Road to the World Cup, What Is Equitation? Guest Post

Adventures in Saddle Seat


Stepping Stone Farm rider Reagan Upton is on the U.S. Saddle Seat World Cup Team. She is sharing her story. Welcome Reagan.

Part 1 [Have Saddle, Will Travel]
Part 2 [First Team Practice]
Part 3 [Three-Gaited & Five-Gaited]
Part 4 [Do I Miss Equitation?]
Part 5 [Traveling for the Team]

From: Reagan, age 11, on Sultan’s Spirited Lady, showing in Juvenile Three-Gaited Show Pleasure, ETSA Midsummer Classic, 2001.
To: Adult Reagan on Oh Night Divine, winning the USEF Adult Amateur Medal National Final for the second time, Lexington Junior League, 2017.

The Saddle Seat World Cup is focused on the equitation division. For people who are not familiar with Saddle Seat or who are just not as familiar with equitation, here is my guide to equitation.

Any new comer to the sport of saddle seat needs to be introduced to Equitation discipline. Equitation can be defined as the art and practice of horsemanship and horse riding. Let’s think about that statement for a moment. The “art” of horsemanship… Watching a rider gracefully maneuver their horse across the ring, while maintaining perfect form is elegant and absolutely breathe taking; it’s poetry in motion. Equitation riders not only have to show their horse to the best of the horse’s ability, but they also have to make it look effortless. If a rider can master the art form of Equitation, then they have set themselves up to be an expert horseman.

When watching an Equitation class for the first time, the beginner spectator must know what to look for when observing. The exhibitors are to be judged on their ability to ride the horse, not on the horse’s athletic ability. Although the horse is not to be judged, the rider will be judged on how well he or she is showing the horse and how well he or she looks while doing it. Is the rider riding the horse to the horse’s potential? To show a horse well, he or she should show their self to the best advantage. A rider with perfect form that hides quietly on the rail may be penalized for not showing proper horsemanship and taking command of the show ring.

Proper form. The rider’s hands should be held above the horse’s withers. The height of the hands should be determined on where the horse carries his head. The rider’s hands should be parallel or slightly above parallel to the bits in the horse’s mouth. The hands should appear soft and show control of the horse at all times. The rider should sit comfortably in the saddle. The rider’s seat should not be too far back where they are sliding off the saddle nor too far forward where there is excessive saddle space showing. There should be a slight bend in the knee and the stirrup irons should be directly under the ball of the foot. The rider’s heels should be down and the foot position should appear natural. The toes should not be pointed out or rotated too far inward. While in motion, the rider should have a slight elevation when posting at the trot. Posting should be a fluid up and down motion and never appear mechanical nor should the hips thrust forward or backwards. When cantering, the rider should not rock their upper body, but their seat should move with the horse.

What to wear? It is not mandatory to have a multi thousand dollar suit, but neatness is required. Regardless of the material the riding habit is made out of it, proper fit is key. Equitation suits are not meant to be flashy. The rider’s suit should not distract the judges from the rider’s ability. The Equitation division has stricter rules on attire versus other Saddle Seat divisions. Equitation suits must have a jacket with collars and lapels of the same conservative color with matching jodphurs. The conservative collars include black, blue, burgundy, green, beige, or brown. There are no exceptions to this rule. After 6:00pm, riders are allowed to wear formal, tuxedo-type, habits. Any rider that does not have a matching jacket and pants or has a habit that is not a conservative color will be penalized.

I have shown in the Equitation division for over 20 years. It is my passion. I love that I am in complete control over the outcome of my class. If I do not have proper form, if I am too conservative in my ringmanship, if I do not execute my workout properly, then I will be penalized. In other Saddle Seat classes outside of Equitation, you can practice all you want but sometimes there is still a nicer horse out there that will beat you regardless of your hard work. With Equitation that is just not the case. The more time and effort you dedicate to the sport, the more you perfect your form, the stronger you become, the more in sync you become with you horse and your ribbons will reflect this hard work. This is coming for a trainer’s kid that never had the expensive horse and still found success in the show ring beating the nicer horses. The equation for Equitation is hard work + passion + dedication = success. This math has been tested and will work every time.

For World Cup, I won’t be competing on my horse and am required to compete on horses I have never ridden before (with the exception of the 5 minutes of warm-up we are allowed). So, practicing equitation for World Cup does require slightly different preparation. I will not been practicing to became in sync with one particular horse, but will be practicing on as many different horses as possible.
Much of this post originally appeared in
by Reagan Upton
The Equestrian Guide
Published June 12, 2017
Publisher Caitlin Reason
pages 30-31, photo p32
Available at

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