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What is Working Equitation?

Working Equitation (WE) is a relatively new sport designed to promote and preserve the classical principles of the working riding culture of Southern Europe. In competition, WE comprises of 3 phases, dressage, ease of handling and speed.

Working Equitation can also be enjoyed non-competitively. It is a great way to improve your partnership with your horse, as well as helping your horse improve his suppleness, flexibility and balance, whilst participating in a fun and challenging environment.

During  WE clinics we concentrate on the Ease of Handling or Obstacle Phase of WE. This provides a great opportunity to practice building your horse’s confidence and trust in you, as well as improving your horse’s performance!

Working Equitation is great for your horsemanship. It can be really frustrating to see how easy top Working Equitation riders make the sport look, cantering their horse over a bridge or side-passing over a rail, particularly if your horse won’t even place a hoof on a bridge. But the chances are, that top rider will have invested the time needed to help their horse become confident.  When approaching an obstacle, or anything that is difficult for your horse, the goal is not necessarily to complete the obstacle or course, but to help your horse become more confident both in himself and you!  If your horse is worried about the bridge, but by the end of your session he can place two front feet on it, while staying calm and relaxed, you have succeeded. You have built his confidence in you and helped him do something which he was worried about before. You now have a positive experience to build on next time.

The initial goal should be for you and your horse to tackle the obstacles in a calm and confident manner. Once this has been achieved you can start to concentrate on correct rhythm and bend and then on “upping” the gait. This confident partnership will then allow you to move onto more challenging situations in the future.

The training sessions and clinics introduce you to a variety of different obstacles that are used in Working Equitation. Fran will teach the fundamentals of each WE obstacle. She will explain how best to introduce the obstacle to your horse, as well as the bend, straightness and lateral movements that may be required.

WE is for any level of rider, any discipline of riding and any breed of horse. Working Equitation is excellent cross-training for both the horse and rider.

The 3 Phases

The dressage phase is similar to a normal dressage test, although some of the movements are performed slightly differently. Each Working Equitation competition has a prescribed Dressage test. As the horse and rider move up the levels, the difficulty of the movements required in the corresponding Dressage test increases. The ultimate goal of this training is to develop a horse with enough collection and engagement to perform the higher level dressage movements and Ease of Handling and Speed obstacles with the rider riding one-handed (traditionally the left).

  • Introductory Dressage Test – This level requires the horse and rider to perform walk, trot, halt, and rein back. The rider may ride with one or two hands on the reins. Trot work may be performed rising or sitting.
  • Novice A Dressage Test – This level requires the horse and rider to perform walk, free walk, trot, canter, halt, and rein back. The rider may ride with one or two hands on the reins. Trot work may be performed rising or sitting.

The ease of handling phase consists of a course of obstacles that replicate some of those that might be found when working on horseback in the countryside. In competition, riders are marked out of ten for precision, submission and ease of movement with each obstacle.

The minimum number of obstacles required for an EOH course at Introductory and Novice levels are 10 obstacles, although certain obstacles can be included twice (in alternate directions).

The speed element involves some, or all of the same obstacles that were included in the Ease of Handling component, but it is purely marked on the time it takes for the horse and rider to complete the course.

The Obstacles

Click on the link in the following table for more information about each obstacle


The pen for Working Equitation consists of an inner pen in the shape of a circle surrounded by an outer barrier also in the shape of a circle, with an opening for entry/exit. In competition, the inner pen should contain small animals or replicas of small animals.

The inner pen should be approximately 3 meters (10 feet) in diameter. The outer pen should be approximately 6 meters (20 feet) in diameter. The opening for entry/exit should be 1.5 meters (5 feet) wide.

The rider enters through opening and circles the inner barrier in one direction. They then exit the pen, perform a turn on the haunches, pirouette or half circle, before re-entering the pen and circling it the other way.

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The bridge must be crossed at a walk in the Ease of Handling phase for all levels. The bridge may be crossed in both directions provided that there is one obstacle in between the first and second crossing. Trotting or cantering over the bridge is scored negatively.

Horses and riders should approach the bridge straight, without hesitation. They should transition to a walk before ascending the bridge. When scoring this obstacle, the judge will consider the quality of the transitions, the quality of the walk over the bridge, and the overall harmony and confidence exhibited by the horse and rider.

