon Says is a great group activity. The instructor a counselor or even one of the campers can be Simon. Start by asking your riders to stand somewhere in the arena on their horse. Next, give them tasks like, take one hand off the reins and touch your head. Back your horse 3 steps. Pick up a posting trot. Canter on the incorrect lead. Dismount from your horse.
Depending on the skill level of your campers you could make this one very interesting. You could even have your campers ride without stirrups, dismount and unsaddle then re-mount bareback.
Egg & Spoon On Horseback
Most people know how Egg & Spoon works. But, before we get into that, I highly suggest using hard boiled eggs and plastic or wooden spoons. This way your tack won’t get covered in egg yolk and neither will your campers. The last thing you want to clean up are raw eggs.
Similar to the walk race, you’ll need a start and finish line. Have your riders hold their egg and spoon out in front of them in one hand and hold the reins in the other hand. Whoever reaches the end first without dropping their egg wins. For more advanced riders you could add more difficult components like not allowing them to walk. Or, add some ground poles or a cross rail to ride over without dropping their egg.
Red Light, Green Light
For red light, green light, have all of your riders line up side by side at one end of the arena with the tails to the fence. The instructor or a counselor should stand somewhere in the middle of the arena. When you call out green light, the riders should move forward. When you call out red light they should stop. You could also say yellow light meaning they have to move forward slowly. For example, green light could mean trot or canter while yellow light means they have to walk.
This is a great exercise to teach riders how to get their horses to be responsive without over cueing them. Plus, practicing transitions is always helpful in learning to improve balance and ride with independent aids.
Whichever rider makes it to the end first without missing a command wins. If a rider doesn’t stop when red light is called out, they will be sent back to the starting line. But, they’ll still have a chance to win.
Bob For Apples
This is a great end of the day activity to help your riders cool off after a long hot day in the sun. Make sure to buy enough apples!
Set up two kiddie pools with clean water and put some apples in each pool. Each rider should compete against their horse. Be careful not to use a horse that can’t consume apples or large amounts of sugar.
Next, have a helper hold the horse and when you say go, the rider and the horse should both bob in their own pool for an apple.
You could also time each pair and give out a prize to whichever rider is the fastest.
Tack Up Race
A tacking up race is a great way to help your riders learn to tack up correctly. The rules of the game are pretty simple. Have each rider’s horse tied in their stall or on the cross ties.
Groom the horses before the tack up race. It’s hard to compete in grooming horses as some may be dirtier than others.
Make sure there is appropriate tack and equipment out and ready for each rider including a saddle pad, saddle, bridle. Make sure all of the riders have the same equipment. If one rider has to put on a martingale but the others do not they will be at a disadvantage. You’ll also want to have English riders compete against each other and Western riders compete against each other.
When you say go, have the riders saddle their horses quickly but without rushing. Once they finish they should move on to bridling their horse. Once all of the riders finish they should call out done. Keep track of the order they finished. Then, check all of the tack, if the saddle is not on correctly or the girth is too loose or too tight, the bridle isn’t adjusted correctly etc. Have those riders fix their equipment in a second round for placings.
The winner will have the fastest time with correctly adjusted tack. You could also have riders pair up for this race and work together against other teams.
Flag race is a gymkhana event that is held at shows and game days. You’ll need three barrels set up for the barrel racing pattern. You’ll also need a start/finish line for starting and stopping the timer. You’ll need to have a bucket with some sand on the barrels on the sides of the arena, near B and E. The third barrel is just a marker for riders to go around. You will also need a flag or other object that is easily carried while riding.
Each horse should stand behind the start line on the outside of the first barrel, typically on the left. The riders then start riding towards the first barrel where they will pick up the flag out of the bucket. The rules are simple, they have to keep their horse moving. In real gymkhana events they have to keep their horse loping but for beginners you could have them walk or trot.
Once they pick up the flag they need to ride as fast as they can around the third barrel to the second barrel. Once they reach the second barrel they need to put the flag in it without stopping. Then continue on past the finish line. The time stops when they cross the finish line.
Whoever has the fastest time without breaking the rules wins!
