Popular Horse Sports and Competitions

min read
A rider and her horse make a jump during a show-jumping competition.
BetMGM @BETMGM Mar 10, 2022, 9:55 AM

Horses have taken on many roles in society since they were first domesticated by humans thousands of years ago. People have used these powerful creatures as a way to get around, to help work the fields on their farms and even in various sporting competitions throughout history. In fact, there are still many exciting sports that horses take part in today. If you enjoy online sports betting and like to bet on horse racing, here are 10 other popular horse sports that you can follow.

Barrel racing

If you’re ever at a rodeo, you’ll almost undoubtedly have a chance to check out a barrel race. This event requires a rider and horse to complete a specific circuit around three barrels as quickly as possible. This circuit follows a pattern similar to a cloverleaf (after which the pattern is named.) The route must be finished without breaking the pattern, or hitting or knocking over a barrel. Breaking the pattern will result in a disqualification while hitting or knocking down a barrel will result in a time penalty. This is a high-octane event with races being completed in under 20 seconds! 


Another horse-related sport with its origins in the American West, “cutting” is all about how a horse and rider can work together to herd cattle. This event has two tasks for the horse and rider to accomplish. They must successfully guide one cow from deep inside the herd, while another may be guided away from the outside of the herd. This guiding process is more commonly known as cutting. Once each cow is separated, the horse must keep the cow away from the herd with almost no guidance from the rider, who is only allowed to perform certain leg cues to help the horse. This event uses a scoring system, with several judges making a final decision on how well a horse and rider performed.


If you’re not familiar with this sport, you may think it has something to do with dresses, but the name for this equine sport is connected to the French word, which means “training.” Horses and their riders are required to perform specific tests of movement similar to dancing,  and tests vary depending on the level of the competition. Some of the movements that they are judged by are the passage (a very specific style of trot,) piaffe (a slow walking movement with a specific rhythm,) pirouette (a circular movement) and the half-pass (a diagonal movement.) This is another sport that uses a unique scoring system and judges to decide who performed the best in a specific test.


Polo is a sport involving horses that many people, including those outside the horse sports community, will instantly recognize. In this competitive game two teams, each with four horses and riders, aim to score the most points by striking a white ball into the opposing team’s goal. Players move around the field on horseback and hit the ball using a long wooden stick with a short straight head on the end called a mallet. Due to the fact that it’s a highly paced and dangerous game, umpires monitor the action and discourage any risky play by awarding penalties against an offending team. A game of polo can last between 90 and 120 minutes.

Show jumping

Another competitive equestrian sport that many people are likely to be familiar with is show jumping. At its most basic, show jumping is about a horse and rider clearing a series of obstacles without making contact with them within a specified amount of time. Competitors are penalized for failing to clear a jump without knocking off the top rail, failing to attempt the jump, and for taking longer than the prescribed time limit. These events are more specifically broken down into hunter, jumper and seat equitation classes. Each of these is judged according to different criteria. Hunters are just judged according to their manners and jumping style, while jumpers win based on a strong, clean round that is fast. Finally, seat equitation is about rider performance and is scored by a panel of judges. 


Vaulting is very simply gymnastics that take place on horseback! Individuals or teams perform a gymnastic routine on a horse as it walks or canters around an arena. The routine is either a predetermined list of actions that must be performed, or a freestyle choreographed routine that’s developed by the performer or team. Some of the maneuvres that the performers do include the vault-on (where the gymnast matches the horse’s pace and swings up onto the horse’s back,) flag (where the gymnast balances on the back of the horse with an alternating arm and leg raised) and stand (where the gymnast stands on the back of the horse with arms outstretched.) Points are awarded by judges depending on how well an individual or team performs.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.