Equestrian Sports

From New World Encyclopedia
(Redirected from Equestrianism)

Equestrian sports involve many types of horse competition from classical types such as Dressage to intense types like cross-country sports. These types of activities have been around for many years with the first Olympic event being held in 1912.

Equestrian sports combine the beauty and power of the horse with the skilfull manipulation of the course by the rider. The successful rider works in harmony with the horse to master the obstacles.

Overview of equestrian activities

Horses are trained and ridden for practical working purposes such as in police work or for controlling herd animals on a ranch. They are also used in competitive sports including, but not limited to dressage, endurance racing, eventing, reining, show jumping, tent pegging, vaulting, polo, horse racing, combined driving, and rodeo. (See additional equestrian sports listed later in this article for more examples.) Some popular forms of competition are grouped together at horse shows, where horses perform in a wide variety of disciplines. Horses (and other equids such as mules and donkeys) are used for non-competitive recreational riding such as fox hunting, trail riding or hacking. There is public access to horse trails in almost every part of the world; many parks, ranches, and barns offer both guided and independent trail riding. Horses are also ridden for therapeutic purposes, both in specialized para-equestrian competition as well as non-competitive riding to improve human health and emotional development.

Horses are also driven in harness in racing, exhibition, and competitive show events. In some parts of the world, they are still used for practical purposes such as farming. For more information on the uses of horses in harness and driving, see harness racing and carriage driving.

Horses continue to be used in public service: in traditional ceremonies (parades, funerals), police and volunteer mounted patrols, and for mounted search and rescue.

History of equestrianism

Though there is controversy over the exact date horses were first ridden, the best estimate is that horses first carried riders approximately 5,000 years ago. The earliest archaeological evidence of horses being ridden was in the military: chariot warfare in ancient times was followed by the use of war horses as light and heavy cavalry. However, horses were also ridden for everyday transport, and to carry messages in both war and peacetime. The horse and horseback riding played important roles throughout history and all over the world.

Olympic Competitions


Dressage is a type of competition that is focused on the core of all riding activities. To compete, the horse's mind and body are taught to react to different commands to perform maneuvers, such as turns, walking straight lines, stopping, and galloping.

Dressage was primary developed during the Renaissance Period, but it can be traced all the way back to the time of a famous Greek solider, Xenophon. It was then that he wrote the book On the Art of Horsemanship in which he mentions the details of Dressage. Its format, difficultly, and training have all evolved through time as the sport continues to grow today. It was first introduced in the Olympic Games in 1912 although the format in which it is competed in has changed dramatically over the past 95 years.

Equipment for Dressage A rider competing in a Dressage wears decorative clothing, including a top hat, tailcoat, and spurs. Although a whip is used in training, it is disallowed in the arena, and is used to aid humane communication rather than physical dominance over the horse.

Dressage Arena The arena is set up with alphabetical markers to help guide you through your routine. The size of the arena is either 65 x 22 yards for higher level participants, or 44 x 22 yards for the lower end. The arena surface is different from that of the other areas of the stadium to create an barrier between the arena and the viewing area. If the horse leaves the arena surface, the rider is disqualified. The key to the surface is that it acts like turf, with the best surface said to be a combination of rubber and sand pieces.

The keys to competing in Dressage according to The Complete Horse Riding Manual are purity, acceptance, calmness, forwardness, and straightness.

Haute Ecole

The haute ecole (F. "high school"), an advanced component of Classical dressage, is a highly refined set of skills seldom used in competition but often seen in demonstration performances.

Leading haute ecole demonstration teams include:

  • The Cadre Noir in Saumur, France.
  • The Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria.
  • The World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions in the USA.[1]
  • The South African Lipizzaners[2]


Another division of equestrian sport is show-jumping, in which competitors ride horses over courses to show their skill in jumping over obstacles. It is an artistic sport that also requires science to understand angles of the course and the ability to judge the horses stride lengths and takeoff points. The top show-jumpers are said to be able to get within one foot of the takeoff target.

The sport primarily a man's sport until the 1950s, when women began to compete. The first female winner of a show-jumping event medal was Marion Coakes who took home the silver metal at the 1968 Olympic Games. The history of show-jumping shows a evolution of the type of horses demanded in the event from big European horses due to their power, to the current demand of quick horses of some Thoroughbred decent.

