Collective Thoughts On Equitation

By Laura Ware

Laura Ware, winner of the LAHJA Junior Medal in November, 2007. Photo © AC Custom Photo

Riding in the equitation as a junior is almost like a rite of passage. All the top junior riders, regardless of how many horses they own or show, choose to keep their feet in the equitation ring, as equitation is what prepares juniors to have success in the other show rings, and eventually in the high level show jumping classes such as Amateur Owner or Grand Prix. Looking at the previous junior winners of both local and national medal finals and seeing how many of them are now top Grand Prix riders is indeed impressive.

Although waking up at the crack of dawn to chase down medal points gets old (I think there’s a USEF law somewhere that states that all major medal classes must begin at or before 8 AM!), riding in the equitation ring teaches us discipline, proper position, and the ability to maintain poise and composure regardless of what is happening underneath us.

I cannot speak for all the other riders out there, but I think that practicing position gets tedious, and, although my equitation is far from perfect, it would definitely be significantly worse if I were not being judged on it multiple times at each horse show! I am a competitive person, and being scored on my style gives me the much-needed motivation to practice it.
Several riders who exhibit strength in the equitation, as well as in the hunter and/or jumper rings, were kind enough to tell me about their opinions on and experiences in the equitation and medal classes.

Junior rider Hilary Neff: Competing in equitation takes a lot of discipline and patience, but most importantly, it is always fun. Because this division is subjective, it can sometimes be frustrating. It is easy to feel like a judge “ripped you off”, but in the end, good ribbons and bad ribbons even out. I try to remember that the judge knows best 99.9% of the time.
It takes a long time to become a competent equitation rider, but every second is worth it in the end. Also, you have to have a strong relationship with your horse in order to be successful, which to me, is the best part of the sport.

Amateur rider Hannah Selleck: Competing as an adult in Amateur Equitation is similar to competing as a junior, except Adult Equitation is much less competitive. There’s not the pressure to go in and get WIHS points or to have to get a certain number of points to make it to Indoors. Now I just go and ride my best, and have a good time! I’m almost enjoying the equitation more now than I ever have before. I still love doing the USEF Talent Search and I do have a goal to get my gold medal. Even though this is a pretty important goal for me, I still just go into the ring and really enjoy myself. Having the perspective of formerly competing in the equitation as a junior and now as an amateur, I can really see how important equitation is to give riders a strong foundation of basic skills like position and form. I have definitely transferred these skills from the equitation classes to the jumper ring and have found the experience of the medal finals invaluable. Note from Laura: I’m especially curious about this, as my amateur days are looming near. Yikes!

Junior rider Tina DiLandri: By riding in the equitation, you find your best position and learn how to manipulate certain situations in the ring – it is the base of riding. Riding in the equitation classes has taught me patience. It definitely helps me succeed in the hunters and the jumpers as well.

From competing in the equitation ring I have learned that everything is not as easy as it looks. There needs to be a true connection from the horse to the rider. You can have one of the best horses in the world, but if you don’t know how to ride it’s not going to work.

During the George Morris seminar in Florida, he told me not to be an emotional rider. It is so true that if you overreact your horse is also going to overreact and not stay calm. If something happens, fix it in a nonchalant way and stay calm. Overall, just have fun!
Junior Rider (and article author) Laura Ware: I agree with this premise; equitation has taught me to maintain a proper position which will encourage my horse, whether hunter or jumper, to jump in the best form possible.

A Flat Jump: However the growth of the equitation division has created an irony. An ideal equitation horse is one that jumps flat and has little feel in the air so a rider can maintain the most conventional and attractive position. This is fine; it’s nice to be able to leave the ground and feel almost nothing in the air, but having a flat-jumping horse will probably not bring success in other arenas of this sport. This is kind of ironic because the whole purpose of equitation is to prepare riders for other arenas, which demand a good-jumping horse. Plus, if you ask me, detracting from the horse’s form eliminates part of the thrill of this sport. There is no better sensation than cantering up to a perfect distance and feeling your horse explode in the air. And shouldn’t good riders be able to maintain a solid position when a horse jumps well?

Rails: A very controversial issue that gets all of us riders and trainers and parents in a fit is the question of whether or not to penalize a downed rail in an equitation class or final. There are those who believe that a rail is a major error (the whole point of this sport is to jump over the fences without a fault) and should be penalized accordingly. Then there are those who feel that the rail should only be penalized if it is the rider’s error, since these classes do focus on the rider. I’ve always found this a bit confusing. A jumper receives four faults for a rail and a hunter will score no higher than a 50, regardless of whose fault it was. Why can’t there be a solution as simple as this for the equitation ring?

I could go on all day about the pros and cons of this division, but the challenge of a job well done and then being judged subjectively is part of what makes it fun. Having to guess as to the results of each class keeps us on our toes (and in our heels), eager to improve our performances.

So like my colleagues above say, remember that the good and bad ribbons even out, have goals but also have fun, learn to get connected with your horse and don’t be an emotional rider. Most of all, don’t let the subjectivity get to you – it’s all part of the lessons we learn time and again.

Laura Listens is brought to you by Laura Ware. Winner of the 2007 LAHSA Junior Medal Finals and a recipient of the 2008 WCAR Jumper Rider Grant, Laura rides with First Field Farm and often trains with Archie Cox. She is very successful in the all three disciplines on her own mounts as well as catch riding other horses.