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Horse Sports: The Most Common and Most Dangerous

Last updated: May 18, 2022

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

Horses and humans have a long history of working together, so it should come as no surprise that the world has enjoyed equestrian sports for centuries. Anyone who’s seen horse racing or polo knows just how thrilling these games can be!

The most common horse sport is jumping, which requires a horse and rider to leap over fences and other obstacles in a pattern. The most dangerous horse sport depends on your definition of “dangerous.” But if you’re looking at injuries caused by falls – then horseracing wins hands down!

The wide variety of horse sports can be overwhelming. There are hundreds to choose from, each with its own set of rules and skills that you need in order to do well!

Picture of a horse leaping over an obstacle in a showjumping competition.

Horse sports

Horse sports likely originated shortly after horses were domesticated thousands of years ago. We know from ancient writings and artwork they were popular during the times of the Roman Empire.

Horse sports are competitions that include riders on horseback or while driving a horse-drawn carriage. Many of these competitions, such as polo, began as training drills for mounted warriors; some, however, had other purposes like entertainment and gambling.

Each sport requires different skills from both the horse and its rider, and there are various levels of competition. Horse sports are not only favored by many equestrian-loving individuals, but they are also beneficial to our health.

Riding horses are great for our physical health and our mental health as well. Equestrian sports provide us a sense of relaxation in our bodies and minds, and it also is a tremendous therapeutic benefit to those individuals with disabilities.

And, while it may not appear like a great way to exercise, sitting on a horse involves all of your muscles which you grow from controlling your balance and posture as you learn how to manage your horse.

How Many Horse Sports Are There?

After researching horse sports, I was shocked by the number of equine events. I found over a hundred different competitions, some familiar to almost everyone, like polo or dressage, and others much more obscure such as Buzkashi.

Buzkashi is a sport in which horseback riders have to swing a goat carcass in a goal to score a point. It is a violent horse sport that is played in Central Asia.

The US Equestrian is a nationwide organization that promotes and recognizes 18 equestrian disciplines. Their 11 eligible breeds of horse have become nationally and internationally acclaimed as the top athletes in their field, with many participants attaining Olympic success.

If you’re interested in finding a sport to participate in with your horse, there are many options, and all of them will increase your horsemanship skills and develop a bond with your animal. Plus you get to spend time outdoors and meet new like-minded people.

You would first start by mastering the basic skills needed for this kind of sport. You have a wide variety of equestrian disciplines and equine sports that you can test out and specialize in while developing your confidence, skills, and knowledge as well as for your horse.

And while you may think that all of these sports require you to be sitting on the horse, you’ll be surprised to know that some involve carriage-like vehicles from which you guide the animal!

These are some examples of the many sports that you’ll find that include horses:

These sports will test various skills of the rider and your horse and include competitions that allow the competitors and their animals to polish their skills throughout the rounds.

In some sports, dressage, for example, riders and horses, perform a series of intended movements in which judges mark each step out of ten. The rider and horse with the highest score are determined as the winner.

Many of these competitions consist of a panel of judges that mark penalty points throughout the competition, declaring the rider with the fewest points the winner.

While some, such as barrel racing, require the rider and horse to navigate a set of barrels set in a cloverleaf pattern at break-neck speed. The one to finish the fastest is awarded victory!

Typically, these sports put the horse’s obedience, speed, athleticism, and rider’s judgment and accuracy to the test. Some competitions are more demanding than others for both the horse and the rider as they race through sharp turns, steep hills, and sometimes even water.

Endurance riding requires the horses to race through natural terrains, varying anywhere from 50 miles up to 100 miles in one day.

Picture of horse leaving the gates from their post position.

What Is The Most Common Horse Sport?

The popularity of a particular horse sport depends on what part of the world you reside in or are asking about. Not all of these equestrian competitions are popular in certain regions, while some are well known worldwide.

My region’s most popular horse sport is barrel racing, followed closely by flat track horse racing, team roping, and dressage. However, from my research, the most common equestrian competition worldwide is jumping.

Equestrian jumping sports involve horses jumping through brightly colored obstacles ranging from 10 to 13 throughout a course.

