What Is A Gymkhana? All About Fun Shows


Those of you in the horse world have probably heard the term Gymkhana before, or maybe as a child you have attended and competed in one. For those of you who don’t know what a Gymkhana is, don’t worry. I just recently found out myself.

What Is A Gymkhana?

A gymkhana is a fun show for horses where riders, mainly children and young teens, compete in a variety of games to win ribbons and prizes. Some of the games include egg and spoon races, obstacle courses, races, and more. Though Gymkhanas are mainly meant for children, there are classes available for older riders as well. The target experience level for riders to compete in these events is usually beginner or intermediate level riders, though some more competitive Gymkhanas will allow professionals to compete in certain competitions hosted.

Are There Other Names For Gymkhanas?

Yes, there are other names for Gymkhanas. Some of the commonly used names for these events include:

  • Fun Show
  • Play Day
  • Rodeo
  • Omoksee

The History Of The Gymkhana

The Gymkhana is a competition that has been performed for hundreds of years. Some say that even Genghis Khan competed in such events. It was in Central Asia, Europe, and North America that these competitions originated. Eventually, all turned mainly into one competition known worldwide as the Gymkhana.

In North America, the Gymkhana was actually first known as the Omoksee and was started on this continent by the Blackfeet Native Americans. Omoksee basically means ‘pattern horse racing’ and it was in these events that riders needed to compete to run certain patterns as fast as possible to beat their opponents. In some competitions, riders would need to gallop their horses close enough to a running buffalo to be able to slap him on the side, while other competitions needed riders to bend down and pick things off the ground. Modern-day Omoksees have horses competing in several marked lanes in an arena. The riders are given a pattern and they are required to complete the patterns as fast as they possibly can. Because these riders can see their opponents, it is even more competitive and exciting as you can see if your competitor is ahead or behind you. Though this is what a modern-day Omoksee looks like, more common is the Gymkhana that offers more events than just running patterns.

In Europe, specifically Britain, many different pony clubs would host a number of events to help engage children in riding and make horseback riding really fun. This started mainly after the year 1929 as this is when the first pony club of Great Britain was formed.

What Competitions Take Place At Gymkhanas?

There are so many different competitions that riders can compete in at Gymkhana events. Some of these competitions include:

Barrel Racing

Many Gymkhanas feature barrel racing in their list of competitions. This high intensity sport involves running your horse around three barrels in a clover leaf pattern. The fastest person who knocks over the least amount of barrels wins the run.

To learn more about barrel racing, you can read all about it here!

Egg & Spoon Races

An egg and spoon race is a competition where the rider must hold a spoon with an egg balanced on it and complete a pattern without dropping the egg. The horse and rider with the fastest time and who don’t drop their egg wins the competition.

Arena Races

Like I mentioned before in my description of an Omoksee, there are a variety of arena races that horses and riders can compete in. The races can be something as simple as a race across an arena to a race that incorporates a pattern.

Pole Bending

Pole bending, like barrel racing, is a rodeo sport that involves the horse running as fast as possible while weaving through poles sticking vertical up from the ground. The horse and rider that run through them the fastest without knocking over any of the poles wins the competition.

Flag Races

There are many different kinds of flag racing. There are some flag racing classes that require the horse to run around barrels putting flags in and taking flags out of buckets on top of the barrels. There are also competitions that require the rider to bend down and pick up flags from the ground.

Keyhole Race

A keyhole race is a race where a horse and rider will gallop into a small ‘keyhole,’ turn around, and gallop out without crossing the line of the keyhole. If a horse crosses the line drawn that marks the keyhole that they must stay in, they will be disqualified from the class. The horse and rider that complete this race the fastest without stepping over the line wins.

Rescue Race

A rescue race is a race where a horse and rider run down to the end of an arena where someone waits to be ‘rescued.’ The rider then offers their arm to the person they are picking up and then helps pull them onto the horse behind the saddle before taking off again. All of this is done while the horse is still moving.

There are many more classes in Gymkhanas, but this is most of the ones that you might see in these events

Is There A Specific Age For Riders That Can Compete At Gymkhanas?

There is no specific age for a rider to compete in a Gymkhana as these competitions allow both child and adult riders to compete. Though most of these classes are geared towards children, there are many of these classes that accept adults to participate as well.

Are There Specific Horse Or Pony Breeds Allowed Or Not Allowed?

Any and all horse breeds are allowed to compete in Gymkhana classes. Did you know that Gymkhanas are one of the main competitions that don’t require a horse to be registered to compete? This makes unregistered or grade horses permitted to compete! Just make sure that whatever horse you are using to compete is gentle, not likely to spook, and well mannered enough for a child to ride them so they behave well in these competitions.

What Style Of Riding Is Most Commonly Seen In Gymkhanas?

I would say that in the United States of America, Western riding is much more popular. In Britain and other European countries, English is more common and competitions like jumping are also included in the classes horses compete in.

What Does The Name Gymkhana Mean?

The name Gymkhana literally means ‘games on horses’ which is exactly what a Gymkhana is.

What Prizes Can You Win In A Gymkhana?

There are a number of prizes offered at Gymkhanas. These include:

  • Cash
  • Ribbons
  • Horse Care Supplies
  • Tack
  • Riding Apparel

Hailey Johnson

Horses have been my passion ever since I can remember. At school, I was known as that weird horse girl, and I would read horse encyclopedias for fun. Over the years since those days, I have only learned more. My experiences with horses of a variety of breeds have taught me a lot. Now I want to share what I know with you!

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