The Many Faces Of Equitation
By: Hanna Powers
I have often thought of equitation riders as being the serious, slightly boring, but very attractive cousins of the various equestrian disciplines. Let’s call our equitation rider “Prudence,” her friends might be able to call her “Pru,” but probably not. She is tall, sinewy and practices tedious drills ad-nauseam for years. She studies the art of riding with the religious dedication of the ballet. Prudence has lovely hair that is always pulled tight into a lovely chignon or bun. Our hunter rider is “Caroline.” She is athletic, eternally classic in every respect, and completely dependent on an ongoing dialogue with her trainer as they jump countless jumps in pursuit of an elegant, effortless rhythm. Caroline has long lovely hair that she keeps neatly in a crisp ponytail. Yet recently, she is starting to push the boundaries with all these crazy Hunter Derbies— I knew there was some fire in her! And finally, the wild one of the jumper ring, “Bridgette” has very long wavy hair that rarely finds its way into a hairnet. An adrenaline junkie at heart, she never lingers too long on the last round and carefully manages risk/reward as she seeks the next thrill.
While it is fun to take a lighthearted view of my riding “pals and peers,” the truth of the matter is that we all need to embrace our inner “Prudence.” I have come to realize in the last year the true value of having good equitation and the cost of how you achieve it. Perhaps, I wanted to avoid it since I am not all that tall. My good pal Julia is 58 inches from waist to heel compared to my 41 inches. Excuses aside, we all know that proper equitation is the foundation of good riding, but often times once we get proficient at our sport, we think we’re ready to back off the penance paid in equitation work. Nothing can replace it; the time spent without stirrups, the tedious flatwork and grid work, and every single stride of counter canter. Excellent equitation is at the core of all the very great riders. So, I appeal to you to join me in the equitation rings.
I was recently at an equitation show on the east coast and one of the judges had this to say, “It was a great event that highlighted the importance of equitation in an area with deep hunter/jumper tradition,” said Fran Dotoli, of Chepachet, RI, an ‘R’ USEF judge and trainer of equitation and hunter national champions for three decades. “We hope our judging helped guide riders to note what we reward: a good two-point seat, a soft release and overall effectiveness.”
She lists the seemingly simple trifecta of components, yet so hard to achieve. One of the trainers I work with demands that all her riders get off the horses and get into the gym. Beyond the above-mentioned grueling exercises to be done on horseback, working out with weights and building lean muscles do significantly help in creating a strong core that is finely tuned to the most precise movements. That is something any rider can do to improve “overall” effectiveness. While it takes time to develop the elements of style that make the work seem effortless, the best foundation is one built with a fit body. The ability to hold your core above the horse as he jumps the fence and minimize your movement and impact requires control that is clearly attainable through working out. I often assumed that I was constantly “working out” doing barn chores and the never-ending list of horse care tasks. Not the same. One session in the Pilates “rack” or planking with weights and you’ll feel the difference. You will be shocked at how quickly the new found strength helps you regain control. You don’t have to fight quite as hard in recovery after a hard landing or struggle to maintain that graceful pose in the air. I’m a believer now, but fear not, I have no desire to become a gym rat.
So you’ve dropped the stirrups and hit the gym. You will have the chance to show off your improvements because the opportunities to show in equitation classes exist at all levels, and since the judging is all about you, there are no excuses if your horse moves like a mix-master.
As we loom into the darker months of winter, why not make it your spring goal to get someone to pick you apart and dust off those equitation skills. We expect our animals to be fit and we spend a tremendous amount of time and resources ensuring that they are as healthy as they can be. We need to set the same standards for ourselves. we’re not passengers, we’re riders! Yes, the work is a bit boring, but winning a hard earned ribbon in equitation can have all the excitement of a double-clean round at 1.40!
P.S. – In honor of this, I have vowed never to consume tacos in a bag again.