Dec8Collage.jpgThe Working Equitation Clinic with Kimberly Garvis was great fun. For the past seven years she’s been in Brazil competing and training horses for Working Equitation. Three months ago she returned to the States (she’s teaching in Virginia). She hasn’t experienced winter for a long time and with great trepidation she agreed to come to Canada the last weekend in November. The good news is: the temperatures hovered around plus three Celsius. The scary news is: the preceding weekend the temperatures started each morning at minus fifteen and warmed up to a chilly minus eleven. What a difference a week makes! I don’t think Kimberly would have faired all that well at minus fifteen. The clinic’s balmy temperatures seemed frigid to her. We gave up counting how many layers she piled on. Indoors she couldn’t get warm. Bill turned up the thermostat (from seventeen to twenty degrees). As far as we were concerned, it was too hot. Bill and I were taking off outer layers and switching wool socks for summer ones, but Kimberly kept the layers on and announced that the temperature was just right.

During the Friday evening lecture Kimberly explained the new sport (the first World Championships were in 1996). There are three phases in every competition, with a fourth phase at larger events and always at the Worlds.

She started with Phase One, dressage, explaining that there are no letters in the 20m x 40m ring. However, the middle of each long side is marked with something. It could be a pylon, a ribbon, or a mark drawn on the edge of the ring. The test for each level lists the movements you are to do and you do them in the order presented. For example, the following test is for Juniors (under 19) and Beginners:

1. Enter at a working canter. Halt. Salute facing the judge.

You enter on the centre line. You can stop anywhere on the line. If your horse canters straight, then you can canter the entire line and stop in front of the judge. If your horse isn’t straight, you can stop just after you enter. You decide what is best for your horse. The judges (there are usually three in Brazil, all at the short end of the ring) award more points to the rider who travels the length of the centre line with the horse straight than they will the rider who stops a few strides after entering the ring.

2. Describe a figure eight at a working walk comprising two circles with the same diameter.

The rider decides where to do the figure eight and how large the circles will be. Ten-metre circles earn more points than 20-metre circles.

3. Describe a half-pirouette on the right rein at a walk (leg yielding). What ‘leg yielding’ means is: the horse is slightly curved to the left as it does the 180 degrees to the right.

The half-pirouette can be done anywhere and be any size. The rider who does a small pirouette on the centerline or the quarterline will receive more points than the rider who does one at the edge of the ring.

4. Describe a half-pirouette on the left rein at a walk (leg yielding).

5. Describe a diagonal line at an extended walk, medium walk and transition to the canter.

Quite a few movements are grouped into this one section. Each judge will average the segments and write down one score. The diagonal line needs to be LONG to give the horse an opportunity to extend his walk for many steps. Kimberly says that every rider she saw rode the long diagonal from one corner, across the centre of the ring and into the far corner.

6. Describe two circles (each one twenty metres) with a simple change of hand at a walk (three to five strides). Canter at the other hand.

You can start on either the right or the left canter lead. 

7. Extend canter on one of the long sides and shorten the canter

The test only asks the horse to extend the canter on one of his leads. Because of this, the rider usually performs the movement on the BEST lead. To keep the test flowing the rider starts section 6 with the ‘not as good canter lead’, finishes the 20-metre circles with the good lead, continues on that lead and extends, then shortens the canter.

8. Take the centre line, halt, salute facing the judge

You can turn onto the centre line anywhere you want and halt where you want.

9. Exit at a free walk.

You are being judged as you leave the ring. You can’t pat your horse and/or talk to him until you exit the ring.

The test does have collective marks at the end, just like our dressage tests. These include: impulsion, movement, submission and position of the rider.

Kimberly said, “As you can see, the Working Equitation test has a heavy emphasis on the horse’s walk. The emphasis carries through to the second phase of the sport: the obstacles.”

