The Games People Play (on Horseback!): Horseball

A recent trip to France included horseback riding in Paris, and also being introduced to the game of Horseball. My guide – Baptiste Auclair, owner of Horse In The City – mentioned he played this game, and explained that it is much like basketball on horseback. (Easier to describe that way when addressing a non-french speaking American.)

Upon further research, it was learned that this game has historic origins, and the predecessor to the sport was called Pato, dating back to the 1700s in Argentina. Pato referred to “live duck”, which is what they used at the time instead of a ball. It was outlawed in 1790 – not because of the mortality of the ducks, but rather of those playing the game. Not a game for the faint of heart.

It was brought to France in the 1930s by French Army Captain Clave, who was a championship equestrian showjumper. In later years the French recreated Pato into Horseball and set the guidelines for what the game is today.

[Pato] was outlawed in 1790 – not because of the mortality of the ducks, but rather of those playing the game. Not a game for the faint of heart.

Since then, Horseball has become extremely popular and has spread across Europe. The International Horseball Federation has 16 members and continues to grow.

Teams consist of 4 players with 2 substitutes on standby. The object of the game is to score a goal that consists of putting the ball through a vertical hoop, one on each end of the field which measures 200×75 feet and consists of sand. Three passes must be made between a team before a goal can be made; the ball cannot be held more than 10 seconds before passing.

Each game consists of 20 minutes, 10 minutes per team with a three-minute break between sets.

The game starts with picking the ball up, either at a canter or a trot; pick up at a standstill is not allowed. The act of picking up the ball is called “ramassage” a French term. When the ball is dropped, anyone can pick up as long as they are headed in the same direction as when the ball was dropped; this prevents head-on riders from creating a collision while the ball is being picked up. Good idea. The player picking up must not dismount.   Even though it looks like they may fall on their heads while picking up the ball, they must not leave the horse.

Opponents attempt to prevent a score by pushing them out of the playing area with the horse or coming alongside and grabbing the ball. Riders must stay seated in the saddle, if they do not do so they create a penalty. Of course, the object of the game is to steal the ball and score points by putting it through a hoop, much like a basketball hoop with a net. The team with the most points at the end of the game, of course, wins.

It is an action-packed sport and continues to gain in popularity.

This international sport is played on five continents, organized by the International Horse-Ball Federation which has 16 members: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Portugal, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands Spain and USA (who knew?). Also, there are Ambassadors from the following areas: Europe, North America, South America, Asia, Middle East, and Oceania. Tournaments include European Championship, the World Championship, and the clubs’ FIHB Champions League. There are both men’s teams and women teams. The European Senior Championship is a mixed-sex teams tournament.

Like the Olympics, the awards are gold, silver, and bronze.

For more information regarding Horseball, visit!


Barb currently resides in Central Florida with her three horses; when she’s not writing or riding for HRL, she loves to read and travel.

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