What is Working Equitation? Working Equitation is a fascinating and fun sport, designed to promote the classical principles and varied styles of working riding culture from different countries. Originating in Portugal, Spain France and Italy it is based on traditional Southern European methods used to train horses for fieldwork. The first European Championship was held in 1996 in Italy and the popularity of the sport soon spread to other countries. Working Equitation is now a 4 Phase Equestrian discipline and well established as an international sport in 19 countries and overseen by the World Association for Working Equitation (WAWE) who govern the annual World Championship events.
In Australia, Working Equitation was introduced to NSW in 2007 when Gill Kennerley founded Working Equitation Australia (WEA), started working with classical dressage trainers and judges, and developed unofficial competitions to grow the sport in line with international standards. WEA has helped to develop the peak National Body in Australia - the NSW WE Governing Body Inc. (NSW WEGBI) which now holds the Australian rule book and Judge’s accreditation program. A short extract from the rules are outlined below.
Objectives Working Equitation aims to promote classical horsemanship; riding with respect for the mental and physical nature of the horse. Harmony, ease and partnership with the horse is paramount.
The mission of WEGBI: “… is to promote and develop the discipline throughout Australia; upholding the ideals and the philosophies of classical dressage and traditional horsemanship, offering a nurturing, caring environment for riders, regardless of choice of breed of horse, tack or attire. The emphasis is on harmony between horse and rider and the quality of training and riding with humane, correct and progressive training and conditioning of the horse resulting in physical and mental soundness.”
Working Equitation Phases & Levels There are four phases, however the Cattle Penning Phase is only included when location and facilities allow. a. Working Dressage Phase. Prescribed tests are ridden at each level. A freestyle is ridden at FEI level. Each movement is given a numerical score. Collective marks are given for impulsion, submission, calmness, rider’s position and balance. Movements coincide with the movements required in the EOH phases at each level. b. Style (Ease of Handling) Obstacle Phase. Numbered obstacles are set up to simulate the difficulties encountered by a horse and rider in the field. The goal is for accuracy, ease and smoothness. c. Speed Phase. Obstacles are ridden at speed. Individual scores are based on elapsed time through the obstacles with time penalties added for missed or mishandled obstacles. d. Cattle Penning Phase. Tests the ability of a horse and rider to work with cattle individually and with a team of 4. Each rider will individually sort, cut, and herd a pre-selected cow from the herd and then as a team guide it into a designated pen. This is a timed event, with time penalties for course errors.
Handiness of the horse The objective of the Working Dressage phase is to prepare riders for the challenges presented by obstacles encountered in fieldwork. The goal is to develop the handiness of the horse, and to improve the regularity and correctness of the gaits. Great consideration is given to lightness, energy, relaxation, balance and correct roundness of the topline where the poll is the highest point. WE Dressage promotes physical soundness and mental well-being through relaxation, lateral suppleness (flexion & bend), longitudinal suppleness (extension and collection), and progressive conditioning. The horse should be calm, supple, confident, and responsive, demonstrating empathy with and understanding of the rider.
The obstacle course is designed to train the horse for working stock, with mobility around moving stock, through gates and over bridges. As such, there may be up to 16 numbered obstacles in the course.
One element is to carry a long Garrocha Pole - traditionally used for herding cattle. Riders skewer a ring with the pole, and may also ride various obstacles while carrying it. Progressively, riders are required to show balanced and collected walk and canter one handed, with simple or flying changes, rein-back on straight or curved lines, turns on the haunches, turns on the forehand, small voltes, leg yield, shoulder in, travers, half pass and side pass whilst negotiating obstacles.
Obstacles in the Ease of Handling Phase
Figure 8 – 2 Barrels
Cloverleaf – 3 Barrels
Corridor with Bell & rein-back
Collect Garrocha Pole and skewer ring
Knock ball with pole
Replace Garrocha Pole in barrel
Single line slalom poles
Double line slalom poles
Side-pass over pole
L shape side pass poles
Working Equitation Yarra Valley Inc. (WEYV) Working Equitation is spreading Australia wide. There are a few groups in Victoria and two WE clubs now affiliated with the HRCAV: Working Equitation Geelong (WEG) and Working Equitation Yarra Valley (WEYV).
Working Equitation Yarra Valley is a riding club based at ‘Melrose Farm’ in Yarra Glen, where there is a fenced Obstacles area, safe yards for lunging and liberty work, and a full size all weather dressage arena. With great facilities and quality lessons in the heart of Yarra Glen the club is fast growing into a well-oiled machine with keen committee members, inquisitive and curious riders excited to try ‘something different’.
WEYV runs occasional introductory clinics for HRCAV members, and regular rallies for club members. Obstacles are explored in-hand before riding to reduce any tension or resistance. Riders gain confidence with the obstacles at walk then progressively train the horse to perform the course in trot and canter, or one handed. There are also sessions in dressage, jumping, cross country and groundwork.