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To perform this obstacle, the horse and rider should approach perpendicularly to the gate and transition to walk. The rider then moves the horse laterally and halts alongside the gate. The rider must lift the latch, open the gate, and go through the entrance. When the horse has fully passed to the other side of the gate, the rider may back up one or two steps to close the gate. With the horse squarely halted, the rider will then put the latch in place to complete the obstacle. The rider should not release control of the gate at any point in the performance of this exercise until the gate is latched and open and close the gate. During this maneuver, the rider should maintain contact with the gate the entire time, except as needed to make slight adjustments.

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Bell Corridor

Reinback ‘L’ is one of the Working Equitation obstacles that may be included on the Ease of Handling (EOH) or Speed trial courses. This obstacle is not used normally at Introductory levels.

The horse and rider enter the corridor at the prescribed gait for the level and halt at the end of the corridor. The rider then rings the bell and backs down the “L” corridor to exit the obstacle.

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Small Jump

At Introductory level, the Jump may be performed at walk or trot. At the Novice level, the jump may be executed at the trot or canter. At the Intermediate level or above, the jump must be performed from the canter.

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Side Pass Rail

Depending on the performance level, this obstacle may be comprised of 1 or 2 single rails or parallel rails.

The horse approaches the obstacle perpendicular to the rail before turning so that the horse is at a right angles to the rail. The horse’s legs must cross in a lateral movement over the rail, keeping the rail between the horse’s front and hind legs throughout the obstacle. The course map may indicate which direction (right or left) the horse and rider must pass over the rail; when not specified, the rider chooses the direction. For the two rails in a line and the parallel rail configurations, the rails must be ridden in different directions. To complete this obstacle, the horse and rider transition to walk. The rider then moves the horse laterally to position the horse’s front hooves on one side of the pole and the hind hooves on the other. The combination then moves sideways for the length of the pole, keeping the front hooves on one side of the poll and the hind hooves on the other.

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Pole Pick Up / Drop Off

An open-topped drum or barrel has a long pole (garrocha) set upright inside. 

To complete the obstacle, the horse and rider approach the open-topped drum in the working gait required for their level. While passing by the drum, the rider removes the pole from the drum without an interruption of forward movement.  The rider may circle the drum once before picking up the pole, though this is considered less difficult than a straight approach.

If the rider drops the pole a grounds crew person may retrieve the dropped pole and hand it (butt end down) to the rider (at Introductory Level) but at Novice the rider must dismount and retrieve the pole or continue on the course without retrieving the pole, but receive zero points for the obstacle.

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Spear Ring

The rider must skewer the ring(s) with the tip of the pole. The horse must maintain gait as prescribed for the level of competition.

If the ring is dropped, a member of the ground crew will hand the ring to riders competing at Introductory level. Novice level riders must dismount, retrieve the ring, and remount with the pole in hand or receive a 0 for the obstacle. 

Riders are advised to avoid throwing the pole into the drum, as doing so often results in the pole bouncing out.

The pole is deposited with the butt end down in the drum. The rider may circle the drum once before replacing the pole, though this is considered less difficult than a straight approach.

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Single Slalom

An odd number of cones are placed 6 meters (20 feet) apart in a straight line. In competition posts should be used. 

The obstacle is entered in the prescribed gait. The line of travel should be weaving through the posts rather than loops around the postsIf cantering, lead changes must be performed.

At all levels, correct changes of bend should to be executed at each change of direction, in the line and midway between the posts. The horse’s lead and bend should be in conformity with the turn.

Trot should be used at Introductory, Novice A and Novice B levels.

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The rider approaches the table or barrel in the prescribed gait, halts with their leg even with the table, raises the jug above his/her head, and then replaces the jug on the table. The obstacle must be approached from the numbered side. The rider may stop at any position around the table as long as the obstacle is approached from the numbered side.

The horse must depart at the same gait as it approached the obstacle. If there are entrance and exit flags for the obstacle, these flags are considered transition points.

If the jug is dropped, a member of the ground crew may hand the jug to riders competing at Introductory levels. Novice level riders must dismount, retrieve the jug, remount and replace the jug on the table. Failure to dismount, retrieve the jug and remount will result in a 0 for the obstacle.

 The Judge will evaluate the manner in which the horse approaches and remains immobile next to the table without showing any fear and trusting the rider’s use of aids. The jug, when placed on the table, must remain upright. Any jarring movement against the table will result in a lower score.

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