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How To Choose An Equestrian Discipline

Choosing an equestrian discipline when you are brand new to horseback riding can be tough. You may absolutely adore horses, but don’t know exactly what to do with horses. You scroll Google’s first three pages of horse lesson listings for your area, and you turn up some horse barns that look interesting. But you really don’t know what a Dressage coach does, or how it is humanely possible to lease half of a horse.

Figuring out an equestrian discipline can be a bit overwhelming, but I’m here to help. The equestrian world is diverse in options, and there is definitely a place for you here.

Considerations When Choosing An Equestrian Discipline

Considerations When Choosing An Equestrian Discipline

So, how do you go about choosing an equestrian discipline? After all, there are so many. We will take a look at ten popular riding disciplines for you to see what might be a good fit for your personality and comfort level.

As you read through this list, consider which ones would be the best fit for your physical stamina and strength, as some of these disciplines require more than others. Bear in mind that each discipline below will be prevalent in some regions more than others. You may have to make a decision between traveling to a discipline that appeals most to you, or finding the next-best discipline closer to home.

Another consideration is budget. Showing tends to incur more costs than simply taking lessons, but owning a horse is the biggest cost of all. Some people will start with lessons at the beginning of their equestrian journey while they determine whether they’d like to compete and ultimately own their own horse.

That being said, let’s check out a snapshot of ten popular equestrian disciplines!

Ten Popular Riding Disciplines

Ten Popular Riding Disciplines

1. Equitation

Also known as “horsemanship”, equitation focuses on the rider’s ability to use proper aids in horseback riding. This is a great place to start for novice horse riders, as it can build your confidence and interest in other disciplines. Equitation classes and shows can be found in both English and Western disciplines, but the focus is the same: proper attire, and proper aids to the horse while riding.

2. Three-Day-Eventing

This is perhaps one of the most challenging of the equestrian disciplines, because it tests the horse’s and rider’s abilities mentally and physically over the course of multiple events. Three-Day-Eventing is a combination of dressage, cross-country, and show jumping competitions that test the finesse, bravery, and strength of the horse and rider. It is a thrilling sport that appeals to the rider who loves a good, grueling challenge.

3. Endurance Riding

Endurance riding is an extremely long race (50-100 miles) across a variety of terrain. During the race, riders and horses will face steep hills, water crossings, and long stretches of trails. Riders have to pass vet checkpoints, during which the vets decide whether their horse is fit to continue the race. Endurance riding requires some physical fitness and a deep sense of adventure.

4. Jumping

Under the umbrella of English riding disciplines are various jumping competition circles, based on either the successful completion of a specific course of jumps within a time frame (Show Jumping), or on the rider’s horsemanship and equitation over jumps (Hunter Jumper). Jumping requires a daring spirit and a strong tolerance for heights.

5. Dressage

Dressage, named after the French word for “Training”, is a discipline built on honing very fine-tuned and expressive movements under saddle. The purpose of Dressage competitions is to determine the connection between the horse and rider. Tests consist of very nuanced movements, and the rider is supposed to show very little leg or hand interference when riding the different movements, including Piaffe, Counter-Canter, 20-meter circles, and Pirouette.

6. Polo

Polo is a team sport that is played with a hard mallet and ball. The objective is similar to soccer or hockey – simply to get the ball into the opponent’s goal. This sport is perfect for someone who enjoys playing on a team and directly against their opponents. It requires a high level of stamina both from horse and rider, which involves a lot of conditioning outside of matches.

7. Western Pleasure

Western Pleasure is a discipline that measures the smoothness, cadence, and ease of transition at a halt, walk, trot, canter, and hand gallop. The ideal horse and rider duo will be very in-sync and the horse will express body language and tone of “pleasure” while being ridden, which is proven by lightness of contact, self carriage, and lack of tension. This is an excellent discipline for someone who enjoys the details of Western-style riding.

8. Barrel Racing

Barrel racing is a rodeo event that was developed specifically for women, where women and their horses race against the clock around three barrels in a cloverleaf pattern. This discipline is often ridden on quarter or paint horses, but includes other breeds, such as Arabians. Barrel racing is extremely popular in more rural regions and is great for riders with a need for speed.

9. Cutting And Roping

Cow cutting and roping are dynamic sports that test a rider and horse’s ability to work together with cattle. Cow cutting consists of the duo “cutting” two cattle individually out of a small herd in an arena within 21/2 minutes. Calf roping consists of a horse and rider in an arena with a young cow. The rider has to race against the clock to lasso a calf, jump off their horse, and tie the calf’s legs together. These disciplines are great for those who enjoy tackling a challenge together with their horse.

10. Showmanship

Showmanship is an event that does not require riding a horse. The competition is merely a pattern in an arena that you do completely in-hand, leading a horse in just a halter. The handlers are judged based on how well they exhibit their horses, which includes proper grooming and completion of the pattern. This discipline would be great for the person who enjoys just hanging out at the barn without riding, and enjoys ground work and grooming.

What Equestrian Discipline Suits You?

what equestrian discipline suits you

After looking through these disciplines, do one or two jump out at you? Does one tug at your heart for adventure, your passion for precision, or your itch to try your hand at ranch work? When we get right down to it, all the disciplines are open to you. You may try something that you think would be a good fit, then go a completely different direction, and that is okay.

Regardless of all “advice” I could give you about choosing a discipline, it may just come down to what you fall in love with. When finding your place in the equestrian world, the important thing is to find a discipline that you enjoy and that gives you the best opportunity to connect with these remarkable animals that you are drawn to. No matter where you go, you have an amazing community surrounding you.

Lindsey Rains
Lindsey Rains is an equestrian blogger and creator of Alta Mira Horsemanship. She focuses on communication between horse and rider and kind training tactics. She resides in Liberty Lake, WA, USA, with her husband. Visit her blog. You can also follow her on Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or YouTube.


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