Farm Ireland

Saturday 17 February 2018

Getting a fix from the mad new craze of horse boarding

Extreme equestrian sports and medieval pastimes offer horses and riders an alternative to conventional schooling

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Are you sick of being confined to a 40m x 20m arena? Does the sight of another course of coloured poles put both you and your horse into a slump? Does the thought of more schooling prompt wide yawns?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you could be interested in a new craze that's sweeping across Britain and Europe -- horse boarding.

Invented by adrenaline junkie Daniel Fowler-Prime, horse boarding is a combination of horse riding and mountain boarding that, to the uninitiated, looks like something dreamed up by a madman.

A horse and rider are used to tow a mountain boarder behind them at 30-35mph over a sprint distance of 100m. The horse must be steady in the start box and fast across the 100m distance, while the boarder must absorb the horse's huge power, stay on his board and inevitably fall off after the finishing post.

Boarders are attached to their horse and rider partners by a special, quick-release harness attached to the saddle. And the body count so far? Surprisingly, none!

Mad or not, the sport has attracted a huge amount of interest across the water, with new clubs popping up left, right and centre, according to Daniel.

"We've already had enquiries from Ireland and Canada about setting up there," he says.

As a stunt rider and member of the Extreme Horse Riding Association, Daniel is well used to doing all sorts of weird and wonderful equestrian activities.

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As well as horse surfing -- where a galloping horse is used to tow a surfer along the waves -- he has also ridden in feature films such as Alexander, Kingdom of Heaven, Vanity Fair, Carl Porter and the Da Vinci Code. However, he is now focusing on developing horse boarding into an organised and competitive sport.

So what type of horse would be best for this sport?

"We have had everything from an ex-dressage horse and an ex-hunter to a mounted games pony, a Friesian, some Polish Arabians and a few Thoroughbred crosses," says Daniel.

"It's not all about speed because you also need the horse to be steady in the start box -- if you lose your boarder before the starting line, it doesn't matter how fast you go, you're not going to win."

It takes, on average, about two hours training time for a horse to get the hang of pulling a boarder behind him and as the horse becomes more accustomed to the experience, the speed is gradually increased to about 20mph. However, on race days, winning horses typically reach up to 35mph.


There is no such thing as a typical horse boarder, with participants coming from all spheres.

"We get skate boarders, kite boarders and others who want to try it out but have no experience of horses and then we get couples where the girl rides horses and the boyfriend is into boarding," says Daniel.

"We are also getting enquiries from families who have kids with different interests," he adds. "Although, because this is an extreme sport, they must be aged 16 or over. We hope to develop a junior competition in the future."

Even if horse boarding is not your thing, there are other non-mainstream equestrian activities to try.

Zana Cousins and Karl Greenwood run the Centre of Horseback Combat in East Sussex, England, where horse riders and non-riders come to learn horse archery, jousting and stunt riding.

The husband and wife team run several stunt and horse-related businesses, including the Stampede Stunt Company and the Centre of Horseback Combat.

As Zana explains, her performance background started at a young age when, aged nine, she won a place at the prestigious Arts Educational School, Tring Park where she furthered her career in acting, singing, dance and music. She also discovered horses but was put off riding by her parents because it interfered with her ballet and muscle development.

However, Zana persisted and eventually bought her own pony to compete in local cross-country events. After riding for her teenage years, she still had the performance bug and dreamed of combining the two.


She trained to be a trapeze artist and to fire eat, stilt walk and perform aerial acts with her husband Karl, and through having these skills found work at Lulworth Castle for a jousting team.

Today, Zana is an accomplished jousting knight and an experienced trick rider, who performs vaulting tricks, sitting backwards on her horse's neck and picking up hats, all at full gallop. She also is an experienced Roman rider, which involves standing on the backs of two or four horses at canter.

She works mainly with her nine-year-old grey Andalucian gelding, Niagara, who can lie down, sit up and rear on command, both at liberty and while ridden. The pair joust and trick ride together and Niagara's favourite performance is to jump through fire.

However, Niagara is just one of eight Andalucian and Lippizaner horses used by Zana and Karl. Mainly greys and all geldings, the horses are sourced directly from France and Spain, usually as just-backed four-year olds. Training begins with liberty work such as bowing, rearing and lying down on command and, as the horse gets older, more confident and better balanced, moves into trick riding.

"Each season we do a little bit more with each horse but for trick riding, you need the horse to be able to cope with a rider hanging off the side, able to counter balance my weight and stay moving," says Zana.

The summer season is very busy for film work and Karl is currently working on the sequel to Clash of the Titans in Wales.

Both Karl and the Stampede horses have previously featured in Merlin and Gladiator, where 16-year-old horse Todo was the Emperor's horse.

Back at home, however, the Centre for Horseback Combat is running numerous archery, jousting and trick riding courses for visitors this summer.

"We get horse riders who are just looking to try something new, people who are interested in history and jousting, non-riding archers who want to try it from horseback and actor types who want to add to their CVs," says Zana.

"In the past, we have had Dubai Airlines pilots, a De Beers diamond buyer and a 17-man stag group," she laughs.

On the jousting course, participants learn how to tilt the lance and defend with a shield, aim the lance for a small target and collect rings from target stands, as well as ride along the tilt against an opponent.

The horseback archery course begins with an introductory talk, then a practice session on the ground and then on to try it out from horseback at walk, trot and then canter.

"Competitive horseback archers are required to shoot three arrows at three targets in less than 12 seconds over a 90m distance," explains Zana, who is a board member of the British Horse Archery Association.

"That's a lot to do in a short space of time!"

Horse archery is one of the fastest growing sports in Europe at the moment and Britain will be sending a team to the World Horse Archery Championships in Korea later this year.

While horseback archery and jousting are not established in Ireland yet, the Stampede Stunt Company will be giving a display of jousting, archery and trick riding at Cahir Castle in Co Tipperary next week.

The Norman Invasion, on Saturday and Sunday, July 23 and 24, will feature Zana, Karl and company jousting in the grounds of the castle in two shows each day.

The event will also feature historical educational tours, falconry, music and a street banquet. For more information, go to

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