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.


Keeping Feathers Clean

Today was a bit different for me today. I was up bright and early to be at the yard by 7 to leave to go to Windsor Horse Show with a client. I was grooming for her and her coloured mare.

Once we arrived, narrowly avoiding being towed onto the lorry park we unloaded and titivated the mare, who is predominantly white and had an uncharacteristically large stable stain. We washed, chalked, brushed and sprayed until she looked immaculate.

As you may know, Windsor show was cancelled yesterday due to flooding, but I wasn’t prepared for the quagmire of the horse walk to the arenas.

Imagine our dismay at the prospect of walking four white feathered legs through all that mud!

At least everyone was in the same boat. We wrapped up the long thick tail into a tail bag, put on the special hind boots and bandaged the forelegs so that the feathers were wrapped into the bandages.

These hind boots are something else. Made of fleece they wrap around the cannon bone, velcroing up, but the fetlock to heel is covered with a plastic shower cap contraption. It has a drawstring and Velcro to keep all the hair inside – and hopefully clean!

Once we reached the mud, I realised we were in trouble. Hair was falling out from the bandages on the front legs, and mud crept up the shower caps.

What we should have done, and hindsight is a great thing, is put a carrier bag over each hoof and bandage over it to secure it so that the feathers were completely encased and mud-free.

We arrived at the ring in plenty of time so could do a bit of cleaning up there, satisfying my OCD for cleanliness and I was pleased to see everyone in similar states of mud splatter, and trying to do repair jobs. I think that’s the part that puts me off showing because by the time you get to the ring you aren’t perfect anymore.

The little mare was very well behaved, and the class difficult to judge due to the sheer variation of coloured horses, and they came away with sixth place. I’ve not been re-converted to showing, but I did enjoy today; being organised, grooming and cleaning, and then going around the rest of the show in the afternoon.

Spanish Horses

It was a couple of weeks ago now, but I haven`t gotten around to writing about it, that we had a visiting horse and her owner. The mare was Andalusian and on her way to Hartpury for the National Show of Spanish Horses.

Whilst she was at the yard she underwent drastic changes to her appearance, which made all the liveries curious.

Which is how we ended up discussing it in depth in the yard at seven a.m. one morning. Pooling our scraps of knowledge, we found out that stallions are presented in a very natural state with long flowing manes and tails, unclipped and majestic, whilst the mares should be presented in a workmanlike state (very sexist according to one lady) – with manes an inch long, clipped docks and tails cut at the hock and trimmed legs. This is also for hygeine reasons, according to a website I saw. The owner of the visiting horse then told us that she had spent the last couple of years growing out the mane and tail, so was finding the trimming process difficult – if it was me I don`t think I`d have bothered to go to the show, I couldn`t come close to hogging Otis! The tack used and the handler`s dress also had to be in line with traditional Spanish clothes.


The show in Hartpury had a number of different classes for all the different Spanish breeds – the usual best of breed, best conformation, best mare, and also the opportunity for owners to have their horses graded. I think this means that a foal born to two parents who are graded 1 is automatically a grade 1 Spanish horse.

However, to throw a curved ball into the mix, I had heard that in order for a horse to be registered with the Spanish Studbook it`s birthplace must be Spain. However I`ve been trying to find out a bit more about this with little success, but I have gleaned that recently the rules have changed to allow horses to be bred outside of Spain, which has encouraged the popularity of the breed. However, if anyone can enlighten me further it would be great!

Spanish horses are most closely associated with dressage (the Spanish Riding School springs to mind), and are naturally good at it as they have uphill conformation and are short coupled, which makes collection and hind leg engagement easy, even though when you first look at them their heavy necks and shoulders suggest that lightness of the forehand is difficult to achieve. Their history is also intricately linked to the military, which in turn influenced classical dressage movements.


Did you also know that most Spanish male horses are left ungelded, and only men ride the stallions and women ride the mares? A client once told me that after he`d holidayed in Spain.

The last we saw of this lady and horse was just before they left for the competition, so I wonder how they fared. I have a soft spot for Spanish horses so may well try and go to one of the breed shows next year to learn a bit more about them and their traditions. Hartpury also put on various parades at the show, which I think would be good fun to watch.


Related Articles that I found interesting:




A Hack Horse?

Yesterday at Horse of The Year Show we watched the Hack championship. If I’m really honest, I didn’t really understand how Hack classes are judged, and the championship horses were very similar. Dark bay thoroughbred type, fine horses who looked light in their movement and comfortable to ride. I got the impression that you could happily ride the Hack Champion for a couple of hours over good ground. I’m not sure I would want to hunt them or anything as they looked a bit delicate!

