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4 minutes

WHAT IS: Working Equitation

by lynne macleod. photos provided by joe gros
Photos by Joe Gros

This series will shed light on some different disciplines. In the equestrian world, there are more than 50 different disciplines worldwide, each with even more sub-disciplines. Most of us do one, two, or a maximum of three disciplines, but what do other equestrians do? We hope this series might help create awareness, show equalities or differences, and spark interest.

About the Author - Lynne Macleod

Lynne Macleod is a BWE level 3 Instructor has been a national champion several times. By also competing at Grand Prix Dressage, Lynne loves to show that Working Equitation (WE) can help improve the dressage skills for both horse and rider. Her two horses, Hermes and Lexus QQ, are both pure Lusitano Geldings.

Hermes is a multi-discipline champion, also holding National British Dressage Inter 1 and PSG titles. Last year the pocket rocket represented Great Britain at the WE World Championships in France. Lexus QQ has stepped up this year to advanced level WE and PSG level dressage.

Working Equitation is an exciting new international discipline currently sweeping across the equestrian world. Since the first European Championship in 1996, it has become well-established throughout Europe, Brazil, Mexico, Columbia, USA, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

It originated in Portugal and Spain and combines the equitation practices of a variety of cultures and locales to promote a range of techniques for using the working horse for agricultural reasons, working on farms, ranches, and with livestock.

Working Equitation is a real test of the horses’ temperament and training, the rider's skill and ability, and of course the relationship between horse and rider. It combines dressage with obstacles; the ability to cross different terrain, open gates, rein back, stand quietly, pick things up and carry them, maneuver in tight spaces, and listen to the rider, no matter what difficulties they may face.


The sport is a highly refined and sophisticated demonstration of these activities, with the added required qualities of elegance and speed of execution.

Read also: WHAT IS: Mountain Trail

Working Equitation is suited to all riders

Having tried most disciplines over the years the main thing I love about the sport is its versatility. Whether you are aiming for competitions or just something new to bring variety to your schooling at home, it is super training and has a multitude of benefits for all levels of horses and riders. You really do not need the next Valegro or Big Star to do well either! The sport is the ultimate outcome of the development of the horse as a working animal.

It is often associated with the Iberian breeds, such as P.R.E and Lusitanos, but is open and suitable to every breed of horse. 

Here in the UK, we see a huge variety of breeds competing and at the World Championships recently there was a real mixture of Lusitanos, PRE, Warmbloods, Haflingers, Fjords, and in the UK we have Quarter horses, Icelandic horses, Highland ponies, Dales, Arabs, Connemaras, Welsh and more.

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Horses in Working Equitation need to be very focused on their rider for guidance. Here you see how Lynne Macleod and Brodies Quest are on the Bridge at Les Herbiers France 2019.

Since the discipline consists of three phases, all horse and rider combinations will naturally find some phases come easier to them than the other and this is one of the great challenges of the sport. Further, the sport provides numerous benefits for the horse. It helps to develop their physical fitness and strength, as well as their coordination and balance. The discipline also requires the horse to be mentally engaged, as they must navigate obstacles with calmness and balance, which can help to reduce boredom and prevent behavioral issues. Additionally, working equitation can help to build the horse's confidence and trust in their rider, as they work together to overcome challenges. It is also a great way to enhance the bond between horse and rider, as it requires teamwork and mutual understanding. The first thing most people say to me is “My horse would never do that!” It’s great for horses that can be spooky, get distracted easily, or sometimes be a little unresponsive to your aids. Using the obstacles to overcome some of these things, not only helps your horse understand the obstacles but helps set them up to deal with other problems they may face in the future and general life situations.

What to wear

For competitions correct and smart turnout is important and there is a mark for this. The correct turnout differs for each country, so check the rules that apply in your country. It is normally the traditional riding attire, for example in the UK we use English hunting dresses, Tweed jackets cream breeches, horses plaited and a saddle-shaped numnah in a muted color to compliment the horse. The tack has to stay the same for all phases, but you can add boots after dressage for the other phases if you wish.

What is the format

Working Equitation competitions usually include three phases:

  • Dressage
  • Ease of Handling obstacle course
  • Speed obstacle course
  • and, at an international level, Team Cattle Penning is introduced as a fourth phase

At the highest levels, flying changes and canter pirouettes are required, but there are many levels, so it is suitable for riders of all ages and abilities and horses at any level of training. Everything can be done in walk or trot or even trained in hand to begin with.

First phase

Dressage is the first phase, always in a 20 x 40-meter arena, and is similar to normal dressage. Tests can be found for free on the UK Association website Competitors must memorize a predetermined pattern that will require maneuvers based on the level of difficulty the rider is competing in. Judges score out of 10 for each movement with 10 being excellent and a score of 0 indicating a failure to perform and provide collective marks at the end covering overall impulsion, submission, paces, rider, and presentation.

Second phase

The second phase is ‘Ease of Handling’ - this involves riding a course of numbered obstacles replicating those that may be found when working in the countryside. Riders are given a mark out of 10 for precision, submission, and ease of movement for each obstacle. Ideally, judges are looking for collected horses that consistently maintain an even, forward-driving rhythm, move from one obstacle or task to the next demonstrating smooth transitions, and an overall symmetrical performance that focuses upon the quality of geometry created by horse and rider when completing these patterns.

lynne macleod and hermes at the festival of the iberian horse 2023 showing how to perform the gate as part of phase two. enhanced sr
Lynne Macleod and Hermes at the Festival of the Iberian Horse 2023 showing how to perform the Gate as part of phase two.

Third phase

The third phase is ‘The speed test’ and it involves some or all of the same obstacles tackled in the ease of handling test but is purely marked on the time it takes for the horse and rider to complete the course. Time faults and bonuses can occur according to specific obstacles. For example, if you collect the ring of the bull, you get five seconds off your total time. But if your horse knocks the sideways pole, you get 10 seconds added to your total time.

third phase includes speed. here is lynne macleod and lexus qq doing the bull at pickering grange national 2022
Third phase includes speed. Here is Lynne Macleod and Lexus QQ doing the Bull at Pickering Grange National 2022.

Fourth phase

The fourth and final trial, the cow trial, is included in team competitions. Riders are asked to sort, cut, and then herd a specific cow across the line, then as a team get only that cow into a designated pen within the three minutes allotted time This phase is a timed event, with penalties, like the speed round, adding additional time onto a competitor’s time. For example, 10 seconds are added if a cow crosses the line if it is not that rider's numbered cow.  Riders need to communicate, not only with their horses quickly and efficiently but also with the other members of their team if they are to secure a competitive time during this phase of the competition.

third phase includes speed. here is lynne macleod and lexus qq doing the bull at pickering grange national 2022 (1)
Lynne Macleod and Hermes chasing cattle in the fourth phase.

If you want to try

Working equitation is a young sport still and now has a total of 24 nations involved. Competition opportunities are becoming more available, and more and more instructors are becoming qualified to teach.

It really is the most friendly and fun sport which is growing in popularity across the world and specifically here in the UK. To find a wealth of information about clinics, competitions, instructors, rules, and so on, go to

If you are interested in joining in or coming along to find out more, with or without your horse, please email me or message me on Facebook.

Read also: The most common errors dressage judges are looking for


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