Mounted orienteering is a sport in which competitors on horseback attempt to use clues, a compass and a map to find markers hidden throughout a course in the least amount of time. The sport is competitive, intelligent and a lot of fun, particularly for horse enthusiasts who also enjoy orienteering.


Orienteering has existed since men chose to explore the world around them. Development like maps and compasses increased the navigational skills. Orienteering as a term originated in Sweden during the 19th century. Orienteers would use a map and compass to cross unexplored lands, which was particularly useful in the military. Mounted orienteering began as a method for the Calvary to cross uncharted territory. The tactics are still used today despite modern technologies and GPS locators. Sometimes, it is necessary to use a compass and map for search and rescue. Mounted orienteering is also still practiced as competitive sport.

Mounted Orienteering Competitions

Mounted orienteering is an organized competition for horse enthusiasts. Some courses are designed for individual riders, while other are intended for groups. Each team used a map and compass to search for hidden markers throughout the course.

Courses can cover an area anywhere between 8 and 20 miles. Typically, shorter courses will have a smaller search area while longer courses cover more terrain. A short course typically has 5 hidden markers while a long course has 10. Most markers are made of paper plates, 9” in diameter. The paper plate is marked with letters and numbers to denote which marker it is. Once the rider uses the map and compass to get to the area where the marker is, the rider will often dismount in order to find the exact marker.

The timed event staggers the riders by 10 minutes, so each rider or team has a different start time. At the very beginning of the timing, each rider will receive the map. As soon as the map is in hand, the timer starts. The map indicates where the markers are. A clue list is included with the map to denote any natural landmarks which may help the rider to find the marker.

The rider will use the map and compass to find a circle on the map. From that point, the clues list is used to find the marker. A clue list will give directions from a specific marker on the compass. For example, a clue list might denote that the marker can be found 102 degrees from a grassy knoll and 292 degrees from a green rectangle. The landmarks can either be natural occurrences, such as fallen logs and old stumps, or manmade markers such as signs or buckets. Some of the clues are straightforward, while others read more like riddles. The clue feature of mounted orienteering makes this sport as much about mental acuity as physical skill.

Some rides are one-day events, while others are held across an entire weekend. These two-day events can be particularly fun for participants, who have the opportunity to camp overnight in a community of orienteering enthusiasts.


Classic orienteering is about using the compass and map as the only resources. GPS devices, cell phones, walkie-talkies and electronic aids are not allowed. Many riders carry phones for emergency use only.

Riders may compete as a team or as an individual. Declared teams must stay together and may not divide for any reason. Teams may look in different directions for the marker, but must remain in the circle area. Junior riders are allowed to compete but any rider under 18 years old must ride with other riders.


Mounted orienteering is a timed event. The team to visit every station and successfully locate each marker in the shortest amount of time is declared the winner. The timer begins as soon as each rider/team receives the official map. When all members of the team return having found each marker, the time is complete. Each marker has letters written on it. If the team does not have the correct letters for the marker, no points are award for that station.

The teams are scored according to stations and arrival. The team with the most stations are assigned places, with six points awarded to the team arriving first, five for the second place team and so on. The number of objective successfully found will add an additional point for each. The team with the most points at the end is declared the winner.

Mounted Orienteering Horses

Mounted orienteering is open to any and all breeds of horses. Horses must be at least three years of age to compete in mounted orienteering. The most important qualities of a horse well-suited for mounted orienteering are temperament an endurance.

Like other competitive trail riding, the horses in mounted orienteering cover a lot of ground with different terrain. Any horse participating in a longer orienteering competition should be conditioned to handle pacing over expansive terrain. The horse can suffer injury if pushed too fast or over rough terrain it is not accustomed to.

Temperament is also important in mounted orienteering. A horse and rider that have a mutual respect for one another will have a more successful trail riding experience. The horses must also get along with other horses as riders often travel in teams. Even individual riders will encounter other horses along the way, and horses that kick or bite are generally not welcome.

Mounted orienteering is a sport anyone can participate in. The sport is open to males and females of all ages. Families can participate in the sport together. Beginnings can join the competition any time. Each race holds a free clinic prior to the beginning of the race to teach newcomers how to find clues and use a compass.

Mounted orienteering is a friendly sport. While each team wants to win the competition, any unsportsmanlike behavior is not tolerated. Usually, veterans of the sport will assist newcomers in learning the ropes of mounted orienteering. Many people enjoy this sport as a leisurely and fun activity. Mounted orienteering combines the skills of navigation with horsemanship. Participants enjoy spending the day with their horses, following their clues on a modern-day treasure hunt.