Equitation is a word that seems to have fallen out of favour nowadays, even within the equestrian world. I chose to name my business Starks Equitation for two reasons; Ian Stark (the Olympic eventer and unfortunately no relation) has a business Starks Equestrian, and I wanted to highlight the fact that my business was oriented around riding horses, as opposed to providing livery services or selling equine equipment.
What does the word equitation mean though, and why am I rambling on about it?
Equitation is the art or practice of horse riding or horsemanship.
I have chosen to start talking about equitation because of a thought I had months ago when I was writing for a dressage judge, and a conversation I had last week.
Let me tell you about the conversation firstly. It wasn`t so much a two way conversation, but we were discussing how Matt finds medium canter quite difficult and I said that I had always struggled to impress the show judges with our gallop. Except this one time.
We were in an Equitation class at one of the county shows. I remember being quite impressed with the idea of equitation – maybe I had a chance as Matt never stood out, but I knew that my riding was okay. It was a busy class and I felt like we were standing in line for ages. I looked around to plan my show as the judge hadn`t specified. Where could I get a good gallop?
When it was my turn, I went out and halted in front of the judge in the other direction to everyone else. After saluting I moved off in trot, rode my figure of eight in canter, and then came round ready to gallop behind the line. As I got level with the line, ready to turn right, Matt glanced left. I knew he would, after all the generator of the burger van was chugging away. As I turned right I kicked hard and let him spook, semi-bolt, and most importantly, gallop away from the generator. We calmly collected the canter at the other end before trotting and halting to salute the judge.
I remember patting him, knowing that I`d had his best show-ring gallop to date, but I wasn’t expecting to be pulled in third! Yes, I know equitation classes judge me more than Matt, but I felt marginally more motivated to keep showing for a bit longer, as well as feeling smug that I`d learnt some ring craft finally.
So now. The reason why I`m bringing this up?
When I was watching the dressage tests I felt there were several categories of competitor. Firstly, there were the lower level riders on their old faithfuls, perhaps having a go at their first dressage test. Then there were more competent riders on their green youngsters. And there were average riders on their schoolmasters. The dressage judge said to me at the time that she wished she could judge the riders as much as the horse, as she felt that some horses were being let down by the riders, or vice versa, but the test sheet had to reflect the horse, and not the rider.
Which made me thing. Surely that by competitions focusing solely on the results of the horse we are encouraging, or at least not dissuading, poor riding and bad habits in order to get results.
Could British Dressage somehow incorporate equitation into their dressage tests? Perhaps there could be a “Best Rider” rosette, or an Equitation league a bit like the RoR league? Or perhaps there should be a totally separate equitation class, with a different test that marks each movement in accordance to the rider`s balance, position, accuracy, and application of the aids?
You see equitation promoted in some showjumping competitions where they have a style class, or in JAS competitions where you are judged on how stylishly you tackle the course of fences. Hunter trials and arena cross country could incorporate some equitation fairly easily, I`m sure. When I`ve taught young kids at Pony Club and had to do a little showjumping competition I`ve often judged it on style rather than whether they were clear or not – I look for them to ride straight lines to and from jumps and fold into a good jumping position over the fence.
America shows offer a variety of equitation, or horsemanship classes, in different disciplines and they are usually well subscribed, so perhaps we should take a leaf out of their book and offer classes in all disciplines and at all levels to encourage the amateur rider to improve their standard of riding so that we can rid the equestrian world of sawing hands and tied in horses.