Neither Rainer White nor Ethan Whiting are old enough to drive a car, but dangling precariously from a cantering horse is just another Monday night for these two thrill-seekers.
The Wagga teenagers have been selected for the Australian Horseball Association’s Under 16 team and will represent Australia at the 2022 World Cup.
The team will travel to Saint-Lô in the northwest of France to compete from 15 to 20 August.
Not for the faint of heart, horseball originated from a 16th century Argentinian sport called Pato.
The game as it’s played today was developed by French riders in the 1970s.
Horseball’s popularisation all over Europe led to the sport being officially introduced to Australia in 2009.
“It’s not a very well known sport in Australia, but it’s like a mix between rugby and polocrosse and basketball,” 15-year-old Ethan explains.
Two teams of four players saddle up and vie for possession of a six-handled ball. The game is played over two 10-minute halves, in which the attacking team must make three passes before shooting the ball through a vertical hoop-shaped goal.
The defensive team can use their horse’s weight to block and push opponents away from their goal or get alongside attacking players and pull the ball from their hands.
“Although we fall off all the time, it would be a very different scenario falling off on the world stage!” Ethan says.
Rainer and Ethan will compete alongside teammates Charlotte Adams and Katie Maund (both 14) from the Whitsundays QLD, Erin Stirling (15) from Tamworth NSW and Hayley Schatkowski (14) from Mackay QLD.
Their coaches Linda Gray and Barb Wiscombe will be assisted by accomplished international coach and Australian delegate Francisco Campeao.
“The distance makes training together extremely difficult, but this team has shown real tenacity,” Ethan’s mum Rachel Whiting says.
Rachel, the director and CEO of Regional Development Australia, encouraged the Wagga community to support the relatively unknown sport.
“Some of the current team members had qualified for the 2020 World Cup, but obviously thanks to the arrival of COVID, that didn’t happen. So this is important to them,” Rachel says.
For Rainer (14), who has only played horseball for two and a half years, patriotism is foremost in her mind.
“I’m most excited about the fact that I get to represent Australia,” she says.
“That’s also the thing I’m most scared of.”
Horseball is now officially played in more than 20 countries worldwide. The Fédération Internationale de Horseball (FIHB) hopes to increase this number to 30 by the end of 2022.
Ethan, who has been doing events and showjumping for nearly 10 years, says he is excited to play against a wider group of people.
“The horseball community is pretty small in Australia, so I’m definitely looking forward to that,” he says.
The teens will compete against teams from France, Italy, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Argentina, Mexico, Japan, Great Britain, the USA, and Canada.
The Australian Horseball Association is encouraging the community to get behind the young athletes and donate to their various fundraisers to help cover the trip’s costs.
“There are 19 of us going over, so it won’t be a logistically easy thing and it won’t be cheap,” Rachel says.
The team will not transport their own horses to France. Instead the FIHB will loan them mounts on the day.
“We’re having a movie night and a trivia night and we really hope they go well,” Rainer says.
The brand new Disney Pixar film Lightyear opens at Forum Cinemas on Thursday 16 June at 7 pm – a portion of all ticket sales from the exclusive Wagga premiere will go towards helping the team get to France.
The trivia night will be held at Wagga RSL on Friday 22 July from 6:30 pm, with tickets $15 each.
“[Horseball] doesn’t have a lot of background in Australia, so there are gaps in funding and support for these kids,” Rachel says.
“If you’d like to support the team, there’s definitely a way for you to do it.”
Click here to donate to the team’s GoFundMe. Buy tickets for the movie night fundraiser here. To book a table for trivia, call Barb Wiscombe on 0411 050 067 or Rachel Whiting on 0429 444 213. Find out more about horseball here.