Show-jumping is a type of horse event that requires dressage in practice. A short amount of time is spent in the air, with the other needed great control over the horses's actions to maintain high awareness.

Equipment for Show-jumping The equipment for this type of event is comfortable because must be able to move freely without constriction or difficulty. According to Micklem a rider must wear a jacket, shirt, tie, breeches, boots, gloves, and a hat. And the horse must have a specialized saddle, bridle, and protective boots. The special saddle is flat so the rider can stay close to the horse over the fence and on the decent as well.

Training To train for show-jumping, a rider must move through different levels of exercises and fences to progress. It is also important to learn how to judge the stride length of the horse so you can move through the course smoothly without mistakes. To begin in the sport, practice involves learning the basics of dressage, and simple jumping.

Courses in show-jumping start at the novice level with fences set at 3 feet 6 inches in height and only a few variations in the jumping variables. The next level is elementary courses with fences at the height of 3 feet 9 inches, and a max jumping length of 4 feet 6 inches. There is a triple jump usually involved; the course must be completed in a time of 90 seconds. The third level is the medium course with 4 feet 3 inch heights and 4 feet 9 inch spreads in jumps and a 90 second finishing time. The last level for the event is the advanced course, with 4 feet 6 inch heights and 5 feet 2 inch spreads. It has to be completed in 72 seconds and involves a water jump and awkward distances between obstacles that can be tough to judge.


Eventing, also called combined training, horse trials, the three-day event, the Military, or the complete test, puts together the obedience of dressage with the athletic ability of show jumping, and the fitness demands the cross-country jumping phase. In the last phase, the horses jump over fixed obstacles, such as logs, stone walls, banks, ditches, and water, trying to finish the course under the "optimum time." There was also the "Steeple Chase" Phase, which is now excluded from most major competitions to bring them in line with the Olympic standard.

Cross-Country Jumping

Cross country jumping is an event that involves the most crucial connection between the horse and rider. It also requires a high level of physical fitness and great efficiency training. Irish horses are the leaders in this type of competition, as the sport continues to focus more on skill than endurance.

Equipment for Cross-Country Jumping Equipment in Cross-Country is much more focused on protection than anything else as the rider wears a skull cap, harness, and body protector. Riders sometimes are also required to have their medical records in a holder on their sleeve during competitions and also wear a stopwatch. Horses wear light weight bandaging for protection.

The real difference between cross-country jumping to others is the different types of landscapes the horse and ride must navigate. Banks, ditches, and water all must be navigated, with many different angles and approaches to make it harder to complete the course.

Horse shows

Horse shows are held throughout the world with a tremendous variety of possible events, equipment, attire and judging standards used. However, most forms of horse show competition can be broken into the following broad categories:

  • Equitation, sometimes called seat and hands or horsemanship, refers to events where the rider is judged on form, style and ability.
  • Pleasure, flat, or under saddle classes feature horses who are ridden on flat ground and judged on manners, performance, and quality.
  • Halter, in-hand breeding, or conformation classes, where the horse is led by a handler on the ground and judged on conformation and suitability as a breeding animal.
  • Harness classes, in which the horse is driven rather than ridden, but still judged on manners, performance and quality.
  • Jumping or Over Fences refers broadly to classes including both show jumping and show hunter, where horses and riders must jump obstacles.

"English" influence in Equestrian sport

In addition to the classical Olympic events, the following forms of English riding competition are also seen in the USA as well as Canada:

  • Hunt seat or Hunter classes judge the movement and the form of horses suitable for work over fences, known as show hunters. A typical hunter division would include classes over fences as well as "Hunter under Saddle" or "flat" classes (sometimes called "hack" classes), in which the horse is judged on its performance, manners and movement without having to jump. Hunters have a long, flat-kneed trot, sometimes called "daisy cutter" movement, a phrase suggesting a good hunter could slice daisies in a field when it reaches its stride out. The over fences classes in show hunter competition are judged on the form of the horse, its manners and the smoothness of the course. A horse with good jumping form snaps its knees up and jumps with a good bascule. It should also be able to canter or gallop with control while having a stride long enough to make a proper number of strides over a given distance between fences.
  • Saddle seat, is a primarily American discipline, created to show to best advantage the animated movement of high-stepping and gaited breeds such as the American Saddle-bred and the Tennessee Walker. Some Arabians and Morgans are also shown saddle seat in the United States. There are usually three basic divisions. Park divisions are for the horses with the highest action. Pleasure divisions still emphasis animated action, but to a lesser degree, with manners ranking over animation. Plantation or Country divisions have the least amount of animation (in some breeds, the horses are flat-shod) and the greatest emphasis on manners.

Other horse sports

Arena sports

Some types of arena sports for horses include [[Camp-drafting] which is a type of cattle-working competition mostly popular in [[Australia]. There is also carriage or Carriage driving that is traditionally done by two or four-wheeled carriages and is pulled by a single horse. It can also be done by a tandem or four-in-hand team of horses. Pleasure competitions are judged on the turnout/neatness or suitability of horse and carriage.

Charreada is the highest form of Mexican horsemanship based on a mixture of Spanish and Native traditions. Equestrian vaulting involves using a single strip of surcinglewith two hoops at the top that is attached around a horse's barrel. The rider is longed on the horse, which also wears a bridle with side reins. Vaulters then perform gymnastic movements while the horse walks, trots, and canters.

Defined area sports

More defined horse sports include Buzkashi, which is a area of competition that originated on the steppes of central Asia, now the national sport of Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan. A more famous type is Jousting which are events involving use of lances, swords and completion of obstacles. There are stand-alone competitions and also are often seen at historical reenactments, Renaissance Fairs and Society for Creative Anachronism events.

Mounted Games is a sport in which games are played in a relay-style with two to five members per team. These games are played at a very fast pace and involve supreme concentration. Polo, a team game played on horseback, involves riders using a long-handled mallet to drive a ball on the ground into the opposing team's goal while the opposing team defends their goal.

Cross-country sports

Competitive trail riding is a pace race held across terrain similar to endurance riding, but shorter in length (25-35 miles, depending on class). As a form of pace race, the objective is not to finish in the least time. Instead, as in other forms of judged trail riding, each competitor is graded on everything including physical condition, campsite, and horse management. Horsemanship also is judged, including how the rider handles the trail and how horse is handled and presented to the judge and veterinarian throughout the ride. The horse is graded on performance, manners, etc. "Pulse and respiration" stops check the horse's recovery ability. The judges also set up obstacles along the trail and the horse and rider are graded on how well they perform as a team. The whole point is the partnership between the horse and rider.

Other types of cross country sports include Cross Country Jumping, a jumping course that contains logs and natural obstacles, and also Endurance riding. Endurance riding is a type of competition usually of 50 to 100 miles or more, over mountainous or other natural terrain, with scheduled stops to take the horse's vital signs, check soundness, and verify that the horse is fit to continue. The first horse to finish and be confirmed by the veterinarian as fit to continue is the winner. Additional awards are usually given to the best-conditioned horses who finish in the top 10.

Hunter Pacing is a sport in which a horse and rider team travel a trail at speeds based on the ideal conditions for the horse, with competitors seeking to ride closest to that perfect time. Hunter paces are usually held in a series. Hunter paces are usually a few miles long and covered mostly at a canter or gallop. The horsemanship and management skills of the rider are also considered in the scoring, and periodic stops are required for veterinarians to check the vital signs and overall soundness of the horses.


  1. Website The "World Famous" Lipizzaner Stallions in the USA, White Stallion Productions, 2008. Retrieved March 4, 2008.
  2. The South African Lipizzaners, lipizzaners.co.za. Retrieved March 4, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Kunffy, C. Training Strategies for Dressage Riders. John Wiley & Sons, 2003. ISBN 0764526375.
  • Kunffy, C. Dressage Principles Illuminated. Trafalgar Square Publishing, 2002. ISBN 1570762333
  • Micklem, W. Complete Horse Riding Manual. DK Publishing. 2003. ISBN 978-0789493385
  • United States Equestrian Federation. USEF Official web site Retrieved February 12, 2022.

External links

All links retrieved February 13, 2024.


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