Just hearing her say ‘obstacles’ got us all a-twitter, but she continued with dressage! Kimberly handed us the judging sheets for the dressage test I just outlined. “I’m going to show you a DVD of this test. You are to write down the score you think is appropriate for each of the nine sections and the collective marks. Then we’ll watch the test again and I’ll tell you the scores the judges gave AND the reason for each mark.”

Suddenly our nice, passive Friday evening was jolted into action. We had to think. We had to evaluate. We had to JUDGE!

Once we recovered, Kimberly had another job for us. She handed out a paper with a 20 x 40 metre dressage ring drawn on it. Bill studied it for a few seconds and announced, “It’s not the correct shape. It’s too long for the width.” Everyone of us carefully measured our drawing. Bill was right.

Undaunted, Kimberly explained, “Take the test we’ve just judged and draw how you would ride it on your horse.” This, too, was an excellent exercise.

“Phase Two is the obstacle course. It is ridden at a canter between the obstacles. At each obstacle the rider does a transition to the walk. The judge evaluates three things: the transition, the horse and rider completing the obstacle and the transition from the walk to the canter when the rider has finished the obstacle.” If a rider does not canter, the judge still evaluates what’s happening and gives a lower score because the gait between the obstacle was not done at the canter.

Kimberly put us to work again. We received a diagram of an obstacle course and the judging sheet. In the DVD of Phase Two Kimberly was riding one of her horses.

Phase Three is the speed class. A few of the obstacles are removed and the course is done as fast as possible. But not always! Kimberly explained the scoring system. After the first phase the riders are listed in order of best performance. The best rider receives nine points. The rider in second place receives seven points and so on. The second phase is ridden in reverse order, finishing with the best scoring rider. After phase two is completed the scores are awarded: nine points for first place, seven for second…. Phase three is also ridden in reverse order. Let’s say that the phase one winner finishes second in phase two. This rider has sixteen points. Let’s also say that the second-place rider going into phase three has five points. Our leader does not need to ride at speed through phase three to win the competition. Our leader needs to do every obstacle cleanly and not make any errors, thus explaining why the speed class isn’t always done FAST by every rider.

Phase Four is Working Cattle. A team of four riders are presented with cattle. The task is to separate one from the group and get it into a pen.

Riders are encouraged to bring their own choice of music for the first three phases of Working Equitation. The tune that leapt to my mind was ‘Staying Alive’ from Saturday Night Fever. It’s a fitting companion piece to the song Bill and I chose for our first Pas de Deux on Zelador and Zeloso, Del Shannon’s ‘My Little Runaway’.

On Saturday we headed for the arena. Kimberly worked with each rider, presenting exercises to supple the horse at the walk. She explained the walk pirouette in Working Equitation lingo and we rode the test we’d judged Friday.

On Sunday we rode the obstacles after a walk-suppling warm-up, followed by some trot. Out of the five horses in the clinic only Kye was ridden at a canter between obstacles. Kimberly got on him and did a beautiful job on the bending poles, with flying changes between each one. She was the fifth rider on Kye that day! Kye, very gallantly, gave these riders an opportunity to experience phase two of Working Equitation.

On Saturday one rider worked at a time, on Sunday the riders paired up. Since we had an uneven number, Zelador and I rode alone. We went first. Quite a few auditors were expected, but at our start time of 11:00 (we chose to schedule the riders during the WARM part of the day) only one spectator was in the arena. I knew Zelador wouldn’t be distracted when the people showed up.

As we went around the course Kimberly explained the rules. Within minutes Zelador and I were disqualified four times. Our first misdemeanor occurred as we approached obstacle number one, the bridge. There were two barrels, a jump standard and the bull standing unobtrusively along the north side of the arena. We passed between them. Can’t do that! Turns out that those four objects were one obstacle. The rider cannot enter or cross through an obstacle on route to an obstacle. However, once you’ve done an obstacle, the rule no longer applies. By the time you’ve done them all, you can ride anywhere you want.

I approached the bending poles and turned left. Can’t do that. You go to the right (right lead canter) on everything BUT the round pen (sometimes referred to as a ‘sheep fold’). This is a pen with critters in it and a corridor marked around it with a five-foot wide opening into the corridor. At the beginning levels the rider goes around the pen in either direction. At the highest level, the rider canters around the pen in one direction, exits, does a canter pirouette and a flying lead change, then goes around the pen in the other direction. About the critters, in one event Kimberly said there was a BIG turkey in the pen. Glad I wasn’t there!

The reason for my disqualification the third and fourth time was identical. I patted Zelador’s neck after he did an excellent job standing still while I lifted the jug above my head. A minute later I patted him again because he backed out of the corridor after stopping for me to ring a bell suspended from a pole over my head. On more than one occasion he’s decided the reinback is the perfect opportunity to have a little fun with the obstacle. He thoroughly enjoys dislodging the poles on each side of the corridor from their blocks AND moving the blocks to a more appropriate locations.

Our most challenging obstacle was the line with the barrels, the bull and the jumping standard. The task was: lift the eight foot long pole out of the first barrel, proceed to the jumping standard. On top of it there was a small metal circle. Spear the pole through the circle, ride to the bull and spear the ring on top of it onto the pole. Continue to the second barrel and place the pole and two rings in it.

From start to finish there are tricky bits. There are two ways to grab the pole and, you guessed it, I chose the most awkward way. I picked it up with my fingers towards the ground. This position required me to lift the pole sort of backwards out of the barrel, shift the pole into a comfortable position, then aim for the tiny ring. This ring is three inches in diameter and the pole is a thick dowel, at least an inch-and-a-half in diameter. (Ideally the pole is ten to thirteen feet long and an inch thick.) The efficient way to grab the pole out of the barrel is with the fingers slightly upward and the heel of the hand down. The pole almost lifts itself out of the barrel.

I totally missed the ring on my first attempt. Kimberly said, “Continue to the next one.” I had no problem with the large eight inch diameter ring on the bull.

Now, after all of this ring business you’d think that placing the pole and rings in the second barrel would be a piece of cake. Think again. You see… you need to get a finger on the two rings. If you DON’T, they have a tendency to slide over your wrist. If that happens you’ll find that depositing the rings and pole in the barrel is almost impossible, if not downright painful.

Moving right along, Zelador did a lovely job during the opening and closing of the gate. Kimberly explained that there are competitions where the ‘gate’ is a rope between two jumping standards. This combination is often used at the beginner levels where the competitors are asked to open the gate, but not required to close it.

She also mentioned that in the higher levels of Working Equitation all phases are ridden at the canter with one hand on the reins. Every rider in the clinic tried this.

Before the end of the clinic we booked Kimberly for next spring. We’ll hold another Working Equitation Clinic at Winsong Farm and on the same trip she’ll travel to Luther Marsh and work with Paso Fino enthusiasts. There’s also a group near Quebec City that wants to host a clinic. Our 2009 clinic will most likely have an additional clinician. Kimberly had several coaches in Brazil and she’s hoping to bring either her obstacle coach or her speed coach with her.

A lady in British Columbia is putting together a Working Equitation Handbook for Canada. Apparently each country can create many levels leading up to the international one. I hope that at the grass-root level there will be classes which are very inviting. Perhaps one will be limited in phase two to the walk, another class might be for a specific breed. Also, I’ve read that countries are encouraged to add obstacles that are typical of their culture. One came to mind the other day. I was riding and realized that I needed to put on my winter jacket. Zelador was a saint; standing perfectly still, as I tried four or five times to get the recalcitrant zipper to work! Dressing for cold-weather riding sounds Canadian to me.

Several North Americans have attended week-long coaching and judging clinics in Brazil. Yep, interest is growing! Wouldn’t it be GREAT if the 2009 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto held a competition in Ricoh Stadium?! I can see riders and horses from different disciplines coming together on an even playing field. Now THAT’S entertainment!