DunkOrThree > Learn & Improve > How to Play HORSE in Basketball

How to Play HORSE in Basketball

Publish Date: 29.01.2020
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster

If you have been around the game of basketball for any amount of time, then you have probably heard about the game of HORSE. If you haven’t, no worries, we’ll explain the game here, talk a little about why it is so popular and talk about some of the many variations of the game.

Playing an intense game of basketball is great and there is nothing like it, but sometimes it’s fun to just slow down and play a more relaxed, fun game like HORSE. It can be a great game for warming up before a game, cooling down after a tough practice, or just for fun anytime you have a hoop and a ball.

The game of HORSE can be played by any number of players and involves someone making a shot and the other players trying to make the same exact shot. Shots may consist of normal or trick shots, but the most important thing is that you explain your shot before shooting so everyone knows what they need to do if you make yours. If you miss a shot made by the person before you then you get a letter from the word “HORSE”. Once you have all 5 letters you are out of the game.

HORSE is great for working on your shooting and attempting trick shots that you would never try in a basketball game. It is often known as a game of “one-upmanship”, or let’s see who can do the most outrageous trick shot, but it can also just be simple layups, free throws, mid-range or long shots. A game of HORSE utilizing only traditional shots can be a very effective tool in improving your shot-making ability.

Let’s cover the basic rules of the game as well as some of the many add-ons and variations of the rules.

My Personal Experience

Aside from playing an actual game of basketball, HORSE is probably my favorite game to play. Growing up, I can remember playing countless games of HORSE with my father and my friends. For some reason, the game has always been very relaxing for me. It could be the slow-paced nature or maybe it is the ability to add your own creativity into basketball. I think it is also because the game really does not need to be taken seriously, it is just pure fun.

Whether it is trying to hit long shots from crazy places on the court, or coming up with some wild move and then laying the ball in, HORSE is probably the most creative game you can play in basketball. I remember trying to make shots from out in the yard or on the other side of the house. From behind the basket or bouncing it off the ground, the shots you can come up with are almost limitless.

Playing HORSE also always reminds me of that great Super Bowl commercial from 1993 with Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. They don’t really call it HORSE in the commercial, but that is basically what they are playing. If you have never seen it or want to watch it again, check it out. This game between Bird and Jordan is a great way to explain the game of HORSE.


“The Showdown” – Bird vs. Jordan McDonald’s ad – 1993

The Base Rules of HORSE

HORSE can be a very simple game, but there can also be many variations of the game and add-on rules that you may choose to use or even come up with yourself. Because it can be played in many different ways, let’s start by just going over the base rules of the game.

  1. The game can be played with 2 or more players. The more players you have, the more fun it can be, but the game can take much longer.
  2. Establish a shooting order for the players. Who will shoot first, second, and so on. This can be done in any number of ways. You can use alphabetical order, age, or height. Or you can always flip a coin, or play rock, paper, scissors.
  3. The first player shoots any type of shot from any spot (depending on any extra rules or restrictions you set). If the shot is made, then the next player must shoot and make the same shot.
  4. If the initial player shooting did not call any specifics about the shot such as “off the backboard”, “nothing but net”, etc, then the following player just needs to make the shot from the same spot that the initial player shot from.
  5. The initial shooter can call specifics about the shot such as “off the backboard”, “nothing but net”, etc. If so, and the shot is made exactly as specified, then the following shooter must make the shot according to how the initial shooter specified the shot.
  6. If the following shooter makes the shot, then the turn goes to the next shooter who must also make the shot. This will continue until someone misses or all players have made the shot and it is back to the initial shooter’s turn. In this case, the original shooter can then come up with a new shot.
  7. If a shooter misses the shot made by the person shooting before them, then they will receive a letter in the word HORSE, starting with the letter H, then O, and so on for each miss.
  8. After any shooter misses a shot, the next shooter up gets to create their own new shot and the cycle starts over.
  9. Once a player has all the letters in the word HORSE, they are out of the game.
  10. The last shooter who has not gotten all of the letters from the word HORSE is the winner of the game.

As mentioned above, there are many rules that can be added or modified. The important thing is that you have a set of rules when you start and go by those same rules throughout the game. Let’s take a look at some of the popular modifications and add-ons to the rules.

HORSE Variations

Below are some of the popular variations, modifications, and add-ons to the basic rules of HORSE.


PIG is a variation of the game where you use the word PIG instead of the word HORSE. This makes the game quicker and can be great if you have many players or very young players. Really, you can use any word you would like for the game.

The whole point of the word is to keep track of how many shots you have missed in the game.
So you could play PARASTRATIOSPHECOMYIA STRATIOSPHECOMYIOIDES (it’s a species of fly) if you really have lots of time on your hands and a way to keep track of the letters.


Depending on the skill level and physical abilities of the players, it can be very common to put restrictions on the type of shots that can be taken. For example, if all of the players do not have the ability to dunk due to height or jumping ability, you might have a restriction specifying “no dunking” (like Larry Bird had with Michael Jordan in the commercial above).


This is one of my favorite add on rules of the game. If a player misses a shot, any other player can try to tip the missed ball into the basket. Their feet must be off the ground during the tip-in. If the tip-in is successful, the player who shot the ball receives a letter. This gives the possibility of a player getting two letters during one shot if they miss a shot made by the previous shooter. Players who already have all the letters (HORSE) can continue to tip missed shots.

As an add-on rule to Tip HORSE, you may also subtract a letter from the person who successfully completed the tip-in. This can allow players to get back into the game after they have been eliminated because they can go from HORSE to HORS.

Other Rules

There are many other add-on rules that can be used such as if all players make the shot, the original shooter gets a letter. This helps prevent shooters from taking easy shots such as lay-ups. The adaptations and modifications to the game are probably endless but that is part of what makes it such a great game. You can be creative and adapt the game to whatever suits you and the other players best.

Get ready to play HORSE

HORSE is a great relaxing and fun basketball game that can often be used to show off your skills and be as creative as you want. All you really need to play the game is two or more players, a basketball and a hoop. Make sure to set the rules the way that works best for your group of players, then go out there and just have fun.

What is the craziest trick shot you have ever made or seen? We’d love to hear from you, so please leave your comments.

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