Horse Sports I Have Known


A young family member asked about horse sports. If I’m gonna generate this much text, it’s gonna be a blog post.

Please note. This is an impressionistic overview of the field from my perspective. This is not a definitive treatise on the subject. For more info, most horse activities have a governing body that would be only too happy to tell you about their sport at great length. One thing you can say about horse folks, we are not shy about sharing our enthusiasms. Adding all the associations would turn this post into a linkfest. I leave you to search further on your own.

Thank you M. That was fun.

Blog Hop Invite. Which horse sports have you done?

POLO. A classic format game wherein two teams facing each other with goals at the opposite end of the playing field. My memory bank is telling me this is the only true team sport in the horse world. The rest of the “teams” are composite scores from individual performances. This upsets some people. I’m not sure why. Vaulting, below, I would classify as group activity. PC Games, also below, is a relay.

The game has global variations.

Personal Involvement. I have never ridden a polo pony or played in a game. I’ve groomed polo ponies and watched a few matches.

Bentley WBTA 1 DR
A long time ago at a horse show far, far away. Photo by Deborah Rubin

[The Unexpected Anguish Of Not Attending Camp]

JUMPING. Olympic sport. Objective. Run fast. Jump high. All members of the competition perform one at a time over the same course. Timed event. Scoring variations abound.

Personal Involvement. Done many times in many places with many horses, all at a moderate level. This was Previous Horse’s shtick. Highest I’ve jumped in competition was 4″. So far.


[So It Begins]

DRESSAGE. Olympic sport. Semi-subjective. Objective in that you have a list of things accomplish; subjective in that a judge evaluates how well you accomplished these things. Think ice skating. Horse and rider perform a pattern, which can be pre-established or free-style. No jumping. Unless you count Prix-Caprilli classes which are rare, and is splitting hairs.

Personal Involvement. So much dressage, all at an elementary school level. Literally. The highest I’ve gotten is called First Level and can be thought of as first grade. Current horses have only done nursery school level.

Bentley at Diff Run


EVENTING. Olympic sport. The above two disciplines plus cross-country, which is solid jumps out in a field. If you buzz over a jump fast and clean, XC is objective. It becomes subjective when you have issues at a jump. Think an umpire calling safe or out. XC is timed.

Personal Involvement. I used to do this. I want to get back to this. I keep buying horses who disagree.

IMG_9131 810EuS
Journey Photography

[Indiana CDE 2017]

DRIVING. World Equestrian Games sport, i.e. international but not Olympics. Eventing with wheels.

Personal Involvement. With Bliss at Indiana CDE

REINING. WEG sport. Dressage in a Western saddle. Less trotting, more cantering. Ends with dramatic slide.

Personal Involvement. None.

VAULTING. WEG Sport. Acrobatics on moving horses. Done singly or with multiple persons at once.

Personal Involvement. None. Would like to try if I can find someone willing to teach an old fart.

ENDURANCE. WEG Sport. Races of 20, 50, or 100 miles. Race to the finish. Some subjectivity in judging of the horse condition.

Personal Involvement. Virtual Tevis last year. Not at all the same thing, but it’s what I got. [VT archives]

PARA-EQUESTRIAN. WEG Sport. Dressage for para-athletes. Included to fill out WEG roster of 8 sports. Para-driving is also a thing.

Personal Involvement. None. Haven’t seen in person. Have seen some dressage videos that are amazing. 8 minutes of walk?!? I can barely get a horse to walk across the diagonal in a decent fashion.

Speaking of completing the roster, “The FEI’s two remaining regional disciplines, horseball and tent pegging, still conduct independent championships.” Wiki: FEI World Equestrian Games.

Personal Involvement. I have no idea. You’ll have to go ask them.

HUNTERS. American version. Me jump pretty. Based on foxhunting. As with other field and bench activities, the discipline is only tangentially related to its roots. The average top-flight show hunter would categorically refuse to participate in a day’s fox hunting through mud and briar. The English version, called show hack, is flat only.

Personal Involvement. Back in the day, we didn’t have low jumpers. If you wanted to hop over fences, this was your main choice. So, I’ve done a lot. None of it at a fancy level.

WESTERN SPEED EVENTS. Barrel racing. Pole bending. Roping. Cutting. How long does it take you to perform the task at hand?

Personal Involvement. Have ridden in a western saddle. Never competed. Closest I’ve come was the barrel race schooling with Rodney last year. [Not From Around These Parts, Schooling Report, Southern Sunday Barrel Association, March 2020]

Nationals ring
Photo by Shannon Dove Alsbrooks

[More Thoughts, More Loot]

GROUP CLASSES. Also individual performance, but you are all in the ring going around together. Minimum level of performance in that you must execute the required gaits without becoming a danger to yourself or others. This is rare. Most competitors go into the ring expecting to complete the required movements. After that, it is the judge’s opinion of who is best on the day.

This a huge section of horse competition. Hunters have one flat class in each division. Breed shows are almost entirely group classes. Dressage is starting to have group classes for dressage equation. Discipline-based group classes lean toward performance; breed-based classes lean toward being the epitome of the breed.

Personal Involvement. All of my saddle seat shows, save for a few patterns, were this kind of class. Most of the photos are solo because a) the photographer works hard to isolate the subject, b) getting out of the pack is part of showmanship, or c) it’s a victory pass. My ASB driving classes were also group classes.

PLEASURE DRIVING. Anything you can do with a horse that doesn’t involve jumping.

Personal Involvement.  [Show Report: Nashoba Carriage Classic 2017]

Photo by Elliott Gimble


IHSA. A hunter competition at the collegiate level. Since my day they have added collegiate eventing & dressage. They may have had Western IHSA when I was in college, but not where I rode. Also the ANRC, which I think was similar with the IHSA but with fancier horses.

Personal Involvement. Varsity Letter.

AOCS LC novice enter

[In The Ring]

OBSTACLES. Asking horses to do weird sh … stuff.

Personal Involvement. Rodney last year.

GYMKHANA. Games that involve much running back and forth. A team sport in the relay style.

Personal Involvement. None. I was too old when I joined Pony Club. [Celebrity Mounted Games]

KNOWDOWN. Not a sport, but included because part of Pony Club. 4-H as their own version.

Personal Involvement. None. Ditto.

TETRATHLON/PENTATHON. Riding is part of a multi-disciple competition.

Personal Involvement. None.

HALTER CLASSES. Judging the body style of the horse. Certainly a competition. Could it be classified as a sport?

Personal Involvement. Never done. Never seen. Have opinions. Moving on.

RACING. A business more than a sport.

Personal Involvement. Rode a racehorse during training. Never on the track. Groomed a racetrack. Only job I’ve ever been fired from. Previous Horse & Milton are both retired racehorses. [Riding Abroad]

STEEPLECHASE. Racing over jumps.

Personal Involvement. Reading Dick Francis novels.

What have I missed? What have you done?

Stay safe. Stay sane.

3 thoughts on “Horse Sports I Have Known

  1. Ooh, what a fun entry!! Pinning for later reference so I can hopefully do my own version! Loved this.

  2. “my own version” Can’t wait to read. I suspect many of us have dabbled in a range of disciplines.

    “bopping along on the trails” I would consider it darn good use of time!

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