The latest horsey craze to hit the headlines in the UK is the extreme sport of Horse Boarding. The sport was invented seven years ago by professional stuntman, Daniel Fowler-Prime and is not for the fainthearted! What began as a stunt has now developed into a fully-fledged sport with its own National Association, regional, local and international competitions and championships. There's even a training centre for those wishing to have a go at the sport.
What is horse boarding?
Competitors stand on a modified off-road skate board and hold a rope which is attached by a safety clip to the saddle of a horse rider. The horse then sets off towing the boarder behind it. Think water skiing on land with four legs and a tail as the towing 'vehicle' and you're nearly there! The attraction for all parties seems to be the adrenalin rush.
Riders compete in teams and race in pairs over a 100m slalom course with a number of flagged 'gates' which must be negotiated. Colliding with or missing out a gate incurs penalty points.
Riders are required to wear protective suits with plenty of padding, helmets and either goggles or wrap-around sunglasses (clearly for the dude look!) The towing rope is attached to the horse rider's saddle by a quick-release safety clip and is released as soon as the board rider either falls or completes the course.
The horses taking part come in all shapes, sizes and breeds from nippy ponies to rangy ex-racehorses. The only real requirement is obedience and the ability to do flying changes for ease and speed as they negotiate the course and a decent burst of acceleration when required. Good brakes are also an advantage!
Board riders communicate with the horse rider as they go round the course to give instruction on acceleration and speed. Crashes (of board riders) are frequent and often spectacular although serious injury is thankfully rare. There is no record of a horse being injured whilst being used for horse boarding although slips and trips do occasionally occur. In the event of a horse fall, a full inspection of the horse will be carried out by the on-site officials before the horse is allowed to continue participating. If there is any concern for the horse's welfare, a vet will be called in and treatment must be paid for by the horse's owner, not the event organisers.
Competition rules (summary)
This is essentially a drag race between two teams around a 100m course which is divided into two lanes. Teams must remain within their lane during the race. Each horse must race every other horse twice; once in each lane. For each win, a team scores 2 points and a draw scores 1.5 points each. For every race where the team is still intact, 1 point is awarded but if the board rider falls or misses a gate on the slalom course and fails to complete, no points are scored.
There is no minimum length for the towing rope although the board rider should not be within kicking distance of the horse. The rope must not be longer than half a metre shorter than the lane width. In other words, if the lane is 10m wide, the rope must be no longer than nine and a half metres so that the board rider does not swing into the other rider's lane.
Board riders must be deemed competent by the event officials. Good balance and control must be shown especially at high speeds and around turns. If the officials decide that the board rider is not good enough, the team may be disqualified. Similarly, the horse rider must demonstrate good competency including the ability to ride the horse with one hand whilst releasing the towing rope and maintaining full control of the horse at speed. Horses must be properly trained and accepting the rope and board. Any horses appearing dangerous or stressed will be disqualified.
I watched a horse boarding competition at a country show I went to over the weekend. I must say it was pretty exciting and the skill level on display from boarders and horse riders was impressive. I think though, I'll stick to dressage and leave extreme sports like this to the adrenalin junkies and surfer dudes!