Introduction to Working Equitation

Last Updated on August 21, 2023 by Allison Price

Equitation is a new sport in America. Learn how it can benefit your horse and make for a more enjoyable rider.

Equitation is a demonstration of the skills and techniques used in other countries to raise cattle and do other ranch chores. It originated in Portugal, Spain and France.

What is the combination of the beauty of dressage and speed events?

This would be working horse (WE), which is a popular discipline in Europe that is rapidly growing in popularity in the U.S. This international sport, which was founded in the middle of the 1990s in Portugal and Spain, France, Spain, Italy, and Italy, showcases the equitation methods developed in countries that use horses for ranch work.

The WE craze in the U.S. has been growing steadily over the past four years.

“We’ve seen an increase in the number licensed competitions offered by about 20% per year,” Julie Alonzo (past-president, WE United), one of the organizations that promotes the discipline in the United States, says. “Western riders who have a solid foundation of ranch riding and follow the vaquero traditions are making an impact on the sport.”

The four phases of working equitation include: dressage, ease with obstacles, speed with obstacles, and, in the most important events, cattle handling. (For details, see “Working Equitation, Explained,” at right.)

Are you and your horse ready for WE? Continue reading to find out how others got involved in this exciting sport.

Robin Bond (left) in the dressage stage of working equitation. Joses Perfection (left), a former top-10 NRCHA bridle horses, was Bond’s high-scoring entry in intermediate-level working equitation.

Lisa Marie Photography, Courtesy Robin Bond

The Perfect Start Point

Robin Bond is a trainer at Deer Springs Equestrian Center, San Marcos, California and Rancho Descanso, Valley Center. She is a fan of traditional vaquero methods of training cow horses and has shown three mounts at the National Reined Cow Horse Association Futurity. Her gelding Chapo (Joses Perfection) was top 10 in NRCHA bridle horse competition in 2006. She pulled her Quarter Horse gelding, 14.3 hands, out of retirement in 2014 to participate in her first WE event.

She recalls, “It was at Las Vegas’ Andalusian World Cup where the working equitation took place as an open class.” (WE were introduced to the U.S. in the 1950s by the Lusitanos and Andalusians breed associations, which are the natural cow horses from the Iberian Peninsula. A large number of entries to this country now come from Quarter Horses.

Bond says, “We were in intermediate division.” My little cow horse, a Portuguese judge, went around and won the high-scoring horse. It was our first outing. It was amazing!”

Bianca McCarty

We encourage competitors to display in traditional gear from their country and/or the horse they are riding. You will see entries in both Western and English gear at an event. They are all competing against one another.

“I love the fact that you can attend a show and see someone dressed in dressage, someone wearing a charro outfit, or someone in California bridle horses gear, and we all do the same thing. Bond said it was an amazing concept.

She also said that, regardless of your riding style, your horse’s movement will be a major determinant of how you perform. “You must break from the jog, you have to trot, and your horse has to engage his hindquarters.”

Bond has a difficult goal for herself.

She says she wants to compete in the Quarter Horse World Show’s ranch versatility riding class and then compete with the same horse at an equal advanced level of working.
equitation. It’s possible, I don’t know. But that’s what my goal is.”

To benefit from WE, you don’t need to set your sights too high.

Bond says that this sport will teach you many skills and that you can progress naturally in competition. It’s not like reining where you must manage slide stops and lead changes right away.

This means that novice riders can start at the lowest WE levels.

Jill Lovelace from Oregon claims she has won many working equitation classes. She was “not the greatest” in dressage and then moved up after completing the two obstacles phases.

Michael T. Photography Courtesy Jill Lovelace

Don’t Fear the Dressage

Jill Lovelace trains and boards at the Emerald Valley Equestrian Centre in Eugene, Oregon. Driftin Juniper, her Foundation Quarter Horse gelding (14 years old), has competed in drill team and mountain trail as well as stock horse and cow sorting.

She exclaims, “And now I’m working equitation!” despite the fact that there were many challenges. “I began riding at 49, and my horse has experienced a lot of mental and physical problems since then. Plus, I was not initially a fan dressage.

However, she found that even if your dressage skills aren’t perfect, it doesn’t necessarily mean you lose your chance.

She explains that the competitions are a progression. The dressage is the most important, followed by the ease of handling and then speed. It is possible to be fourth in dressage and then go up. While I have won many times, I am not the best in dressage.

Kurtz Photography, Courtesy Susan Watkins

She says that WE can be done with any horse, for all of these reasons.

Equitation is a way to make your horse more like dressage. It was a horrible feeling to see the natural carriage leave the events for stock horses I had been participating in. WE is more gentle on your horse’s body, as it requires a lot of stretching and suppling. I was looking to learn self-carriage and proper biomechanics for riding my horse, and that’s what I got out of it.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!