The sport of horse soccer has found its footing across the United States. The official association is America’s Equine Soccer League, which describes “hoof-ball” as “soccer played with an “equine sized” ball on horseback (or mule back or donkey back ‒ you use your equine of choice).” All level of riders and all ages are allowed to play, as well as horses from any discipline.
So, what are the rules of horse soccer? According to the Great Western PFHA Arizona Horse Soccer League there are several dos and don’ts, as well as recommendations such as keeping teams to three horse-and-rider combinations – one goalie and two field riders – to make the sport more watchable for audiences, and keeping each “period” to 15 minutes with a 15-minute rest for horses between periods. This particular league mandates that goal posts are made from either tall safety cones or barrel racing barrels, placed approximately 20 feet apart and are not fixed in place for safety reasons. The size of the arena is recommended to be 225 feet by 100 feet or “cutting horse size.” Whips or slit reins or “motivating” devices are also banned.
The game starts mid-field with the opposing team’s linesmen in a face-off. After the referee signals the start of the game, players will attempt to gain control of the ball and the game begins.
And here’s where the fun begins. Horses are allowed to walk, trot/jog or canter/lope when moving across the field, but if they are dribbling the ball or trying to get the ball, they cannot move any faster than a trot.
And here’s the kicker (sorry): riders may not touch the ball. The horse is responsible for moving the ball across the field and into the goal post.
While we couldn’t find evidence of any horse soccer leagues or games in Canada, close to our border at the Ionia Free Fair in Michigan last weekend a group of riders brought their horses into the arena to play an exhibition game.
“It’s more than just a game. It’s an opportunity to give our animals a chance to express themselves where we’re not micromanaging them all the time,” says rider Amanda Powell, who rode her horse in the exhibition.
The riders involved in this sport do see it as a chance to bond with their horses and give the animals play time. We’ve all seen horses play with balls in stalls or in paddocks, so for those equines with a knack for it, soccer might just be their sport.
Watch a video courtesy of AESL here: