In Brazil I had the wonderful opportunity to be introduced to Working Equitation at Haras do Castanheiro, the beautiful breeding of Dr.ª Clélia M. Erwenne Araújo Pinto (see the video at the end of this article).
Working Equitation (WE) is a working riding discipline for all breeds, which has its origin in the Iberian countries, France and Italy. It grew out of decades of daily work with cattle in the open countryside where the rider had to carry out duties on horseback. WE consists of 4 phases:
- Obstacle course with style
- Obstacle course with speed
- Working with cattle
The dressage is the basis of Working Equitation and consists of a series of gymnastic exercises and dressage movements. In all the other components of WE the horse needs to be calm, responsive, supple and able to balance on the haunches so the horse has to be educated by dressage. Especially in the obstacle course with speed and the work with cattle the horse needs to be able to instantly change direction or stop. If the horse is not responsive to your aids or makes the turn too big, the cattle can escape. After the completion of the dressage phase a rider can demonstrate horsemanship skills in obstacle phase.
2. Obstacle course with style
In this phase you ride a series of obstacles at walk and canter. The course is based on daily work with cattle, inviting horse and rider to deal with a number of obstacles similar to those encountered when riding and working in the fields. The obstacle course can include:
- Walk over a wooden bridge
- Ride around a livestock pen
- Ring a bell at the end of a corridor and rein back out
- Open and close a gate without letting go of the latch
- Collect a pole from a drum and replace pole
- Collect rings (ring riding)
- Slalom around bending poles, (aiming to change legs) at each post
- Walk sideways along a pole placed flat on the ground
- Jump over straw bales
The obstacle course is designed to show the connection and harmony between horse and rider and their working partnership and maneuverability. The horse should be calm and relaxed, but confident and aware. The rider has to approach each obstacle with full clarity and precision. Initially for less experienced horses and/or riders the obstacles are ridden with two reins, two hands. The ultimate aim is to ride horse in collection in walk and canter and to ride with one hand only (left hand) throughout the course.
3. Obstacle course with speed
In this phase the same obstacles are used as in 2. but this time the obstacle course is ridden "against the clock". This phase aims to demonstrate the ability rider and horse to overcome some obstacles that reproduce difficulties encountered in the field, in the shortest possible time .
4. Cattle penning
In this phase you will work in a team of four riders and horses to separate a cow from the cattle. One rider drives a cow from the herd to a pen. The three teammates ensure that the rest of the herd stays in place. This element evolved from the common ranch work of separating cattle into pens for branding, doctoring, or transport.
First time Working Equitation
ST Mastery student Paula Miranda had arranged the visit to Haras do Castanheiro and this gave me the wonderful opportunity to do Working Equitation for the first time in my life. At Haras do Castanheiro I had the honor to ride a real master horse, the wonderful Lusitano stallion Ulisses do Castanheiro. What a magnificent horse! After some warming up with gymnastic exercise, supervisor and veterinarian of the breeding, Dr. Orpheu Ávila Jr., guided me through the obstacle course. The professional rider Luciano dos Anjos also gave me helpful instructions, which were translated from Portuguese to English by ST Mastery student and organizer of the ST clinics in Brazil, Victor Gueiros Freire. First I did the course in walk, riding two-handed, and this way I could figure out what the course was all about. When I was familiar with the course, Ulisses and I did the course in canter, riding one-handed. Check out the video for an impression: