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Working Equitation – the discipline turning heads (and hooves) around the world…

Author: Jody Hartstone/Wednesday, March 24, 2021/Categories: Blog

Working Equitation – the discipline turning heads (and hooves) around the world…

Working Equitation is a multi-discipline event which emphases the training and partnership between horse and rider and embodies the working philosophies of times where horses were not just our pets or competition partners, but part and parcel of a farming lifestyle too.

The main aim of working equitation is to have a functional horse that has a great relationship with its rider. All horses can benefit from the obedience and maneuverability required, and it is an enjoyable way to train your dressage or riding horse. It brings together riders from various disciplines including western, dressage and jumping. Ponies, bitless horses and all breeds are also allowed and encouraged. Best of all it’s a whole heap of fun but be warned - it is much harder than it looks!

The sport of Working Equitation was pioneered by four countries - Italy, Spain, France and Portugal. The first international competition was held in 1996 at the European Championships in Italy. In 2004 WAWE (World Association for Working Equitation) was formed as a governing body and the sport has since entrenched itself throughout Europe, USA, Great Britain, Brazil, Mexico and Australia with New Zealand set to follow suit. We are very lucky to have some experienced instructors in New Zealand already, which is a blessing while we have Covid travel limitations in place. 

The discipline was created as a way of promoting and preserving the traditional styles of riding and equestrian culture that have developed in countries where horses are used in different aspects of ranch and field work. It also acts as a showcase for traditional riding costumes and equipment within a competition atmosphere. These cultural and sporting aspects make for a truly unique sport.

The following is a brief explanation of the four phases of the sport. Dressage, Ease of Handling and the Speed test are required for both Team and Individual Competitions and the fourth, the Cattle Penning trail used only in team competitions.

Dressage Phase

This phase is very similar to a regular dressage test, but in a 20x40 arena and at the higher levels of the sport the test is performed one handed. Marks are given out of 10 for each of the prescribed movements and collective marks are awarded at the end for impulsion, compliance, calmness etc. The dressage phase tests the training of the horse and rider at a level relevant to the Ease of Handling test for each grade. The horse is required to be very forward and active yet light and attentive to the rider at all times.  Unlike regular dressage – there is little emphasis place on extravagant paces, but instead, the training, flexibility and ability to collect and be energetic are scored highly. 

Ease of Handling Phase

This phase is a course of obstacles set up to replicate the challenges faced by the horse and rider working in the field. The obstacles are approached at walk or canter depending on the obstacle and all are executed with only the left hand on the reins (at lower levels trot is allowed and both hands are used). The obstacles are numbered like in a show jumping round, and the course is walked in a similar fashion, however in this instance the judge is walking the course with the competitors to answer any technical questions.  Each obstacle is marked out of ten, similar to a dressage test with the judge looking for the balance and control of the horse, its confidence approaching the obstacle and the accuracy and ease of which each obstacle is tackled.

Obstacles can include things such as a bridge, slalom, double slalom, guaracha pole with bull and ring, small jump, the opening and closing of a gate, clover leaf barrels, side pass pole, stock pen, rein back L or Z, bell corridor.

The course is designed to test the rider and horse’s skill and control and to display both trust and empathy between the two. Accuracy, lightness and balance should be displayed from one obstacle to the next. Working Equitation is judged on the principles of classical riding with the horse working with the rider and responding to the lightest of aids.

Speed Phase

This phase uses the same obstacles as the ease of handling test but this time they are ridden at speed with no emphasis on style. Penalty seconds are given for any incorrect / mishandles obstacles. This test assesses the rider’s hand-eye co-ordination and the horse’s speed, attention and submission. It is very exciting to watch!

Cattle Penning Phase

This phase is only used in team events. It assesses the horse and rider’s ability to work with cattle. The combination needs to be able to sort and cut a cattle beast from the herd and then work with other team members to put it into a designated pen. This is a timed event.

An International Sport – Dominated by the Portuguese…

Every four years there is a World Championship for Working Equitation. The first was in 2002 in Portugal with 7 countries represented. Portugal won the teams event and a Brazilian rider also mounted on a Lusitano was the individual champion.    In 2006, the championships were hosted in Lisbon with Portuguese horsemen taking out the team and individual medals. In 2011 it was a similar story when held in France. There were 6 nations represented and Portugal again won team gold and Pedro Torres from Portugal was the overall individual winner. The most recent World Championship was held in Austria with ten nations in attendance. A clean sweep for Portugal once again with Portugal taking home both team and individual honors.

The Portuguese are known for being masters of this sport, but this is due in no small part to their steed of choice, the Lusitano horse.  The flexibility, trainability and quick mind of this ancient pure breed make them the choice for many other nationalities of riders as well.

Pedro Torres  - The Best of the Best

Few can deny the prowess Portuguese horseman Pedro Torres has in the sport.  A quick google search will pull up many you tube clips of Pedro and his incredible grey Lusitano stallion Oxidado performing both the Ease of Handling and Speed rounds at various international shows.  Pedro is also a top trainer for both Working Equitation and dressage and I have been very lucky to meet and train with him on occasion when visiting his stables in Portugal. 


If you have not been as lucky as I have to have had a lesson from the master himself on a horse also trained by Pedro, I am pleased to say www.wehorse.com can offer you the next best thing!


The international training website WE HORSE (www.wehorse.com) has exclusive footage of Pedro Torres teaching us all his training methods for both dressage and the sport of Working Equitation.


Why not have an explore around their website – there are lots of other great trainers on there too.


The sport of Working Equitation is a chance to enhance your riding skills, increase your horse’s rideability, meet some great new friends and best of all HAVE FUN!!


For more information on the sport in NZ check out Working Equitation New Zealand Inc at the website www.wenz.nz

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