Dressage + Obstacles = Working Equitation
‘Equitation’ is the study and practice of riding and horsemanship. ‘Working’ Equitation adds a purpose to this. Working Equitation (WE) is now a competitive sport that anyone can participate in, from beginner to advanced level no matter what breed of horse or type of saddle you ride in. It’s an inclusive multi-faceted sport that offers something for everyone and develops a high degree of unity and respect between horse and rider.
WE as a sport has enormous potential in Australia as it combines respectful gymnastic aspects of classical dressage and the skills and fitness required of horses working stock in the field, on the farm, or through the bush. Simply, you put a few obstacles in a dressage lesson and suddenly you create purpose and meaning to something that previously had no meaning for the horse, and required great imagination of the rider.
Whatever your passion, dressage, jumping, eventing, endurance, trail riding or groundwork: the experience you and your horse will gain from WE training is perfectly transferable and beneficial to every other discipline.
WE is a fascinating fun sport that promotes varied styles of riding culture from different countries. Its multicultural and multi-challenging.
Why is dressage easier with obstacles?
As a teacher of dressage and Working Equitation I love the way obstacles make the dressage easy. A gate to open makes lateral work meaningful. A barrel in the middle of a circle makes more sense to the horse, something to go around, and to focus on. If I ask the rider to keep looking at and turning to the barrel she quickly feels how much easier the horse is turning and bending. Without describing the aids to use, it happens more naturally, as the horse mirrors our balance and position. By planning and looking ahead & focussing on the job – the movement is more balanced and soft. Done well, WE requires many voltes, flying changes and collection, and collection requires great balance and impulsion without tension. These priorities enable the path to one handed lightness and ease in the highly skilled manoeuvrers of Master’s Competition.
Be my Leader – lead me somewhere
Another aspect I love about WE is watching a relationship of discovery and trust developing between horse and rider as the “leader” emerges to guide the horse through challenging obstacles.
Horses are easily bored and often lose forward motivation and straightness when the pilot lacks a clear plan e.g. being unsure, uncommitted, looking down or not providing positive leadership to go ‘somewhere’. Imagine playing soccer or basketball without the goal posts! How odd it must feel to the horse to keep going around in the same rectangle without actually going anywhere or finding any food or water at the end of it. Look up, plan ahead, give the horse a job to do, and remember give a break and praise often.
When any activity lacks purpose it becomes difficult and demotivating. And a $3 ribbon at the end of the day means little if we know we have forced, pushed and pulled our horses around the course. This is where Working Equitation fills a huge gap for many riders who are looking for something meaningful, respectful and fun. Many riders, young and adult simply want to have fun with their horses. Out competing, at home or trail riding, we need to control our horse in a range of situations, so we can ride anywhere and feel safe.
Exposing horses to a range of obstacles in a safe and supportive environment is the perfect way to do this. You don’t need to be experienced in WE to join the rallies and clinics. This is where you gain the experience and where your horse learns to explore and gain confidence with obstacles. Most WE clubs & clinics will encourage young, green or nervous horses to start out in-hand, and hop on when you and the horse feel comfortable.
Make me safe
Horses are unpredictable. We all know that handling and riding horses is a high-risk activity. Surprisingly too many enter into it unaware, uneducated and unprepared. Inexperienced horses and riders can be easily injured when confronted with unusual or challenging situations. Sadly there is no licence required to ride a horse, nor to teach someone to ride. And there are many self-proclaimed experts who may lead you up a strange and shaky garden path. So how can Working Equitation help to make your horse safe?
The good news is that progressively and respectfully most horses can be desensitised to cope with an array of strange things that they may not normally see. Horses are incredibly trainable, cooperative and willing when we guide them calmly with respect for their physical and emotional capabilities. There is no need to force, punish, push or insult the horse’s sensitive nature. What we do need is to provide leadership and inspiration to motivate the horse to try something. Add a little time and a little understanding of how horses react and respond to their environment, and you have the recipe for a safe pathway.
The arena is the gym
It is easy to fall into the trap of boring circles and straight lines with endless half halts thinking that we are ‘straightening’ and training our horse for dressage. But in reality – we don’t straighten asymmetrical horses by riding them straight – we straighten them by stretching, loosening and suppling them, by flexing and bending – just as we would going to the gym or Yoga. We need to do curved lines, voltes, corners, changes of rein, figure 8s, serpentines, neck rein turns, zig-zags, loops, counter bends, rein-back, moving the quarters around the shoulders, and the shoulders around the quarters, and progressively all the lateral work. Many riders don’t ask the horse to bend the neck. If your horse doesn’t soften, lengthen or bend his neck you will not be able to straighten and balance his body. The neck acts as a lever to help us create straightness. Not allowing the neck to bend can cause stiffness in the neck – just as we feel when we sit too long or too still in one position.
In WE the arena as a gym for the horse. Obstacles enable a workout of stretching, loosening and bending to take place with purpose and direction. A few barrels, cones and poles provide a wealth of creative activities.
Common Obstacles in the Style Phase
Depending on the level, there may be up to 16 obstacles in a Style competition, and a few less in the speed phase.
- Figure 8 – 2 Barrels
- Cloverleaf – 3 Barrels
- Stock Pen
- Corridor with Bell & rein-back
- Collect Pole, skewer ring, Replace Pole
- Switch cup & rein-back
- Single or double slalom
- Side-pass over pole
- Water Ditch
- Varied footing
- Bank jump
- Move sack
- L shape side pass poles
10m circle around the stock pen
Working Equitation Clubs in Victoria
For information on WE in Victoria see: http://www.anwevic.com.au/ or join the ANWE Vic FB page at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/577832235696905/
A few WE groups in Victoria are now affiliated with HRCAV: Working Equitation Geelong (WEG), Working Equitation Yarra Valley (WEYV), Traralgon & district Adult Riding Club (TARDAC) and Macedon Ranges Working Equitation (MRWE). Guest riders are welcome to attend most rallies and clinics.
Susie Walker lives in the Yarra Valley and is a founding member of WEYV. She Teaches Classical Dressage & Horsemanship, is qualified as an EA Coach, and is an accredited Trainer and Judge of Working Equitation. For more information please use the contact form here: