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Working Equitation is a relatively new sport that was developed in Portugal, Spain, France and Italy in the mid-1990s. Its purpose was to showcase the ability of the horses working on farms and with livestock in these countries. These working horses were already using basic dressage in their daily lives. They were agile and brave, which were necessarily traits to go through brush, open gates, cross bridges and herd cattle. The horses that are used today in Working Equitation can be any breed or size, and are rewarded by the judges for good movement and temperament throughout the trials.
Working Equitation is comprised of three events, or trials, for individuals: Dressage, Ease of Handling, and Speed. You can also compete in a team event where Cattle Handling is added to the regular events.
The Dressage phase is similar to a regular dressage competition, where horse and rider perform a pattern of movements and are awarded a score on each movement from 0-10. Gaits, impulsion, submission and presentation are also awarded marks.
In Ease of Handling, competitors negotiate a course of various obstacles such as bridges, gates, barrels, a back-through and a jump. This section is judged on how the obstacles are executed; the performance on course should look smooth and symmetrical.
In Speed, a course of obstacles are completed quickly, with the fastest time and fewest errors winning.
In Cow, teams of three or four riders sort, cut and herd a cow. This section is judged on smoothness and harmony of herding the animal.
Points from all events are then tallied to reveal the final placing for the event. It’s an exciting few days showcasing the versatile training of the horses competing!
There are several obstacles that riders new to the sport may have never seen before. With the Bell Corridor, competitors will enter a marked-out alleyway, ring a bell and reinback out of the alley. With the Jug obstacle, equestrians lift an empty jug from a table above their head and set it back down on a table. When performing the Gate obstacle, riders maintain contact with the gate while opening it, going through and shutting it behind them. In the obstacle called Remove & Replace Pole, riders have to pick up a pole, spear a ring that is affixed to a wooden cutout of a bull and put it into a drum. This obstacle honors the cattle-working roots of Working Equitation.
Similar to the sport of dressage, there are various levels you can compete at. The lowest levels are Introductory and Children’s. These levels allow you to have several refusals at obstacles and compete at walk/trot. There is no speed phase and riders can compete using two hands. At the highest Level 7 (Masters), riders have to compete with only one hand holding onto the reins. They also have to perform advanced movements such as flying lead changes, half-passes, leg yields and pirouettes! Each level gets progressively more difficult, so there is a challenge for riders at all levels, even if they are new to the sport. Horses learn to be well-rounded and trained by moving up the levels and encountering new challenges.
Working Equitation is a very inclusive sport: you can compete in Western, English or Spanish attire on any type of horse. The rule about attire is that whatever discipline of tack and clothing you begin competition in, you must compete in for the entire event. Dressage riders may be dressed in white breeches, with a black jacket, spurs and whip. You may also see riders in the traditional Spanish style of dress, which features a waistcoat, hat, jacket and Portuguese saddle. Tack also varies, but the general rule is that you must compete in a saddle with stirrups and a bridle. Tack should be neat and match the tradition you are dressed in. There can be some difference in rules between countries, so it is important to check the rules where you are competing.
If you are interested in Working Equitation, there are lots of ways to get involved! Check out WeCAN, where you can find how to contact your local chapter, plus rules, tests and competition information. The World Association for Working Equitation, or WAWE, governs international competitions such as the European and Junior Championships. There are many competitions across Canada, as well as clinics and fun obstacle days. Some events even offer a camp during the week to learn about Working Equitation with a competition on the weekend ‒ a great way to get started! The best part of this rapidly-growing sport is that everyone is invited to play. Grab your show clothes, saddle up your horse and head to your nearest Working Equitation event!
(To check out an amazing video showing how the pros do it, watch this: