DISCOVERING WORKING EQUITATION, by Sarah Blackburn
Working Equitation is an exciting new discipline currently sweeping across the equestrian world. Since the first European Championship in 1996, Working Equitation has become well-established throughout Europe, Brazil, Mexico, USA, Great Britain, Canada and Australia. In New Zealand, Working Equitation is still in its infancy. Ask a Kiwi rider if she has heard of Working Equitation and chances are she’ll squint a little and shake her head. My goal is to change that response to widening eyes and an enthusiastic nod!
So… what is all the excitement about? Working Equitation was created to fill a gap that existed in the realm of equestrian sport. The inspiration behind the idea was to provide a level playing field where a variety of horse breeds could excel, along with riders from many disciplines. You don’t require a 17hh Warmblood with extravagant leg movement to score well! On the contrary, Working Equitation was designed to reward welltrained ‘all-rounders’, so your handy little stationbred, Quarter House or cob has the potential to shine.
Another objective of Working Equitation is to promote Classical training principles and traditional horsemanship. Through Working Equitation, the equestrian techniques developed in countries whose riders use horses for work in the field may be preserved, along with the attire and tack unique to each nation’s equestrian heritage. Working Equitation riders are encouraged to express their individuality by competing in the tack and attire of their choice. You can choose whether you ride English, Side-saddle or Western. Working Equitation also provides the option to ride without a bit.
A Working Equitation competition comprises three phases, sometimes four if teams are involved.
First, riders perform a Dressage Test in a 40 x 20 metre arena. Working Dressage tests may look comparable to the regular Dressage tests you are currently practicing, however there are differences. The Working Dressage horse must show the ideal qualities for field work, particularly for working cattle. He must be prepared for rapid departures, stops and changes of direction. As a result, you will find transitions may be a little abrupt and more important is placed on impulsion than lengthening or suspension.
If you find the thought of Dressage intimidating, or you have no experience in that area, do not feel discouraged. Working Dressage Tests are designed to help you train your horse progressively up through the levels, preparing you both for the increasingly difficult movements required in the obstacle phases.
Second is the Ease of Handling (or Maneability) trial, in which horses must negotiate obstacles simulating those likely to appear in the field, such as traversing a bridge and passing through a gate. Other obstacles test skills necessary for working cattle, such as a figure eight around two barrels and skewering a ring with a pole. Each obstacle is scored out of 10. The obstacle course provides an opportunity to show off the athletic ability of the horse and the partnership between horse and rider. A judge will reward a partnership that makes the course of obstacles appear effortless – demonstrating calmness, confidence, harmony and finesse.
The third phase is the Speed trial, judged solely on the time taken to complete the course of obstacles, plus or minus any time adjustments that may accrue. This phase of the competition provides plenty of excitement and is popular with spectators. It is custom to cheer loudly as competitors successfully complete each obstacle.
The last phase, Cattle Penning, may be held at team competitions. Team members take turns to separate a specific numbered cow from a group and run it into a pen with the help of their team mates. This is also a timed event.
Many horse owners find Working Equitation particularly appealing because it offers a nurturing training environment for riders, regardless of the breed of their horse, or choice of tack or attire. It’s emphasis on harmony between horse and rider and quality training over fancy gaits, ensures only riders with utmost respect for their horse’s physical and mental soundness are rewarded. The main drawcard however, is that it’s a super-fun way to train your horse and to develop that feeling of partnership you’ve been yearning for.