Introducing equine sports

by Jennifer Carcaci-Trumble

In a previous issue, I wrote about inexpensive options to start riding. Let’s look into some of the sports. One thing to keep in mind, for some of the sports there are some horses that are better suited for certain sports than others.

English pleasure vs. Western pleasure

Everything is different from the tack you use right down to the horse you use. Yes, it is very possible to have a horse that can perform both, but usually when buying a horse you buy a Western or English horse. The movements are different English. You have walk, trot, working trot and canter — much faster pace movements than the western walk, jog and gallop. I find watching Western pleasure the gaits are so fluid and much slower.

Let’s take a look into a few equine sports.

Barrel racing is a timed sport. This sport is best suited for a horse with a powerful hind end. Barrel racing is where you set up barrels in a cloverleaf pattern. You are circling the barrels as close as you can without tipping over the barrels. Then you race back to stop the timer.

Cattle sorting is a true team sport between you and your horse. You are in an arena with a herd of cattle, you are weeding one out from the herd and separating it to a different part if the arena. This isn’t very easy. Cows are herd animals. There is safety in numbers so they want to be with their herd. A practical use would be for ranchers to weed out the sick or the young for medical care or to sell.

Competitive trail race (endurance) is a 25-mile course that is set up with a different obstacles that you must accomplish. There are some scavenger hunts that are put on this way also. Be the first to collect all targets and cross the finish line. This is fast paced. You and your horse will need to be in top shape. You will want to know how to obtain your horse’s heart rate. This is so you can tell if it is in medical trouble and needs to rest or stop. There are staging areas that you and your horse must stop and be checked out for dehydration and breathing. If you and your horse pass the inspection you are allowed to go further. For this sport you would want a horse breed for distance and stamina. Arabians, Morgans and breeds crossed with them are typically used.

Dressage is equated to ballet on horseback. You and your horse learn how to communicate using the horse’s body to obtain a well balanced horse that uses the body properly to get the most energy and action. When done properly this looks effortless. When set to music this can be breathtaking to watch the beauty of the dance. Dressage has a long history of being used by mounted soldiers to go to their enemies. All different breeds of horses are capable of doing it. If you are a western rider there is Western or Cowboy dressage. Western dressage you use all western tack and western clothes.

Drafting is learning how to use draft animals on the farm to work. This includes oxen and horses. Draft horse driving uses drafts or draught horses to pull wagons, carts and sleighs. There are many sizes of draft horses. You cannot buy a draft harness and think it will fit all of the draft horses. These are sized as well as the vehicles that are used. Your local draft horse club will help you get set up properly.

When we think of pleasure driving light horses or non-draft horses we think of a stroll down the road for some family time. You must take the time to remember where in history this type of driving had a purpose. Still today the Amish community uses light horses to pull assorted wagons for the main means of transportation. How lucky we are that we can have this quiet leisurely stroll with our horses.

Combined driving is a three-phase event. It combines athleticism, speed and obedience. First, you will have to traverse in and around many obstacles. Each participant has a single horse up to four horses. For the most part you need to be the fastest and very accurate.

In the second phase, just like when you’re riding a horse in a dressage test, you’ll be judged on harmony, impulsion and suppleness to obtain true obedience in partnership.

The third phase in combined riding is cones. You need to navigate through a course of cones. This is a timed event. Make sure you don’t knock the ball off the top.

Three Day Eventing starts out with dressage. The next day is Hunter Jumper where you go through a set course through a field or woods. There will be many different jumps that you must clear. This is a timed event. You will get penalty points for refusals and for knocked down fences.

The third day is stadium jumping. It is a set course that is timed. The winner is the fastest person with the least amount of penalty points. You can adopt an off-the-track race horse that has been vetted and retrained to do this sport.

Polo is another fast paced sport that uses off-the-track race horses. This fast paced game has four chukkers (innings). This is an exhausting game for both player and horses. Each player has multiple horses. A horse does not play more than two chukkers. Thoroughbreds are used 15.1 hands and up that are built like a quarter horse with large powerful hind end. They must have a deep heart girth to provide greater lung capacity.

If you like playing hockey this is a sport for you.

So you have a child that enjoys gymnastics and loves horses. Why not check into local vaulting team or trick riding team. Both teams are a lot like gymnastics and dancing on horseback.

Vaulting doesn’t use a saddle, they use a surcingle and longe line.

Trick riding uses a trick saddle and no longe line — all stunts are performed on a galloping horse.

There are so many more equine sports not covered in this article. You can find a lot of information in the directory of this paper or contact a local stable or 4 H leader for help.

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