Working Equitation is one of the fastest growing sports in the country because it is an effective and fun way of training. It is based on classical principles and practices but done in an appealing modern format. It originated in Portugal and Spain and has been influenced by the training traditions of those countries both in the arena and on the ranch. Today there are national and international competitions in the United States, Europe, and Australia, and South America. Besides being an engaging competitive sport, it is great cross training for all equestrians.
Four categories are included in Working Equitation competitions. The first phase is a dressage test similar to modern competitive dressage with some slight but important differences. Working Equitation tests emphasize handiness and agility where competitive dressage tends to emphasize expressive gaits and high degree of collection. Working Equitation tests prepare the horse for the obstacle phases that follow. This portion of the show is also called the Functionality phase.
The second phase is called Ease of Handling and is the first of two obstacle courses. Obstacles are based on what might be found on the ranch. They include things like opening gates, crossing a bridge, stepping sideways over a pole, a small jump, putting a lance through a ring, slalom poles, and backing through a corridor. Course designers set the obstacles in varying orders and configurations each show to test competitors in different ways. In this phase, the handiness of a horse is highly tested as well as the rider’s equitation and the ability to make quick and effective decisions.
The Speed phase is the third leg of the show and perhaps the most exciting to watch and ride. Riders go through the same obstacle course. This time they are not judged on style but on time. Being the fastest pair through the course without penalties for things like knocking over an obstacle is the goal. The most successful horses and riders are those who combine speed and confidence, handiness and bravery. Riders cannot just gallop all the way through the course. They must choose when to go fast and when to be more careful through an obstacle. A successful run through the speed phase is a demonstration of the highest equestrian abilities.
The last phase is Cattle Sorting. Since it is a team event it is only included in national level shows where teams are fielded. A team member isolates one cow from a herd and then the whole teams sorts that cow to a predetermined pen. It tests teamwork and moving cattle efficiently and accurately. It is a timed event.
For a horse and rider to be able to do all of these phases is a lot of training and takes lots of practice. Besides being a growing competitive sport, many riders are finding that the versatility of the training is beneficial cross training that enhances their existing training regimens. For some getting into the arena for some basic or intermediate dressage work is a great way to get them in sync with their horse and develop their athleticism. For others, the obstacles are a great way to get out of the arena and help their horses be brave, capable partners. No matter what emphasis riders take, the overwhelming majority of people have said they had more fun than they thought they would before they started. People keep coming back to Working Equitation practice because of the rigor and versatility of the training combined with partnership building with their equine partners.
In the United States there are two organizations that handle recognized competitions and provide a nexus for Working Equitation on the internet. They are United States Working Equitation Association (www.usawea.com) and Working Equitation United (www.weunited.com). World Association for Working Equitation (www.wawe-official.com) is based in Portugal and runs international competitions and helps member countries coordinate national shows.
Because of the broad appeal of Working Equitation, don’t be surprised if you see more of your fellow equestrians and you having fun with it.