There are many visions of the “Working Horse”.
The working horse has a job to do. The basis of training the horse is to perform their job. This gives a sense of purposeful training to developing the working horse.
The sport of Working Equitation honours the working horse. In every stage of training, there is a purpose organised towards building an improved ability to do the “job”. Horses in the field need balance and precision in their movement for working cattle, opening gates, and other tasks. The ability to work at speed and also at immobility is required. Bravery and trust are desired qualities in a horse that must pass through and over ditches, bridges, and objects in the field. The horse must face other animals with confidence, as well as allowing the rider to lift and carry objects with a calm demeanour.
The three or four phases in Working Equitation are designed to test the qualities of a working horse.
The first phase, Dressage, primarily shows off a horse to be calm and rhythmical with a willing response to the riders aids. At higher levels, balance and maneuverability are tested in movements that would enhance the prowess of a working horse. The higher level horse has greater ease in speeding up and slowing down, as well as refined coordination to move in all directions and turn quickly in balance. The horse is developed to complete these movements using one hand on the reins for the greatest ease of handling in the field.
The second phase is Ease of Handling. This is a test of the ability of the horse to carry out field work. Obstacles that are derived from challenges that a horse would face in their work are completed with an element of style. Again the lower levels are showing the horse to be confident and responsive to the riders aids with a calm execution of their tasks at walk or trot. At intermediate levels, the horse is able to move between the gaits of walk and canter with ease, showing more precision and progress in lateral and reverse movements. At the higher levels, the horse is tested on their abilities in balanced execution and advanced control of movement with canter pirouettes and flying changes. At the very top level the rider must do all of this one handed.
The third phase is the Speed test around the Ease of Handling course. This adds the element of being able to quickly execute the tasks as well as speed up and slow down with ease.
The fourth phase is the cattle test, which is completed as a team, is included where possible to show the skills of the working equitation horse in a practical setting with live cattle stock. The exercise is completed within a large yard where a rider must separate an animal from the rest of the cattle and with the help of their team then drive it across the yard into a pen.
The horse and human partnership aspect and progressive training in Working Equitation has made me a huge fan of this sport. It is elegant and pleasant to watch, drawing from the old traditions where knowledge has been passed from generation to generation – keeping a purity of horse training at the core.
This growing worldwide discipline is more than just a sport. It is an education in developing your horse and your riding with finesse. It is a also a challenge in patience and discipline to ask no more of your horse than their current level. It will give you a great appreciation of the fascinating journey in producing an excellent working horse.