12 Interesting Facts About Saddle Seat Equitation

Saddle seat equitation is a style of riding which is designed to show the high action that certain horse breeds are able to perform. The goal is to have the rider be able to convey an impression of being in easy control of the horse. Ring generalship is also a component of equitation. It is a unique competition because it isn’t the horse being judged in a competition. Only the rider is judged.

Are you wondering if this style of riding might be perfect for you? Then here are some interesting facts about saddle seat equitation that may whet your appetite.

#1. Any breed of horse is eligible for open equitation. 

There are two types of saddle seat equitation. The first is what is referred to as “open” equitation. This means any horse that is suitable to the style of riding that equitation requires is allowed to be paired with the rider for competition. There is also breed-restricted equitation where only one breed or one group of breeds is eligible for the rider to use.

#2. Ability isn’t the only judgment factor in many competitions. 

The USEF recommends that judges and exhibitors remember that any entrant should be judged on their ability. Yet there is a certain amount of tradition and expectation that comes with saddle seat equitation which are “unwritten” rules and customs. If the attire of the rider is not neat or the riding habits are not properly formal or informal, then riders may find themselves being penalized even if they have done well.

#3. Judges have a lot of discretion when it comes to performance. 

Horses and riders are able to fall in saddle seat equitation and may not be penalized for it. This is because the judge’s discretion is the final word in this competition. Judges are encouraged to call for at least two tests of the top competitors, but this is not mandated. Even when individual tests are called for, the judge’s opinion on their railwork and testing is the final say.

#4. Entrants must immediately respond to a judge’s requirements. 

When a collective workout is called, then all entrants chosen must be worked both ways of the ring in front of each judge. The judges may call for any gait during this workout and it must be responded to immediately. If the response does not occur, then a penalty may be instituted at the discretion of the judge.

#5. The nature of saddle seat equitation causes many to form lifelong friendships. 

It is not unusual for tight bonds to be formed in this competition between the horse and rider. The horse must have a sense of what the rider wants in order for the results to be successful. Riders and trainers also tend to form close bonds because of the training demands that are required – especially in the first days of learning this form of riding. Competitors often form friendships as well. Most competitors say that their strongest friendships and relationships come from their experiences in equitation.

#6. There is always pressure in saddle seat equitation. 

In baseball, there is only pressure to perform when batting or when fielding. In football, there is only pressure when you are on the ball or running to receive it. In saddle seat equitation, the rider is always under pressure because the smallest details are criticized. You can have a perfect ride, pick up the wrong lead during a pattern, and lose everything.

#7. Horses are encouraged to be expressive during saddle seat equitation. 

Some observers or new riders who are unfamiliar with saddle seat equitation often comment that the horses appear “fearful” or “scared” during events. What is unique about this competition is that the horses are actually encouraged to express themselves. There is an increased level of attentiveness that is not trained away for the sake of appearance. An expressive horse that is properly controlled is a wonderful sight to see.

#8. Saddle seat equitation encourages enhanced natural movements. 

Another common complaint about saddle seat equitation is that the horses seem to be performing movements which appear to be unnatural to them. The animation of the horse, however, is simply an enhancement of how the horse normally behaves. The goal of a good ride during equitation is to simply show the judges that as a rider, you know how to get the very best out of your horse.

#9. Hoof care is a vitally important component of saddle seat equitation. 

For best results, a horse who is working with a rider in equitation should not have long heels, toes, or weights. A horse should also be given plenty of turn out time. Some trainers tend to use a forceful approach when teaching movements, but this is unnecessary. Not every horse is interested in equitation, just like not every rider wants to be involved with it either. Forcing a horse to do something it doesn’t want to do is unethical at best.

#10. There is an interesting method of disqualification. 

When looking at judging expectations that are handed out at some events, published online by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Research and Extension, one of them states “willful abuse.” This means abusing a horse through ignorance is not a cause for disqualification. “Excessive training” can also be a cause for disqualification. Because of this, you will see passionate debates about how equitation should be properly performed and how horses should be cared for when not in competition. Each rider/handler/owner has their own preferences, but ethical standards should always be followed and ignorance should never be an acceptable excuse.

#11. Scoring a rider is based on faults collected. 

In equitation, it can be helpful for some to think of “faults” as penalties instead. The scoring breakdown often begins with what would be a perfect score, which will then be decreased for every fault that is noticed by a judge. Some faults may be classified as “major” or “severe,” which could dramatically lower the score that is awarded.

#12. Riders are given a drawing of the pattern, but written instructions take precedent. 

Although there are pictures of the recommended pattern distributed for a competition, it is the written instructions that are meant to be followed. This is done because riders are expected to enter an arena ready to show, displaying confidence in their presence there, as well as their ability.

Equitation is just one of many disciplines that are available for competition. You are a rider. You are not a passenger. Little things make a big difference. If you’re interested in this form of equestrian sport, then use these interesting facts about saddle seat equitation to fuel your curiosity so you can see if it is right for you.