Barn Scavenger Hunt
Want to teach your students where to find the tools they need and also reinforce where to put them away correctly? Send them on a scavenger hunt! You could use any horse, tool, tack or equipment for a scavenger hunt. I recommend having the kids work together and make sure a counselor supervises them for safety.
However, you could split the campers into 2 teams and compete against each other. Create a list of items around the barn. For example, hoof pick, hard brush, fly net, fly spray, bell boots, water bucket, pitchfork, saddle pads, bridles, a certain lesson horse etc.
Give each camper a copy of the list and a pencil and have them check off the items as they go. If they get really stuck the counselors can give them a hint but not the answer. When time is up have all the campers meet back in a designated area. Review the items and find out who found the most items during the allotted time. Make sure to have a prize handy for the winning camper or team. Bonus points if the campers can remember exactly where they found the item.
Set up a jeopardy board full of horse trivia. Divide your campers into two teams and have them compete to see who can get the most answers correct and win the most money. You can create a jeopardy board with a big poster board and some sticky notes.
You’ll need a score keeper to keep track of correct answers and money. You’ll also need some sort of buzzer or alternative system.
This is a great idea if you get an unlucky day where the weather just doesn’t cooperate. Jeopardy can entertain them inside the barn and you can give out lots of prizes.
Stick Horse Race
For this game you’ll need to have your campers make pool noodle horses or some other version of stick horses. If you want to have your campers do this craft prior to the race, check out this article which has instructions, 16 Horse Camp Activities.
Once your campers have made and decorated their stick or pool noodle horses have them practice cantering around. Then, set up a start and finish line and see who is the fastest! Decide if you plan to let your campers run or if they have to gallop for the whole race! The kids always get a kick out of this activity!
Timed Skills Competition
This is a great game for your more advanced riders but beginners can have fun with it too! Have your riders mount their horses and get warmed up. Once they’re ready to go have everyone ride on the rail. Run through the skills that are appropriate for the group of riders and see who can do each skill the best and the longest.
Here’s a list of challenges try for this horse camp game:
- Ride in half seat at walk, trot and canter
- Stand in stirrups at walk, trot and canter
- Ride with one hand for English riders
- Ride without stirrups, sitting trot, posting trot, canter
- Ride with one hand on your head
- Ride without reins
Your campers might get a little bit competitive with this game but if you want to reinforce all of the information they’re learning at camp this is a great way! Create a list of questions that correlate with what your campers have been learning about. For example, the parts of the horse, horse breeds, colors and markings, riding disciplines, horse health, daily horse care, veterinary care, tack, parts of the tack etc.
You can either read the questions and have your campers shout out the answers or you can give each camper a list of 5 questions at a time. Start a timer and see who finishes the answers the fastest with the most correct answers. Having the campers shout out the answers is more engaging but it might be hard to tell who is first.
Relay Race On Horseback
There are a few variations of this game and you can get creative and customize it to suit your students. Here are a few examples of ways to play. You could start with your typical relay race with a baton and group your campers into partners or groups of 3. Have campers line up at one end of the arena side by side. Their partner should line up at the other end.
Have your campers ride to their partner, pass the baton and then stand in their partner’s spot. Have the second group ride back to the other end of the arena. You could do this by going around the rail or back and forth across the ring. Once each group has successfully gotten their baton back to the beginning they’re finished. Whoever finishes first wins!
An alternate version would be to have the first group member start by tacking up the horse then pass the horse to their partner. Their partner can then ride to the other end or through an obstacle course or pattern. The second rider can then dismount and pass the horse to the third rider who will ride the horse back through the course and hand off to the first rider who will get a chance to ride through the course. You can interchange tacking, untacking, mounting, dismounting and riding however you like.
Follow The Leader
It’s important for this game to remind your campers to keep enough space between themselves and the horse in front of them. Set up obstacles around your arena or some cones. Allow the leader to choose what gait to ride and where they want to go. All of the riders in the group should follow the leader as they serpentine, weave cones, figure 8, stop and start.
This is game is great for refining your riders’ steering, stopping and balance as well as teaching them to be aware of the other horses in the ring. Learning to ride safely in a group is a crucial skill that will translate to all aspects of riding. And, this is a super fun way to do it!
