Working Equitation, the Sport I Didn’t Know I Needed

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If you haven’t heard about Working Equitation yet, you will soon.

Although relatively new to the United States, it is now the fastest growing equine sport in the nation, attracting riders from all disciplines including dressage, reining, jumping, working cow horse and trail riding. Working Equitation combines the fundamentals of dressage with the precision of riding through a series of various obstacles. The results are horses and riders that achieve remarkable relationships by doing something that is enormously fun.

My curiosity of the sport began in 2016 when I saw a video of a spirited Lusitano galloping boldly around an obstacle course, the horse and rider dressed sharply in traditional Portuguese tack and attire.

I was fascinated by the combination of excellent training, partnership, and incredible fun. At that point in my professional career as a trainer, instructor and competitor, I needed something fresh and new to keep me and my students engaged. I felt my horses needed the same change. I wanted to put more purpose into my training, yet continue to develop my education of classical dressage.

Soon after, I participated in my first clinic and loved it. Working Equitation was a perfect match, setting me on a course which has since profoundly influenced me. As an event rider decades before, then switching my focus to teaching natural horsemanship and the connection it has to dressage, my two passions are now combined.

Working Equitation consists of four phases, called Trials.

  • Dressage—a ridden test which exhibits the level of training of the horse.
  • Ease of Handling—the horse and rider completes obstacles requiring precision such as opening and closing a gate, crossing a bridge, backing through poles, and other challenges one would encounter on a ranch or in a field.
  • Speed—riding the obstacle course at the fastest gait for the horse and riders skill level.
  • Cattle Work—the horse and rider work actual livestock in an arena.

The sport originated in Spain, Portugal, Italy and France from cattle ranchers who manage their livestock from the backs of their agile and brave Iberian horses. The first competition was held in 1996. Riders in the U.S. can progress up through seven levels of competition beginning with the simplest gaits, leading to the upper levels where the horse will perform the trials in the highest degree of collection, precision, speed and partnership.

Horses of every breed and size, including gaited horses are excelling in the sport. Unlike many other disciplines, there are no restrictions to saddle type and show attire allows for personal style. A variety of bits, bitless bridles, and hackamores can be used.

America Working Equitation rider Abigail Followwill on El Campeon’s Cochise. ©Lisa Kurtz

Two national groups, WE United and The Confederation for Working Equitation, follow rules based on the founding organization, the World Association for Working Equitation. Competitions are now held from coast to coast. The camaraderie among riders in the show atmosphere sets the sport apart from others in an age where competition can often compromise good horsemanship, welfare of the horse and personal values.

Working Equitation is gaining in popularity and has something to offer every equestrian, along with many benefits to you and your horse.


Stephanie Hayes is a Confederation for Working Equitation Licensed Level II Professional and clinician. She’s been awarded National and Regional Championships with her Spanish Barbs in Levels 2-4. She co-founded New England Working Equitation, Inc. a non -profit organization promoting the sport in the northeast and trains, teaches and hosts WE events at her farm in Johnson, Vermont. For more information on how to get involved in this fun new sport contact Stephanie Hayes at vtblackpony@aol.com


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