Unruly Stallion Calms Down Playing Football


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.”

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. That is so interesting. They have balls for horses at our local Tractor Supply and we got one for ours because they play with their rubber grain pans. We find them tossed everywhere.

    Summer used to carry hers out of the stall and go to the top of the hill and put hers outside the gate.

    Anyway, they ignored the ball. So we gave it to Buster who considered it the best ball ever. But, he overloved it and needs a new one.

    Maybe if I used the right technique our horses could have been taught to play with the ball.

  2. Hi Jolynna,
    Your “Summer” is just tooo funny! Quite clever playing Frisbee with the rubber pans. That’s a picture! But taking it to the top of the hill and putting it outside her gate … now, that takes thinking!

    I have a collection of ignored balls in the barn. Not one horse has shown any interest.

    But the chain lock on the tack room door … that they like. I suppose it is the noise.

  3. I have horses that play with balls but have never found big ones like this. But I put the large plastic barrels in the paddocks with my stallions and they love them. It’s interesting they prefer them standing up when they enter – it’s somehow an invitation for them to play. Most people don’t even know that horses have this side to them.

  4. Cool! i love horses!!!! how did you train him to do that!!! love your websight!

  5. that is a really cool horse! handsome too.

  6. i wish my horse could do that as i play soccer we could be team mates!

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