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Working Equitation in the Foothills

Hear the word “equitation” and many horse enthusiasts think of a class judged on the rider’s form and effectiveness.  In reality, the definition of equitation is just the art and practice of horsemanship and horse riding. From there one could say, Working Equitation (WE) is the art and practice of horsemanship as it applies to the tasks that horses help people perform on the ranch.  While WE is an international sport originally pioneered by Italy, Portugal, Spain, and France, it is hitting its stride in the United States.  The first international competition was held in 1996 and then in 2004, the World Association for Working Equitation (WAWE) was established to govern the sport.  WAWE rules are used for all international competitions, but each individual country has its own rules for domestic competitions.

Working Equitation was formed to celebrate and showcase the horse and rider partnership with a foundation in classical horsemanship and the use of the horse in ranch work.  The sport seeks to support and allow countries to stay true to their own historical types of horsemanship, as well as working traditions and their traditional tack and attire.  Of course in the United States, that is a very diverse group with a melting pot of traditions and styles.  At local competitions you will see all shapes of saddles and styles of dress.

In the United States, Working Equitation competitions offer five performance levels to accommodate horses and riders at various stages of training: Introductory, Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, and Masters. The Masters level is the international standard of the sport.

In each level there are four trials or tests that are put together at a competition.  First, the Dressage trial consists of a test where collective marks are given for movements considering the horse’s impulsion, submission, and quality of gaits, as well as for the rider’s position and effective use of aids.  As with classical Dressage, each level builds upon the last and prepares the horses training for the next level.

The second trial is Ease of Handling, which applies the skills performed in the Dressage test to an obstacle course.  Each obstacle is given a score of 0-10 paying attention to the quality, ease, symmetry and geometry of the obstacles and transitions in between in light of what is looked for in the Dressage phase.

Third is the Speed trial which is often the horse and rider’s favorite, as well the spectators.  This phase takes a part of the same obstacle course as in the Ease of Handling phase, but time becomes the key component with time penalties being added for errors.

Finally, the Cow trial tests the ability of horse and rider pairs to work cattle individually and with a group of 3-4 horse and rider teams.  The objective is for each rider to individually sort, cut, and herd a pre-selected cow from the herd and then as a team herd the selected cow into a designated pen.  Due to the logistics of having cattle at an event, not all competitions have the Cow trial.

At the end of the competition, horse and rider pairs receive scores based on their placing in each of the trials, and then the scores are tallied to determine the overall placings.

Allison and Rosa

Over the past few years there have been a growing number of WE enthusiasts in the foothills.  Indian Hills resident Christina Turissini has been the force behind organizing lessons, clinics and play days for WE.

The foothills group started when Christina won a free group lesson from Allison Mazurkiewicz at a High Country WE event which resulted in bringing Allison to our area. Allison is excited to see this group flourish with regular clinics and advance in the sport. The Foothills group has a wide variety of horses and riders which makes her clinics educational for all, whether riding or watching.  Allison’s aim is to be an ambassador for the sport and spread the fun that is WE.  Allison competes up to the Intermediate level, holds an “r” judge card with the Confederation of WE (as well as holding a board position), is a member of WE United and is a founding member of High Country WE (created in 2014), who puts on several shows in Colorado every year.

Allison states, “Working Equitation requires you and your horse to work together as a team in a soft, fluid manner. As an instructor and trainer, I find the obstacle course an effective way to teach horses and riders how to focus and gain confidence in skills that might be new to them. The obstacles bring home the lesson of flat work training into everyday riding as a tool to improve your horse for any job you have them do.”

She goes on to mention, “students that have fear or confidence issues learn to focus on a task thereby reducing anxiety levels. The rider and the horse learn to perform something new and come together as a more confident team and are often more relaxed by the end of the lesson.”

Claire and Bitta

Local Claire Gosnell and her horse Bitta, an 11 year old Tennessee Walking Horse have been training and competing in WE since 2013.  Claire has found WE to be a great way to strengthen the horse and rider bond, as well as their communication in a powerful way.

Claire explains, “we enjoy all four phases of the sport. Dressage has helped develop collection, working from the hindquarters, soft feel, communication and precision. Working the obstacles is just flat out fun. Whether it’s working a gate, side-passing a pole or spearing a ring from a bull’s nose with a garrocha pole with precision or at speed, it has made us both a better horse and rider pair.  My favorite though is the cattle phase – the ultimate objective of WE.”

Whatever you do with your horse, WE has something you can use.  Jumping, Dressage, trail or western, WE touches on a part of your training.  Horses and riders can see the reasoning behind the flat work and doing obstacles adds an interest to schooling in the arena, plus WE creates a well-rounded horse and a confident rider.  2018 © Heather McWilliams

For WE information in the US, go to www.weunited.us and www.confederationwe.us.  Make sure to like the Foothills CO Working Equitation Facebook page (High Country Working Equitation too) for the latest on upcoming clinics and play days.  Contact foothills group founder, Christina Turissini at [email protected] and Allison Mazurkiewicz, Tall Grass Horsemanship at [email protected]  Mt. Falcon Equestrian is bringing in WE trainer Steve Kutie for clinics as well, see kutieperformancehorses.com/about and email Nicole at [email protected]