California Riding Magazine • May, 2013

Working Equitation Comes West
Carlos Carneiro clinics in this "new" discipline coming soon.

by Marilyn Hite, Manager of Sierra Nevada Lusitanos

Wow! We are really excited about the equestrian sport of Working Equitation in the USA.

We recently attended an excellent seminar on Working Equitation Judging Techniques at Haras Dos Cavaleiros in Magnolia, TX. The seminar instruction was given by Claudia Elsner Matos. Ms. Matos represents the World Association of Working Equitation as an instructor of judges for Working Equitation and also serves as a judge at national and international competitions.

Ms. Matos tutored us through each of the four competitions included in Working Equitation. These four phases are: Dressage, Ease of Handling for accuracy over European field (ranch) type obstacles, Speed (a timed phase doing the obstacle course) and the Cow Trial. All Working Equitation competitions include Dressage, Ease of Handling and Speed. The Cow Trial is optional for many competitions depending on the venue.

Sierra Nevada Lusitanos trainer Carlos Carneiro.

Working Equitation is a relatively new sport based on historical equestrian traditions. Competitions began in Europe in 1996 as a way to preserve and to promote the equestrian skills of the horse and rider as they work cattle in various traditional European ways. The competitions highlight these skills and showcase them as a modern equestrian art.

Here's a look at each phase from a judge's perspective:

1. Dressage

Dressage represents the skills the horse and rider use when working with a cow in the field. Important elements include correct and pure gaits, impulsion and submission, and rhythm and regularity. Impulsion is the eager, yet controlled energy of the horse. Submission is the willingness of the horse to engage impulsion and collection simultaneously and continuously whenever asked for it. All of these elements are equally important in transitions between gaits. The correct execution of lead changes and the accuracy of patterns are also considered important. Dramatic extended trots are not included in Working Equitation Dressage since this gait is not used when working with cows. The Collective Marks are an overview of the Paces, Impulsion, Submission and Rider. The Rider Marks take into consideration the position and seat of the rider, the imperceptible use of the aids and the consistency of the performance.

Fernando Carneiro.

2. Ease of Handling (Manageability)

The obstacle course is a re-creation of obstacles found in the field while working cows. Judges look for all the same elements as in the dressage test, such as submission, impulsion and collection, rhythm and regularity, in all movements, as well as correct execution of lead changes and collected transitions throughout the obstacle course. The judge assesses a great deal of data simultaneously and must accurately reflect the strengths and weaknesses of the performance, obstacle by obstacle and from obstacle to obstacle.

The Collective Marks are also judged in this phase of competition. Some of these obstacles are ones we have in American Trail Classes such as the bridge, the gate and the jump. Others are new for us as in the Removing/Using/Placing a Pole. Try cantering up to or up to and around a drum barrel as you remove the long pole (approximately 2.5 meters in length) and place the pole horizontally under your arm. Continue cantering towards and along side the plywood-cut-out bull, with a 5" ring sitting on the top of its neck. Spear the ring and then canter forward to place the pole and the ring in another drum barrel. Now, imagine doing this obstacle at top speed in the Speed Contest! Now you are getting a picture of Working Equitation. The pole represents "La Garrocha," a Spanish term for a pole used to control the cow from horseback.

By the way, at most Working Equitation competition levels, the horse is cantered from obstacle to obstacle and most of the obstacles at the higher levels are executed at the canter, such as side-stepping (half-passing) over a pole.

3. Speed Contest

Some changes are made to the obstacles. For instance, the gate is changed from a panel gate to a rope suspended between the side panels. The rider can choose his or her own fastest way to negotiate the rope on this gate. Anything goes as long as the loop in the rope is replaced over the post after going through the gate! Imagine trying to get the loop over the post as your horse prances around in anticipation of a quick departure for the next obstacle. Judging of the Speed Contest includes proper sequence of obstacles, taking note of the number of refusals per obstacle, which can lead to elimination, and confirming that the contestant has completed each obstacle.

4. Cow Trial

The Cow Trial is a speed test and is worked as a team of three or four riders. Each rider draws the number of the cow he or she will work. The cows are kept at one end of the arena beyond a line marked across the width of the arena. One team-member at a time works his or her cow by crossing over the line, separating the cow from the herd and driving it over the line. Once the cow is over the line, that same team member and other team members who are not allowed to cross the line drive the cow to the far end of the arena as fast as possible into a designated area. Once the cow enters the designated area, the rider has completed his or her individual part of the team competition and the next rider competes. Some riders choose to carry La Garrocha during this event.

Now you can understand why we are so excited about Working Equitation! Our young horses all execute the obstacle course according to their level of training. The obstacles engage the horse's mind and the course encourages them to pay close attention to the rider throughout the execution of each obstacle. The bridge prepares them for our field trips to the beach where they have to walk on a wooden walkway to reach the beach.

We are excited about participating in the introduction of Working Equitation to the West Coast. Our resident trainer, Carlos Carneiro, is available for a select number of Working Equitation clinics this year. We know you will be as excited as we are once you try it!

Working Equitation is open-minded about tack, attire and breed of horse. Only our future internationally competing team representing the USA will need to be concerned about tack and attire for it must represent each nation's style traditionally used to work cows.
To watch Working Equitation online visit

Author Marilyn Hite is manager of Sierra Nevada Lusitanos. For more information, visit The website is coming soon.