You could use monopoly money for this game, but it is more fun to use real dollar bills and let the winner keep the money.
Start by giving each rider one 1 dollar bill and have them place it under their leg between their leg and the saddle. Or, if you want to kick it up a notch you could have them ride bareback.
Put your riders through their paces at the walk, trot or canter and challenge them not to drop their dollar bill. Whoever loses their dollar should come to the middle of the arena once they’re out. The remaining riders should continue to ride on the rail.
Whoever is the last rider with their bill is the winner and their prize all of the money. So, if you have three riders, they’ll win three dollars. You could also do multiple rounds to make it more challenging.
Decorate Your Horse Competition
This is a great way to practice grooming horses and braiding manes and tails! Pair up your campers and be sure that all small children are paired with an older child or have a counselor to help them.
Get out all the Twinkle and Twinkle Toes for making ponies sparkly! Don’t forget, coat polish, fly spray, brushes, bands, ribbon and whatever other products you can think of that are safe for the horses.
Let the kids get their horses all glammed up and then bring them all out to the riding ring. Judge the horses based on different categories and have the campers vote on which horse wins each category. And, don’t forget to take pictures for them to take home and remember this moment!
Teach The Trainer
If you want to help solidify the lessons you’ve been teaching your campers during each ride, this is a great way to practice! Have the instructor or a counselor tack up and mount up for a lesson.
The campers should inspect tack to make sure it’s on correctly. Next, the campers should work together or take turns teaching the trainer. Campers should ask the trainer to perform a certain task like, walk in your half seat or pick up a posting trot.
Next, the campers should call out any “mistakes” the trainer is making. For example, the trainer can pick up the incorrect diagonal and wait for the campers to identify and correct it. Speaking of diagonals, here’s an article with some great exercises for teaching your riders to pick up the correct diagonal.
Before you start, it’s a good idea to remind your campers that while this is a fun game, they should focus on using what they’ve learned in their lessons to teach the trainer. Instead of shouting out random commands.
Ride Without Reins Obstacle Course
If you have beginners trying this one, you may want to keep it walking only and make sure a counselor is spotting each child.
Help your campers learn how their body weight, seat, legs and eyes can control the horse without always pulling on the reins. Start with something easy like walking on the rail and turning towards the middle of the arena. Once your campers can make a couple of turns without grabbing the reins, have them try something a little more challenging like weaving cones.
It’s a good idea to see if your campers can stop without their reins too. Have your riders pick up their reins to steer if their horse doesn’t listen and they get near another horse. Better safe than sorry, so try to prevent any collisions.
For this game you’ll need to place cones or ground poles around the arena to be used as the “chairs.”
Assign each horse a cone or pole to stand near. Play some music and have the kids ride around. Just like in the real game, when the music stops the campers need to stop at a cone.
Each round, you’ll need to remove a cone. Whichever camper does not have a cone is out. Stop and start the music until there is one rider left standing! It’s a good idea to have your counselors monitor this game closely to help make sure none of the riders crash into another horse. And, be sure to space out the cones far enough that campers can keep a safe distance from each other.
Blind Folded Tack & Equipment Guessing Game
This next game is an idea I found on Horses Of The Ozark Hills. If you haven’t already, check out Reese’s article with fun summer horse camp activities! She’s got lots more great ideas!
For this game you’ll need to have a blindfold along with some equipment, tack and grooming tools. Have one camper wear a blind fold and try to identify different objects. You could also use a horse as long as you have an adult or a counselor next to them to keep them from standing in a dangerous area.
Have your campers try to identify the difference between a hard brush and a soft brush, or see if they can determine what part of the horse they are touching.
Magazine Scavenger Hunt
Another great idea from Horses Of The Ozark Hills is a Magazine Scavenger Hunt. Create a list of objects or types of horses and grab a pile of your old horse magazines! Have the campers work together to find the objects as you call them out.
To add on to this great idea, you could also have the kids cut out the items as they go. At the end of the game give the campers some poster board and glue sticks! Have the kids work together to create a collage out of the scavenger hunt items.
I hope you enjoyed this article and found these ideas helpful! If you did, please give it a share!