Fast, Fu­ri­ous, & Pre­cise!

The sport of work­ing equitation, rel­a­tively new to the U.S., is find­ing ar­dent fans among West­ern per­for­mance-horse en­thu­si­asts.

Horse & Rider - - Contents - BY JEN­NIFER FORSBERG MEYER

Work­ing equitation? It’s the hot new sport find­ing ar­dent fans among West­ern-horse en­thu­si­asts in the U.S.

What com­bines the beauty of dres­sage, the thrill of speed events, the pre­ci­sion of a trail class, and the skill set of a work­ing ranch horse?

That would be work­ing equitation (WE), a dis­ci­pline pop­u­lar in Europe and rapidly gain­ing ad­her­ents in the U.S. Founded in the mid-1990s in Por­tu­gal, Spain, France, and Italy, this in­ter­na­tional sport show­cases the equitation tech­niques de­vel­oped in coun­tries that use horses to do ranch work. And, within the last four years, the WE craze has taken off in earnest in the U.S. “We’ve been see­ing an in­crease of about 20 per­cent per year in the num­ber of li­censed com­pe­ti­tions of­fered,” says Julie Alonzo, past-pres­i­dent of WE United, one of the or­ga­ni­za­tions pro­mot­ing the dis­ci­pline here in the States. “West­ern riders with a solid foun­da­tion in ranch rid­ing and those who fol­low the va­quero tra­di­tions have been mak­ing an impact in the sport.”

Work­ing equitation in­volves four phases—work­ing dres­sage; ease of han­dling with ob­sta­cles; speed with ob­sta­cles; and, in the high­est-level events, cat­tle han­dling. (For de­tails, see “Work­ing Equitation, Ex­plained,” at right.)

Is WE for you and your horse? Read on to learn how oth­ers have found their way into this fas­ci­nat­ing sport.

Per­fect Start­ing Point

Robin Bond trains out of Deer Springs Equestrian Cen­ter in San Mar­cos, Cal­i­for­nia, and nearby Ran­cho Des­canso in Val­ley Cen­ter. A fan of the tra­di­tional va­quero method of train­ing cow horses, she’s shown three mounts in the Na­tional Reined Cow Horse As­so­ci­a­tion Fu­tu­rity. Her geld­ing Chapo (Joses Per­fec­tion) was top 10 in NRCHA bri­dle horse com­pe­ti­tion in 2006. In 2014, she pulled the 14.3-hand Quar­ter Horse geld­ing out of re­tire­ment to show in her first WE event.

“It was at the An­dalu­sian World Cup in Las Vegas, where the work­ing equitation was held as an open class,” she re­calls. (WE was in­tro­duced to the U.S. by breed or­ga­ni­za­tions for An­dalu­sians and Lusi­tanos, the nat­u­ral cow

horses of the Ibe­rian Penin­sula. Now a large por­tion of en­tries in this coun­try are Quar­ter Horses.)

“We were in the in­ter­me­di­ate di­vi­sion,” Bond con­tin­ues. “My lit­tle cow horse went around un­der a Por­tuguese judge and wound up the high-scor­ing horse—our first time out. It was great!”

WE en­cour­ages com­peti­tors to show in the tra­di­tional gear of the rider’s coun­try and/or of the type of horse rid­den. At an event, you’ll see en­tries turned out in all man­ner of English and West­ern gear, all com­pet­ing against each other.

“I adore the fact that you can go to a show and see some­one in dres­sage at­tire, some­one in a charro out­fit, some­one in Cal­i­for­nia bri­dle horse gear—and we’re all do­ing the same thing. It’s an in­cred­i­ble con­cept,” Bond says.

She adds that re­gard­less of the tack you’re in, you’ll be judged in part on your horse’s qual­ity of move­ment. “You’ll have to break out of that jog— you’ve got to gen­uinely trot— and your horse must show some en­gage­ment of the hindquar­ters.”

Bond’s ul­ti­mate goal for her­self is a chal­leng­ing one.

“I want to com­pete in the ranch ver­sa­til­ity rid­ing class at the Quar­ter

Horse World Show,” she says, “then com­pete with that same horse at an equally ad­vanced level in work­ing equitation. I don’t know if it can be done, but that’s what I’m shoot­ing for.”

You needn’t have your sights set that high, though, to ben­e­fit from WE.

“This sport will teach you a va­ri­ety of skills, and you can work your way up nat­u­rally in the com­pe­ti­tion,” notes Bond. “It’s not like rein­ing, where right away you have to man­age slid­ing stops and lead changes.”

That means the lowest lev­els of WE pro­vide the per­fect start­ing point for novice riders.

Don’t Fear the Dres­sage

Jill Lovelace boards and trains at the Emer­ald Val­ley Equestrian Cen­ter in Eu­gene, Ore­gon. She and her 14-yearold Foun­da­tion Quar­ter Horse geld­ing, Driftin Ju­niper, have com­peted in drill team, moun­tain trail, stock horse, and cow sort­ing.

“And now work­ing equitation!” she says with rel­ish, not­ing that she had some ma­jor chal­lenges along the way. “I started rid­ing late—at 49—and my horse has had a num­ber of is­sues, both men­tal and phys­i­cal. Plus I wasn’t ini­tially a fan of dres­sage.”

She found, though, that lessthan-op­ti­mal dres­sage skills don’t nec­es­sar­ily kill your chances.

“It’s a pro­gres­sion,” she ex­plains of the com­pe­ti­tions. “The dres­sage comes first, then the ease of han­dling, then the speed. You can be fourth in dres­sage, then move up later on. I’ve won sev­eral times while be­ing ‘not the best’ in dres­sage.”

For all these rea­sons, she says, WE is some­thing you can do with “the horse you have.”

“Like dres­sage alone, work­ing equitation will make your horse bet­ter and bet­ter. I hated to see the nat­u­ral car­riage go away in the stock horse events I’d been show­ing in. WE, by con­trast, is much more ‘body-friendly’ for your horse—there’s a lot of sup­pling and stretch­ing. I wanted to learn self-car­riage for my horse and the proper biome­chan­ics of rid­ing for my­self, and that’s ex­actly what I’ve got­ten out of it.”

And, as a bonus, she says her horse “loves it as much as I do.”

To learn more about this emerg­ing sport, in­clud­ing how to get in­volved, see “Booster Groups," above.

Robin Bond in the dres­sage phase (be­low). Bond and Joses Per­fec­tion, a for­mer top-10 NRCHA bri­dle horse (at right), were the high-scor­ing en­try their first time out at in­ter­me­di­ate-level work­ing equitation.

Dres­sage is the first phase of a work­ing equitation event. En­tries ex­e­cute a set pat­tern; judg­ing cri­te­ria in­clude the rider’s horse­man­ship and the horse’s bal­ance, im­pul­sion, and will­ing­ness.

Jill Lovelace of Ore­gon says she’s won sev­eral work­ing equitation classes af­ter be­ing “not the best” in dres­sage, then mov­ing up af­ter do­ing well in the two ob­sta­cles phases.

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