By Mike Osinski
As is so often true in life, being in the right place at the right time can mean so much relative to success. Equestrian equitation embodies the very same spirit. This past fall, I had the pleasure of judging two USDF Regional Adult Amateur Equitation Final presented by Big Dee’s Tack & Vet Supply, as well the USEF National Equitation Finals at the Festival of the Champions. I can say from the judge’s perspective, that the rider being in the right place at the right time is what we are looking for.
Participation in an equitation class at a USDF/USEF show is an excellent way for the rider to get firsthand tips from a judge regarding how you perform at a competition. It is also a good way to get your horse in the arena, and for you to give your horse more confidence in its surroundings, especially if it’s green and insecure. And it can bring fun and build camaraderie with your barn mates and create new friends. If you work long, and hard, and successfully enough, a National Champion gets crowned every year. Currently, we have two divisions at the Festival of Champions, 13 and under and 14-18, but with a little time and patience we hope to have divisions for all ages. The Adult Amateur should not believe that equitation is just for children. I’m sure you all hear your instructors giving valuable guidance on being better balanced and more effective through your position.
The judge’s guidelines for the correct position of the rider follows the concepts of a vertical line through the rider’s body starting with ear, shoulder, hip, to heel. The view of the front or rear should show a horizontal balance and control of the head, shoulder, and pelvis. Another straight line in the rider’s body should be from the rider’s elbow to the bit. Being in balance and showing control of their posture through movement of the horse brings us to being in the right place to most effectively, and compassionately, encourage the horse to move in beauty and ease. The rider’s ability to influence the horse through connection, impulsion, suppleness, and harmony comes from a correctly positioned rider communicating to the horse in the right moment and brings us to being in the right time. The picture we find then is a harmonious and effective one, bringing grace and fluidity to equestrian art, an elusive moment that we all seek, and enjoy when it does happen.
It is in these categories of alignment and following mechanics that we see as the greatest faults in an equitation division. Rider’s should constantly readjust their balance and seek body awareness. How successful we are varies from time, coordination, and practice. As judges, we understand that every rider comes in with varying degrees of control and coordination. We try to hold a clear standard of where those particular parameters lie and place them in numerical categories. It is understandable that some riders are just starting and are yet able to coordinate their aids. The class is not judged on the high qualities of the horse’s movement but on the ability of the rider to show correct alignment and effect. Competitors on average moving horses can compete against and place over superior movers.
One of the most common faults we see with adult amateurs is the chair seat position. This is where the rider’s thighs are brought up, and into a gripping mode, weakening the rider’s balance and exhausting the individual through constant squeezing for security. Maybe the adult brains knows and fears all too well the consequences of being tossed to the ground like a human dart, and how much longer the pain and recovery will be, let alone the humility should anyone see us crumpled on the ground with dirt in our teeth. Gripping does have its valor! But is not the most efficient way of riding. Once the rider reaches that stage of trust, relaxation, and confidence, the next issue we see is the following mechanics of the rider’s core. We look for an undulating pelvis that absorbs and enhances the suspension of trot and canter, and encourages a free, pure, and unconstrained walk. Additionally, we look for a following hand that can maintain a soft but steady contact to the horse’s mouth. Then basics of connection is established, the horse’s movement is nurtured, and then the development of an elastic swinging back is achieved through form and function. An admirable pursuit of balance, harmony, and mutual cooperation between horse and rider.
We hope that riders will continue to develop their skills, honing their position and balance, and participate in equitation classes at the next horse show. We hope that show management offers and supports these classes, and encourages participation in whatever way then can. May your hard work pay off, and may you and your horse appreciate the harmony and grace that can follow when the correct concepts of classical equitation are achieved. I hope to see you in the “sand box” very soon.
For more information on the USEF/USDF Dressage Seat Medal Program visit here.
For more information on the USDF Regional Adult Amateur Equitation Program visit here.
Mike Osinski is a USEF Senior Judge, Designation in Equitation, Young Horses and Freestyles, FEI 4* and FEI Young Horse. He has earned his USDF Bronze, Silver and Gold Medals and Freestyle Bars, and is an active competitor and instructor, breeder of young horses, L Faculty apprentice, Committee Member for USDF. And unsuccessful lotto player.