Wednesday, May 31, 2017

US Rules for Working Equitation Revision

Hi all. The US Rules Committee has made a mid-year revision of the rules. It is mostly for clarification of a couple of items. There were changes made to the main body of rules and Appendix B.

Here is the summary of the changes. The rules and appendixes can be found at

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Tips For Speed

Working Equitation at most shows is a three phase event with a Dressage Trial, an Ease of Handling Trial and a Speed Trial. The Dressage Trial is based on the dressage tests, with specific movements at points in the dressage court, which are judged on a scale from one to ten. It is judged on accuracy of the movement, geometry, connection with the horse, collection and bend. The Ease of Handling Trial changes with each show and asks the competitor to apply the principles of dressage through a series of obstacles. EOH tests a competitor’s transitions, course navigation, and proper use of the aids while testing the horse’s submission, impulsion, engagement of the haunches and correctness of gait. Both of these trials are very precise and specific, with the principles of dressage applying to both.
The third trial, the Speed Trial, is a completely different beast and seems to be approached most frequently with fearful apprehension. Most of the time, competitors only ride the Speed Trial in competition since it is the one thing that trainers, judges and clinicians will tell you not to practice. Practicing the Speed Trial can contribute to a really eager horse at a time when the competitor is looking for the precision and manageability for EOH. This puts competitors at a disadvantage when it comes to the Speed Trial at a show.

Even though practicing the Speed Trial is not recommended, there are some things a rider can do to make their performance better without practicing Speed. 

1. Understand the difference between EOH and Speed
In the Speed Trial, the only rules that apply are the rules for disqualification. The competitor is not being judged on submission, impulsion or bend. It is strictly a timed event and the rider with the fastest time wins. A mistake on an obstacle will add penalty seconds to the ride time, so the competitor needs to evaluate their approach from a strategic perspective and plan their path in advance. The maxim of, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, applies here. Each extra stride the competitor adds to their course will add seconds. Walk the course twice, once while charting distances and approaches to the obstacles for EOH, but then walk it again, calculating the fastest approach. If you ride the same path for EOH and Speed, then you aren’t doing either on right.

2. Install a solid stop on your horse
You might think you have a solid stop on your horse, since they stop right at X or C without taking any extra steps, with a series of half halts to warn them it is coming. That’s not what I am talking about. I am talking about teaching your horse to stop on a dime, suddenly, completely and without hesitation. It should be as close to a sliding stop as your giant warmblood or TB can achieve without sliders on their hind feet. Cue it with your seat, your legs and your voice because the times when you are going to need it the most in the Speed round will likely occur with a garrocha in your dominant rein hand. Make it as much a part of your practice as your 20m circle or your leg yields. Not just so your horse knows how to stop, but also to ensure you can ride that stop when it happens. The last thing any competitor wants is to be thrown out of the saddle by their horse abruptly stopping. In the heat of competition, your horse could be hyper-responsive especially once they figure out the game.

The reason for a solid stop is it comes in handy on a multitude of obstacles. With a solid stop a rider can race to the switch a cup and be confident their horse will stop straight right between the poles without exiting the obstacle. It also helps with the gate, the bell corridor, the pitcher and the sidepass poles. 

3. Use voice commands
Unlike the Dressage or EOH Trials, there is no prohibition to the use of voice during the Speed Trial. Teach your horse voice commands for stopping, standing still and to calm down. One of the big challenges of the Speed Trial is the frantic haste of moving quickly from obstacle to obstacle, combined with the precision of working the obstacle correctly to avoid time penalties. All of the speed in the world isn’t going to matter if your horse will not settle next to the pitcher and in its excitement hits the barrel with its hips or knocks over a sidepass pole. Those can be costly mistakes.

During our final clinic at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo, Tarrin Warren demoed the Speed Trial and she used her voice, including the command “here” to indicate where her horse should turn. Work out the cues that work for you and your horse, but make them verbal as well as from your seat and legs.

4. Teach your horse to rollback like a reiner
The type of rollback I am talking about is the kind where the horse rocks back on their haunches and spins in a 180 degree circle, elevating their front end and launching themselves into a gallop from their stop. It makes that turn fast and quick. It improves the speed at which your horse can leave an obstacle, like the gate or the corridor with a bell. I teach it in conjunction with a kissing noise and my horse knows he has a green light to go. That quick pop of energy and motion is much faster than a ten meter half circle. Teaching your horse to pick up the left lead if spinning to the left or the right lead when spinning to the right will set your horse on the correct lead when approaching the next obstacle.

5. Grab the ring
The ring is 10 secs off your time. It is difficult at a gallop to thread the wobbly end of the garrocha through the tiny hoop of the ring, but at least make the attempt. Maybe you will be lucky and get it on a fluke, or maybe with practice you will be able to thread that eleven foot pole through a needle. Just don’t give it a free pass. Slow a little if you need to, but not too much, or you will lose the advantage of the ten seconds you are trying to gain. Think about this during your walk through. Evaluate it in terms of time gained or lost. Strategic planning at its best.

6. Be aware of time penalties and disqualifications
There is nothing worse than bouncing the garrocha out of the barrel or rushing through the sidepass poles and knocking one over. They will add costly seconds to your time and unsettle both you and your horse. Slow down a little to ensure you don’t bounce the garrocha out of the barrel. Take an extra second to settle your horse prior to doing the sidepass poles. Teach your horse not to pass out of the front of the Rounding Poles obstacle, since that would result in a disqualification. Those few seconds will keep you from racking up penalty points or being disqualified. The goal is to ride the fastest course, cleanly.

7. Teach your horse to neck rein like a cow horse
This is something that can be utilized right away during the Speed Trial, but which your horse is also going to need to know as you move up through the levels. Eventually, the goal is to ride with one hand, right? Neck reining basically means that your horse turns away from the pressure of the rein laid against the outside of its neck. I understand that in the Dressage and EOH Trials the rider may chose to ride with two hands, however, there are times during EOH and Speed where the rider is holding the reins in one hand and must maintain control of their horse. Incorporate your legs and seat when you do this. Being able to turn your horse with a neck rein, outside leg pressure and a weighted inside stirrup comes in very handy at Speed. Frequently, both the EOH and Speed Trials require the rider to ride more than one obstacle while carrying the garrocha pole. 

8. Throw geometry out the window
In the speed round there is no need for big looping circles or good geometry. Again, this is an application of the shortest distance axiom. Practice both big and little loops when working on your dressage: it will make your horse more flexible and listening to your leg, but it will also set them up to make small circles around the drums without diving onto a shoulder and into the obstacle. The same is true with the bending poles. Many horses will automatically flip their leads on obstacles in the speed round because we have gotten out of their way.
The only thing I would caution is to make sure you have control of the shoulder, even in speed. Knocking into an obstacle will cost seconds that will make a difference.

9. Set yourself up to succeed
One of the most frequent mistakes resulting in disqualification in WE is using the wrong hand to ring the bell or pick up a cup. Set yourself up as you are entering the obstacle by moving your reins into your non-dominant hand prior to ringing the bell or switching the cup. If the reins are already in your non-dominant hand, you are less likely to switch the reins between hands to reach up and ring the bell. 

10. Have fun
The Speed Trial is the fun part of Working Equitation. Relax and enjoy yourself. Let your horse have a great time. It’s the closest thing to being a centaur you can get.