Pato, a game that originated in the early 1700s in Argentina and still played there as the nation’s national sport, is the predecessor to Horseball. By 1790 Pato was outlawed as a result of the high mortality among the players. Today the modern game makes use of a six-handled ball, but the word ‘pato’ refers to a live duck that was originally used. A national federation was established for Pato and by 1953 the sport was declared Argentina’s national sport. The modern game as we know it today was really defined in the 1930s. It is managed globally by the Fédération Internationale de Horseball (FIHB) and is also officially recognised by the International Federation of Equestrian Sports (FEI).
Horseball is a game that is played on horseback and the sport is more like a combination of polo, rugby and basketball. The game is normally played on a soft, sandy surface. The objective is to throw the ball through a vertical hoop with a diameter of 1m. A team consists of four players and a minimum of three passes between three different players must be made before a player can go on to shoot a hoop. To start a match a rider does a pick-up of the ball. Rules state that a horse must be cantering. Riders from the opposition team can prevent a player from scoring by using the weight of their horse to push that player out of the playing area. Players can also grabble the ball from the opposition by bringing their horse alongside the holder of the ball. In this instance, both riders must remain seated in their saddles. Should a rider leave their saddle, they give away a penalty. A rider may also not carry the ball for longer than 10 seconds. If a ball is dropped, any player can pick it up provided riders are travelling in the same direction. This is to avoid collisions.
After the inspiration of Pato, Horseball was started in France by a French Army captain, who was also a show jumping world champion. It was in the 1970s that the French Equestrian Federation established the rules and these rules have remained in place in the modern game. The sport took a major step forward when FIHB was established in 1999. The primary objective for the international governing body is to ensure the integrity of the sport remains in place and that rules are adhered to during competitions at the various levels. FIHB continue to promote and establish new participants in their quest to establish it as a truly global sport. Horseball is currently played in five continents. Their headquarters are based in Wavre, in the Belgian province of Walloon Brabant. FIBH oversee international competitions through their members on a national and regional level. Some of these competitions include a Champions League (between France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and United Kingdom), the European Championships, and a World Cup.