So I had a quick look online tonight to find out a bit more of the definition of a Hack Horse and the related classes.

Here are the links I found;


Judging Coloured Classes

We went to the Royal Welsh Show today and after walking through the trade stands we stopped by one of the rings with an ice cream. Being judged was an in-hand Coloured Horse Class so we sat down to watch.

It occurred to me, as we watched, that a coloured class is very difficult to judge. For instance, there were two miniature coloured Shetlands, a 17.2hh piebald sports horse, several gypsy cobs and all range of colours in the ring today.

If you were asked to judge a Hunter class you would just need to be on the ball about the type of horse a hunter is. Yes there will be a couple of breeds, but you look at quality of movement, conformation, temperament and rideability. You are looking for the horse you most want to take on a days hunt.

If you are judging a breed class, be it Welsh Pony or Highland, you are looking for the horse which is most correct to the breed specifications; i.e. conformation, size, way of going etc.

So going back to the coloured class today. What exactly is the judge looking for? The ideal conformation will vary on whether she’s looking at a part thoroughbred or a gypsy cob. This means the judge needs to know a lot about all different types of horses. The horses action and way of going will also depend on whether he’s been bred to draw a cart or be a sports horse. Likewise, the temperament will vary as a cart horse needs to be more sedate and sturdy than the alert competition horse.

Then of course is the colouring or markings of the horse. This is completely down to judges preference, which I find hard as some people prefer piebalds over skewbalds or palomino pintos, or Appaloosas over tobianos. Then some people like a horse to be predominately white and others like large patches of colour. Others like faces to be symmetrical or to have “normal” markings such as a blaze or star. How much should the markings on a horse affect their placing in a coloured class? In theory it should be the biggest factor because that is the name of the class.

I’m not sure how the judge chose today’s winners as I personally didn’t like some of the markings or types that were in the front row. I’m sure it leads to a very biased, grey area with lots of disputes over placings, particularly in qualifying classes. So should coloured classes start to split themselves into height or type? This would make the judges job easier as they wouldn’t be looking at such a motley crew, and then competitors would be on a more even keel because the judge is clued up and has a more specific criteria to judge the animals on.

All I know is that I wouldn’t have liked to judge today’s class as it was full of so much variety and influencing factors.

Showing with a Twist

We went to a competition today, and I tried out my new mounting block. Unlike last time, it was very successful! On our last outing I had a plastic two step stool (I may have mentioned it previously) as I didn`t want my hip dislocating with another dodgy leg up. But upon mounting, I put my foot in the stirrup, prepared to step up and the stool broke! I was left hanging off the side of my poor horse! So this stool is a bit more manly. And I would be very concerned if I managed to break it. It`s a recycled wooden step ladder which was originally 6 foot tall, but had been sawn off so only the top two steps remain. I think it will suffice.

Our joking about the step ladder reminded me of a classic situation from a few years ago that my Mum and I observed. We had decided to go to Broomes for a show; it was one of my 4 year olds first shows, and the first one which we travelled alone. I`d entered Riding Club Horse or Pony; mainly for experience so we weren`t hoping to win, just to behave ourselves! It was going quite well, no spooking and reasonable work when we all rode together, and then we were pulled in.
In first was a little girl on a grey pony. Nice little show pony, and deserved to be there. But then came the clincher. The judge told us all that before we did our individual show we would be required to dismount on the correct side and remount on the off side. So she turns to the little girl in first as says, “when you`re ready”. But this girl wasn`t. This exercise wasn`t in the showing manual her Mum had taught her. With a bit of help from the steward, she managed to complete the exercise without too much of a problem.
I was third. So I dismount confidently, thinking “It`s a good job someone told me yonks ago that it`s good for your horse`s back to switch sides regularly…” But this horse is a bit bigger than my 14.2hh! I think we managed it fairly respectably, see below.

But just down the line … was a lady who Mum had already eyed up as a potential candidate for injecting some humour into serious showing. She was a  rather large lady, riding an equally rather large horse. I`m sure you can guess what happened next! Firstly, she asked if she had to do the exercise, and was told, in a polite way to get on with it. So she signalled to her husband on the sideline, who came running in with a step ladder! He held the step ladder whilst she dismounted gracefully.



Then of course, comes the remount. Equally gracefully, she climbs up the ladder, and with her husband hanging off her other stirrup, she hauls herself on. Meanwhile, I along with the two little girls in line, and the rest of the spectators sniggered away.



Individual shows performed, we were all lined up again, and we were a respectable 3rd. In addition, I received the “best senior rider” rosette. I think this meant more to me than the placing. And then of course there was this little anecdote, which got retold many times in the next few months! Just for good measure here`s a picture of my gangly four year old.