Equitation – A Waste of Time?

by Kathy Gorsky

Recently, I have read several articles which discussed the topic of equitation and whether it is a necessary or even useful discipline. Other countries, for example, don’t even have equitation divisions at shows; kids simply don’t start showing until they are ready for the jumpers. Some of these articles also point out that equitation teaches riders to simply “pose” on their perfect horses, too wrapped up in looking pretty to bother to learn how to really ride.

I beg to differ. Equitation is not an end; instead, it is a means to an end. Classic principles of equitation have existed over time because good eq allows riders to be balanced and effective. We don’t put our heels down because someone decided many years ago that it looks good. Instead, it allows the rider to drop the leg around the horse in such a way that she can stay centered and use her leg to communicate with her mount. Similarly, the rider who has quiet hands has developed enough independence of hand and seat that she can keep her hands from accidentally interfering with her horse’s mouth and balance.

Which leads me to another point – we can’t learn to become effective riders until we have learned to be non-interfering riders. It’s sort of like the Hippocratic oath that doctors take: “First, do no harm.” Before a rider can learn to help and direct her horse, she must learn to leave him alone! Beginners spend (or should spend!) an inordinate amount of time learning how to sit still, not bounce, and let the horse do his job. This is why beginner lesson horses are worth their weight in gold. It takes a lot of patience on the part of the horse to put up with the bouncing and yanking that a beginner rider delivers. The process of learning proper equitation teaches riders to first stay out of the way. Then, a more advanced rider learns how to effectively communicate with her horse while still staying out of his way.

The equitation division at a horse show is meant to test the rider’s ability to quietly communicate with her horse. Of course, there are times where the rider with the “perfect” horse wins because she can simply sit there and let him do his job. But once the jumps get higher, the courses get tougher, and riders are asked to switch horses, the true masters of equitation rise to the top. They have learned the skills that allow them to give any horse a good, effective ride. Isn’t that what riding is all about? After all, how many “perfect” horses are really out there? And how many of us can afford them?

Kathy Gorsky
Written by:

Kathy Gorsky

Kathy Gorsky has been a riding instructor for over 30 years. She is also the coach of an Interscholastic Equestrian Association team for Full Circle Farm in Manchester, CT. Kathy's blog, School Horse Chronicles, helps her to share some of her experiences as a riding instructor with other instructors, riding students, parents, and anyone else who enjoys horses.

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