How To Play HORSE Basketball

By Max Kesler


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game of basketball horse

Basketball HORSE is a simple yet fun game that tests your shooting skills. It’s a regular feature in gym classes and driveway basketball, providing a fun and competitive break from traditional basketball practice routines.

If you’re not familiar with the game, this article will teach you the rules of HORSE basketball, along with tips and variations that you can try with your friends. 

The popularity of HORSE comes from its easy and clear-cut rules. They are so simple that anyone, regardless of age and skill level, can participate in the fun.

What You’ll Need

One of the most significant advantages of playing HORSE is that you don’t need much to get started. You don’t even need a full basketball court to play! Here are the pieces of equipment necessary to play HORSE:

  • Basketball: Every basketball game needs a ball, whether a sanctioned FIBA game, pick-up game or, in this case, HORSE. No surprises here. However, it is also critical to consider the surface on which you’ll be playing. If you’re going to play outside, using a rubber or durable synthetic ball is recommended. Leather and soft synthetic balls are susceptible to damage from loose gravel and are best used indoors.
  • Basketball Rim or Hoop: Again, another no-brainer. A ball is nothing without a hoop to shoot into. But here’s the thing: In playing HORSE, you don’t need to go to the park or YMCA gym to saddle up. Just one driveway hoop, or any hoop, for that matter, is enough.
  • Two or more players: You can play HORSE with just two players, but things get more fun when you add in more players. Call your friends, parents, cousins, and neighbors for a friendly shooting game to maximize the fun and excitement.

You’ll ideally want to play horse with enough space to take long shots from behind the three point line, but you can also enjoy the game with more limited space.

The Basic Concept of HORSE

HORSE is a basketball game played by two or more people on the court. The concept of the game is about matching baskets. Think about HORSE as the basketball version of the parlor game “Simon Says.”

The player who makes shots that the opponent(s) fail to duplicate wins the game. For example, if the first player shoots, the second player must try to recreate that shot. If he fails to do so, he will incur a penalty—the letters of the word HORSE will be spelled out one by one.

If a player fails to replicate other people’s shots five times in total, he now has five letters (HORSE) on his name and loses the game.

While the rules of the game are relatively simple, a lot of things may happen that can make things a lot more interesting. For example, what if the succeeding player makes the shot but does not execute it in the exact way that the shot caller specified? If that happens, the basket won’t be counted and they’ll receive another letter.

The game is a lot simpler when only two players are involved. One of them initiates, and then the other duplicates. If the first player misses, the other has the license to dictate the next shot. Whoever accrues five misses, therefore spelling out all five letters of HORSE, loses the game. It is more complex if there are more than two players, but the game’s principles remain the same.

HORSE Basketball: Game Rules

1. Decide the shooting order

Before the game begins, players must determine which order they will shoot in. The group can decide this however they like, such as a brief free-throw competition or a quick game of rock, paper, scissors.

2. Take the first shot

The first player can take a shot from literally anywhere on the court and in any conceivable manner. The only limit is one’s imagination!

If the player simply picks a spot and takes a shot, this counts as a normal shot, meaning the following players only have to score from the same spot.

Players may add extra rules to this shot too, but they have to call them before shooting. For example, a player can say, “bank shot” or even “two dribbles behind the back and then a layup with the left hand.”

These are called shots, where the player verbally announces the shot they will attempt. If the shot caller makes the shot, other players must make the exact same shot as was called.

3. Everyone else tries to imitate the original shot

The next players in the predetermined order have only one job, and that’s to replicate the initial shot.

However, if the first shooter missed the shot themselves, the second in line gets the chance to begin a new shot challenge.


The first time someone attempts and misses a shot in trying to replicate the shot caller’s shot, they receive the letter H. Every time someone makes this error, they receive a new letter, ultimately spelling out HORSE. You lose the game if you spell out the entire word.

5. Last man standing

When a player’s letters spell out the word “HORSE” from missing five shots, that player is eliminated from the game. The remaining players continue to play in the same order, skipping the eliminated player’s turn. After everyone else has been eliminated, there will be one player left who will be the winner.

Common “Called” Shots

Whereas normal shots (shots with no specified parameters other than the position) are recommended for beginners, “called” shots are what make a game of HORSE really interesting.

Common called shots that intermediate and advanced players might call include:

  1. Swish: The ball must go through the basket without touching the rim
  2. Bank: The ball must come off the backboard before entering the hoop
  3. Bank Swish: The ball must come off the backboard and enter the hoop without touching the rim
  4. Jump Shot: Both feet must have left the ground when the shot is released

Be Creative!

While it’s true that HORSE can be played by basketball players of various ages and skill levels, more experienced individuals generally have the advantage. Not only will they have improved shooting ability, but they have also played long enough to see and imagine different kinds of trick shots.

After all, creativity is what wins you this game. The more complicated your shots are, the more difficult they are to replicate. Of course, this does assume you can actually make these shots, so make sure you pick carefully!

If you want a nudge in the right direction as far as trick shots go, here are some ideas to get you going:

  • Off-hand shots: Most players are right-handed, so practicing shots with your left hand makes sense. It’s a simple way to force misses out of players who only rely on their strong hand.
  • Behind the backboard: The behind-the-backboard shot looks complex, but it’s actually not as hard as you think. If you make one, it looks seriously intimidating. And if you’re a basketball player, you can use the practice to put some arc on your jump shot. 
  • Bounce Back: The thing about HORSE is that it’s not just about shooting. Take advantage of that by requiring the shot to be preceded by dribbling techniques, e.g. crossovers, between the legs, behind-the-backs, etc. 
  • All Net: Admittedly, putting the ball through the basket without hitting any part of the rim is not easy, but you can do it with enough practice. 
  • Jordan-esque: No, dunking is forbidden in HORSE, but you can definitely imitate an MJ classic: the no-look free-throw shot. It is one of the easier shots to practice, but one that needs muscle memory to pull off.

HORSE Variations

Another delightful aspect of HORSE is its adaptability and free-flowing nature. You can actually tweak the rules to make it more challenging, and the shot difficulty is no-holds-barred. You can literally attempt crazy shots without conforming to the conventional basketball rules and see if someone can do the same.

There are also many variations on the game of horse. The following are some of the most popular variations, revisions, and additions to the basic HORSE rules. 

PIG: PIG is everything that HORSE is, only abbreviated. The whole point of a shortened HORSE game is to make it quicker, perhaps because of the number of players. Really, you may use any word to play this game, provided you can spell and keep track of the letters.

Reverse HORSE: You may also play HORSE basketball in reverse; that is, the winner is the one who successfully spells out all the letters. If a player leads with a shot that the other cannot replicate, he incurs a letter until all are spelled out. It is much more challenging than the usual HORSE, so ideally, this works best with more skilled players.

Tip HORSE: Tip HORSE is just the traditional HORSE with a twist. Like the Reverse HORSE, this is not for the faint of heart and only for the highly skilled. In this variation, a player only has a chance to take the lead only if he tips a missed shot in the air. If the tip-in is a success, the player who shot the ball is penalized with a letter. If a player misses a shot made by the previous shooter, they may receive two letters in one shot. It spells doom if you miss, which makes this variation super exciting.

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Written by Max Kesler

Max Kesler, a Philly native, is the chief editor at HoopsBeast. He has covered the game at NBA and NCAA levels. He hopes to see his beloved 76ers win a championship soon.

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