Kariba the horse has become a regular Mane Rooney – after his trainer discovered his amazing passion for football.
The troubled stallion was once so unruly, it regularly threw its riders and was nearly left on the bench permanently. But thanks to horse psychologist Emma Massingale, he has been placated – by his love of soccer.
The 16-year-old animal has mastered passing, shooting, dribbling and hoofing a ball around his field. He has even moved on to nudging his large blue ball with his nose – in a horsey-style header.
Emma, 25, rehabilitates dangerous steeds at her training school, Natural Equine, based in Bradworthy, Devon, England.
She said: “I’m not interested in football myself. But I looked at the players and thought ‘my horse could do that’. “We started by leading him to the ball with a rope and I rewarded him with a pat if he touched or kicked it.
“Horses naturally shy away from unusual, bright objects that move towards them, so that had to be overcome. “Luckily, he is such a show-off, he took to it immediately and there was no looking back.
“He loves to learn new tricks and will parade around showing off his skills without any instruction. If you leave him in the pen with a football, he is happy there for hours kicking and heading it about on his own.
Kariba, who stands 16.2 hands high, was Emma’s first-ever horse after he was bought by her father for her to ride eight years ago.
Named after a town on the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe, the steed is a thoroughbred Irish Draft Cross. But the jet-black stallion had such a bad attitude, the local pony club told Emma she should sell him straight away because he would never be safe to ride.
Emma later discovered Kariba’s previous owners decided to get rid of him after he threw off his rider during a public parade.
She said: “When I first got him, he was out of control and I spent most of the time on my backside after he’d thrown me off. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing him, I already loved him too much.
“Instead I travelled to Australia to a camp in the outback where I learned to understand the psyche of each horse.” On her return, she set her new skills in action on Kariba, who is now the star pupil among the 13 horses being trained at the school.
The horse soon began playing with the ball by himself – known as “training at liberty” – and even invented his own moves.
Kariba favours a larger than average football – a 65cm version so he can get a good boot down the field.
Emma said: “He will take a shot at goal, but seems to prefer playing about in a midfield position. I personally think he’d do best as a goalkeeper – you wouldn’t get much past him.”