The Horsemanship behind Working Equitation

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

In light of our upcoming Working Equitation Obstacle Clinic, we thought we would share some of our thoughts on the subject of Working Equitation and our approach to preparing a horse to compete in the Manageability (Obstacle) and Speed sections.

Whether preparing a horse to compete at showing at futurities with utility patterns, working equitation, camp drafting, show jumping or dressage, a fundamental approach of good horsemanship does not change. There are a common set of horsemanship principles which apply to any discipline, and support the horse and rider in a wide variety of situations.

What is working equitation?

Pam Andrew attending a working equitation clinic.
Pam completing the stock crate obstace.

Working Equitation is a sport designed to promote the classical principles and varied styles of working riding culture from different countries. It is based on traditional Southern European methods used to train horses for fieldwork, and originates from Portugal, France, Spain and Italy. Working Equitation is now a 4 Phase Equestrian discipline and is well established as an international sport.

There are four phases in a competition, however the cattle penning phase is not always included.

a. Working Dressage Phase. Prescribed tests are ridden at each level.

b. Obstacle Phase. Numbered obstacles are set up to simulate the difficulties encountered by a horse and rider in the field. The goal is for accuracy, ease and smoothness.

c. Speed Phase. Obstacles are ridden at speed. Individual scores are based on elapsed time through the obstacles with time penalties added for missed or mishandled obstacles.

d. Cattle Penning Phase. Tests the ability of a horse and rider to work with cattle individually and with a team of 4. Each rider will individually sort, cut, and herd a pre-selected cow from the herd and then as a team guide it into a designated pen. This is a timed event, with time penalties for course errors.

Working equitation can also be enjoyed non-competitively. It is a great way to improve your partnership with your horse whilst participating in a fun and challenging environment.

How can good horsemanship help you enjoy working equitation?

It can be frustrating when it seems so easy for those top riders you see on Youtube to simply canter their horses straight across the bridge then complete the rest of the course flawlessly – and your horse won’t even place a hoof on a bridge.

Pam attending a working equitation clinic.
Pam approaching the bull obstacle.

When approaching an obstacle, or anything that is difficult for your horse (eg. float loading), the goal is not necessarily to complete the obstacle every time. If your horse is worried about the bridge but by the end of the session can place two front feet on it, while staying calm and relaxed, you have succeeded. You have built his confidence in you and helped him do something which he was worried about before. You now have a positive experience to build on next time.

Keep in mind that your horse doesn’t always refuse to do something because he is being naughty or lazy, he might be worried or unsure about what you’re asking him to do. The trick to getting him to complete the task, is building his confidence in you as the rider.

The goal should be for you and your horse to get closer to completing the obstacle in a calm and confident manner. With this in mind, every time you will get closer and finally be able to complete the obstacle with a calm horse. This confident partnership will then allow you to move onto more challenging situations.

During our clinic we will be working through the Obstacle Phase. This will be such a great opportunity to practice building your horse’s confidence and trust in you, as well as improve your horse’s performance!

A thought to leave you with….

When you give as much weight to your horse’s emotional state as you do your own, and strive to have these in unison, the outcome will be a partnership of quality, confidence and trust in each other’s performance.

We hope to see you there.

Happy riding,

Anstead Acres

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