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Horses get in a game of soccer

December 31, 2018

BURLINGTON — Pounding hooves could be heard at Butlerhill Equestrian Center as eight horses trotted Saturday toward a massive bouncy ball during a game of horse soccer.

The game was the culmination of a two-hour clinic taught by horse trainer Russell Beatty, who eased the horses into the scrimmage by introducing them to the ball that just hours earlier was a spooky sight for some.

Many of the horses in the indoor arena had never seen a giant ball, let alone allowed one near their faces.

“Horses are herd animals, but they’re also prey animals, so their instinct is to run away from anything threatening,” Beatty’s wife Cristy Beatty said.

To acclimate the horses to the new object, Russell Beatty had each rider take their horse in a trot around three stationary balls.

As the horses moved, Beatty noted each one’s subtle or not so subtle reaction to being near the objects.

Some completed their circuits in what could be described as a fluid motion, while others bucked their heads or sidestepped away from the unfamiliar items.

But one by one, each horse became more comfortable until they were able to have the balls bounced off their shoulders without batting an eye.

With enough practice, horses will associate the balls with play, Beatty explained.

“Horses are used to being corrected and told what to do,” he said. “Playing with the balls gives them a way to let out their frustration.”

Butlerhill Equestrian Center offers year-round boarding and training, fall and summer trail rides and two-hour mini clinics nearly every weekend during the winter.

Clinics are posted on Washington Horse Events at meetup.com/Washington-Horse-Events.

The center is also a host to Beatty’s Colt Starting Challenge USA, a nationwide competition where experienced horse trainers take an unbroken horse and make it rideable in just a few hours. The two-day event will return to Butlerhill next summer.

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