This is a shorter blog, as equitation is focused on the rider rather than the horse. Still, the horse needs to allow the rider to maintain a balanced, natural position in the saddle and over fences. Riding a horse that is too slow or too fast won’t allow the smooth, easy round that is required. The horse doesn’t need to be a pushbutton by any means–most top equitation horses really aren’t. However, they can’t be super technical rides, or else the rider will be doing too much and probably won’t pin as high.
Let me digress for a bit to touch on that very subject. My horse is the king of technical rides. He’s lazy, powerful, and jumps super round (remember the pic in part I?). He is the opposite of what an equitation horse should be. At my first show with this horse, my trainer entered me in a medal class for the heck of it. There were about ten riders in the class, most of them on seasoned equitation horses. I went into the class expecting nothing, but rode a strong, flowing round. I was still getting used to my horse’s thrusty jump at that point, so I got jostled a bit over fences, and my horse was going around with his head up jumper-style, unlike the tucked heads of the other horses in the class. The other riders turned in decent rounds, but their horses seemed to do all the work….the girls looked mighty pretty over fences, and their horses just cantered around with their heads down, hardly using their bodies at all over the fences so the riders could execute nice pretty breaks.
I won the class. Me, on my often butt-headed jumper. I was completely shocked. However, when I look back on that class, the result is so very clear. I was an effective rider rather than a pretty rider. I certainly did not have as nice of a break or position as the other girls, but the judge could see that I was not sitting on some pushbutton, and was actually having to work for my ride. I got every distance, had a nice, flowing pace, and rode hard. It was the most fulfilling win of my life.
Back to the topic….At the lower levels, I see too many of theses push buttons. Don’t get me wrong; there are a ton of difficult to ride equitation horses, but sadly, this a discipline where it is all too easy to buy your ribbons. I remember seeing a well-known equitation rider warming up at a big show. She was chatting on her cellphone while cantering her horse around on the buckle. ON THE BUCKLE in a crowded warm up ring! The most astonishing thing was that even though the rider was totally unfocused on her horse, the horse had its head in a perfect frame and was cantering down the rail in a nice, flowing, medium canter. The horse was like a machine. Technically, a great eq horse should be easy to ride, but there lies the issue. You can have a great rider on a crap horse and a rider who simply poses on a great horse, and guess who will win most every time? Unfortunately, this isn’t something that can simply be phased out or changed; it’s one of those ‘fact of life’ type deals. But it does irk me sometimes, which is why I stick to the completely objective jumpers =]
Moving on….A good eq horse should have the kind of flat, steppy jump that is often frowned upon in a hunter. This allows the rider to stay stable in the air. A round jumper would easily jostle a rider around, and could potentially jump a rider out of the tack. The horse should have neat knees and legs, although it isn’t as much of a factor. If a horse pulls a rail and it’s clearly the horse’s fault, a rider could still pin high. However, if you have a messy horse and give it a weak ride that results in a rail, the judge will attribute that to the rider. Ex-hunters often make excellent equitation mounts because of their smooth, flowing canters and tidy legs.
The horse above would make an excellent equitation horse, as he has a flat back, tidy knees, and a kind expression that hints at a smooth ride. The upcoming Rider Form series will take an in-depth look at the other half the equation – Eq. riders.