Horse racing is another globally popular horse sport. There are many ways to participate and various types, such as flat track racing, steeplechase, and endurance racing.

It’s an event that you can participate in on many different levels, fans enjoy watching, gamblers can bet, or you could become a breeder or owner of racehorses. If you’re lucky enough, you may even have a horse run in the triple crown.

The triple crown pits the best three-year-old Thoroughbreds against one another annually for purses exceeding two million dollars; they include the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes.

This event is so popular among many because it introduces the greatest young horses to race fans. Aside from that reason, the more obvious reason would be that hundreds place their bets on these races, hoping to take all the winnings home.

Picture of dressage competition.

What Is The Hardest Equestrian Sport?

Stating the most challenging equestrian sport depends on who you ask. Many will argue that dressage is the most complex sport due to its physical demands for riders and horses.

They not only need the physical aspect to perform successfully, but it also requires them to have the suitable mental characteristic for this event. What makes this challenging for the horses is that they have to learn how to stay collected during these events.

What makes collection difficult for horses is that although they have the physical capability of carrying more weight in their hindquarters, it’s not natural for them to do so. It takes a special horse to excel in dressage.

As we all know, horses are used to taking the weight in their forehand, making them feel more balanced and stable. Additionally, the horse then needs to be taught how to work within a set of boundaries.

They have to learn how to accept and feel comfortable with pressure, which tends to be mentally challenging for many horses. What makes the collection successful is the physical and mental acceptance of these boundaries.

It’s tricky because the horse needs to know that relaxation is the reward without coming to a complete halt of the aids. It can take several years to train your animal to be physically and mentally ready for this type of sport, and it is a very demanding one.

Picture of horses racing at the Grand Nationals

What Is The Most Dangerous Horse Sport?

Horse racing is the most dangerous horse sport, but the jockeys who ride are professionals. For amateur competitors, there’s an equally treacherous competition.

Eventing might be one of the most hazardous sports to perform, but it’s also a favorite amongst royalty and wealthy families. The Eventing competition combines dressage, cross country, and show jumping into spectacular displays that spectators can’t get enough of!

Although this event is entertaining to witness to many, it is hazardous for both the horse and the rider. Any miscalculation can cause the rider and horse their lives.

It is risky for the participants to calculate precisely when to jump and the horse’s actual jump. Out of the three events, the cross-country section is considered the riskiest phase of the competition.

The horses have to jump through various obstacles on a predetermined course within a limited set time. These obstacles include walls, steps, jumps in and out of lakes, vertical slides, tables, and pretty much any insane obstacle course that you can imagine.

Horses face high risks, including head and brain injury, spinal injury, sprains, and lastly, death. Knowing these risks makes the sport more dangerous and should be performed with the utmost focus and caution.

Are Equestrian Sports Expensive?

If you own horses, you’ll know just how expensive it can be. Considering the traveling costs you’ll have from attending these events, training, vet bills, and stabling the horses properly, you can spend upwards of $200,000 every year.

Just maintaining these animals and giving them the proper training can be pretty costly. If you don’t own a horse and consider buying one to get into equestrian sports, the costs can be even higher!

Also, if you’ve never ridden a horse before, you can expect the prices to be around $45 to $80 per lesson. Regardless of whether you have the needed experience with horses or if you’re a newbie, these sports are sure to put a hole in anyone’s wallet.

However, you can significantly cut costs by hauling your own horse, training it yourself, and keeping it in a pasture with good grass. In many equestrian sports, there are opportunities to win money which offsets the costs.

For one of our barrel racing horses, we tracked our expenses throughout the year, and after calculating her winnings, we were surprised to find she earned enough to cover all her costs.

So, if you think that equestrian sports are right for you, make sure to do your research and have the proper training before jumping in the saddle!

Below is a YouTube video that depicts the dangers of horseback riding.

YouTube video


What is a horse sport played with a stick?

Polo and polocrosse are played on horseback and involve sticks. In polo, the riders hit a ball with a mallet attached to a long handle (stick), while polocrosse involves horseback riders using a stick to carry the ball in their racquet netting, attached to a stick.