Games on Horseback

Jessie and Toss Across demonstrate pole bending.

What are Games, and who gets to play? Games are mounted competitions, and anyone can play who wants to! We interviewed Jessie Pillard, 18-year-old coach of Pickering Hunt Pony Club of Elverson, Pennsylvania, to find out more about Games.

NHM: What age groups are involved in Gaming?

Jessie: You can have any age up to 21 and anyone who's in Pony Club can do it. If you're under 10 you're in the walk-trot division, but that division doesn't really compete as much as everybody else does. Over 10, there's Junior, Senior, and Advanced. There is also another association called the Mounted Games Association (MGA) in which members can be any age.

NHM: What is the youngest age?

Jessie: Any age can participate.

NHM: What types of games are played?

Pete reaches for the flag.

Jessie: There are several different kinds of games played and there are different skills involved in each one. In Pole Bending, there are five poles, and you weave in and out of the poles. You start on the left for the first pole, go right on the second pole and so on. You come back through them and hand off a baton to the next rider. That's why the teamwork is so important - because of the handoffs. It's like a relay race. There's also dunking, which is putting an object into a bucket as you pass it, and with practice you can start doing that at gallops, and all different speeds. It depends on the race; there are a lot of races. The major skills are the bending and handoffs, the dunking, and vaulting.

NHM: What is vaulting?

Jessie: Vaulting is a fast way of mounting and dismounting by swinging your leg over as the horse moves. You don't have to know how to vault, but that saves you so much time as opposed to putting your foot in the stirrup and climbing up.

NHM: What activities are done as teams and what are done individually?

Jessie's turn.

Jessie: All the games are played as a team. You ride individually but play the games as a team because there is usually some kind of handoff for each game.

NHM: Is a special kind of horse needed?

Jessie: No. Actually, at Nationals one year, there was somebody with a 17-hand horse, which is very big when you get around other people who have 10 hand ponies.

NHM: How many people are needed for each team?

Jessie: In the Junior and Senior divisions, you need four people. You can have a fifth rider, and that way you can have one person sit out at each race. For the Advanced division you have two riders. In MGA, members can compete individually as well as in teams.

NHM: Do you have to travel much to compete?

Handoffs at high speed are not as easy as they look.

Jessie: There's a Regional competition, or rally, which for our region, Eastern Pennsylvania, is held at Radnor. Then the top two teams in each division from our region go to the National competition, which is in Kentucky or Virginia. For Games there is also an International level where they select five people from across the US to go to England, Canada, or Australia to compete, and we compete here as well. I was on that team in 1997. One of my friends was on it in 1998, and another one of my friends just got back from Australia.

NHM: Do all the states or regions follow the same rules?

Jessie: Yes. There's a Games Rule Book put out by the United States Pony Club so each state follows the same rules.

NHM: How would one get involved with the USPC?

Dunking is dropping the potato into the bucket while speeding past it.

Jessie: There are district commissioners who are in charge of each club in each region. You would have to contact one of them. They can give you forms that you return with the membership fee.

NHM: What is required of a member?

Jessie: For our club, you have to go to one practice for every rally that you go to. There are several practices but it's mandatory that you go to at least one for every rally. They have rallies for show jumping, games, triathlon, combined training, and dressage. I think you have to go to one practice with the regional coach, depending on which rally you will go to. But other than that you can just go to whatever meetings you want.

NHM: How often do you have meetings?

Jessie: Meetings are held three or four times a month, usually on the weekends, and more often in the summer.

NHM: What is involved in caring for your horse in Pony Club?

Jessie: When you get to the rallies, the kids are pretty much on their own. They have to help each other. They're not allowed to talk to their parents. There are stable management judges there to help them, but the kids have to learn to take care of their horses on their own.

NHM: Does it take a lot of training for your horse?

Munchkin, Peter Damsgaard, Toss Across, and Jessie Pillard

Jessie: It depends on the rally. For games, most horses need a lot because there are so many different skills involved. Different rallies require different types and amounts of training.

NHM: Do you do the training?

Jessie: You can train your own horse and you can also go to the practices that each club holds.

NHM: How did you become a coach?

Jessie: I started playing games when I was 10. Our club didn't really have much structure in games and we were not a very strong team. We didn't really have any coaches, so we started to coach ourselves, and since I started before everybody else, I just sort of took over. It's fun now.

NHM: Did you find the information you needed through your own research?

Jessie: At the first rally I went to, I met people. Through them, and by talking to other people, I learned a lot. You make friends, and through your friends you can find out more information.

NHM: Do you have a lot of contact with the other Pony Clubs?

Jessie: Oh yes. At the regional rallies I got to know a lot of people from all around my region that I wouldn't know otherwise and now I have friends from Maryland, Ohio, and all over the place because of Nationals.

NHM: What kind of person do you think makes a good Pony Club member?

Jessie: You have to have good sportsmanship, be willing to help everybody else, and have good riding skills and horsemanship.

Thank you, Jessie, for filling us in on the details of Gaming. Good luck to you and your club!

To find a pony club in your area, contact the United States Pony Clubs:


4071 Iron Works Parkway

Lexington, KY 40511-8462

Phone: (606) 254-7669

Fax: (606) 233-4652

E-mail: memberservices@ponyclub.org

Visit their website: www.ponyclub.org

Jessie Pillard has been around horses all her life. She started riding and joined Pony Club when she was about 6 years old. Her mother is a riding instructor. Jessie became the unofficial coach of Pickering Hunt Pony Club at 16, and last year, at age 17, she became the official coach. Pickering Hunt Pony Club has approximately 50 members. Most of them are from the Pottstown and Elverson areas, though anyone is welcome to join them.


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