You are currently viewing An introduction to Equitation

An introduction to Equitation

Text: Tana Scott

The word ‘equitation’ was originally used to refer to the overall position or style of the rider when in the saddle. The original meaning of this word was then taken to create the discipline called (you guessed it) Equitation.

Equitation, which can be ridden by riders of any age and ability, can be ridden at training or graded level and is a recognised discipline under the South African Equestrian Federation. When riders enter an Equitation test, they can expect to be judged on their position and how effective they are when in the saddle. A good Equitation rider is capable of riding in a neat and effective manner and can display a true connection between themselves and their horse. They should also have the ability to ride other horses in the same neat and effective way.

Ultimately, the purpose of Equitation is to improve riders’ skills by providing them with correct instruction and helpful tips to allow them to become the best possible rider they can be. It is the only discipline in which the rider and their influence on their equine partner are formally judged.

Did you know?

Equitation is a discipline that was introduced to South Africa in the 1970s by the talented Mrs. Charlotte Stubbs.

The levels

In Equitation, different tests are created which combine a flatwork part, which is now known as ‘Part 1’, and a course consisting of approximately 8 jumps, now known as ‘Part 2’. There are then four levels that riders may ride at when competing in Equitation:

Welcome (60cm)

  • At this level, the riders are required to do basic transitions such as halting, walking, trotting and cantering.
  • Elements may include: trotting poles, Figures of 8, cantering a jump on a circular track, a small gymnastic, and canter poles.
  • There are two parts to each test at this level.

Novice (70cm)

  • At this level, the riders are required to do more complex transitions and movements.
  • Elements may include: trotting a Figure of 8 over trotting poles, cantering two poles on a circle changing rein through the circle, cantering a more complex gymnastic and jumping fences set at right angles.
  • There are two parts to each test in this level.

Intermediate (80cm) 

  • In this level, the riders are required to do more complex transitions and movements than in Novice.
  • Elements may include: cantering two jumps on a circular track, cantering a vertical on a Figure of 8 track, trotting a more complex gymnastic, jumping fences set on a zig-zag, cantering a Mercedes, performing rollbacks and adding and subtracting strides in a related distance.
  • There are three parts to each test at this level.

Open (90cm)

  • In this level, the riders are required to do more complex transitions and movements than in Intermediate.
  • Elements may include: jumping bounces on a curve, adding and subtracting strides in a related distance, cantering a related ‘s-bend’ and cantering a ‘looping star’.
  • There are three parts to each test at this level.

Note: In the Intermediate and Open levels, there is a third part to the ridden test in which competitors swap horses with each other and ride the new test.

Each test is created in a way that tests the riders and provides them with basic flatwork exercises to complete, which, in the future, will help them achieve the best possible results. Each part in the Equitation test will be judged by either one or two skilled judges, and once the test is completed, the judges will then score each part out of a possible 20 marks. The rider with the highest mark at the end of the class will be announced as the winner. In Welcome and Novice, the score is out of 40 marks in total and in Intermediate and Open the score is out of 60 marks in total.


A large part of Equitation is the neat and correct turn-out of the horse and rider combination. Horses are required to have their manes and tails plated and to be neatly groomed and presented with clear, correct tack. Riders are recommended to wear beige breeches, a collared shirt with a tie or a Chinese collared show-shirt, a neutral-coloured show blazer and have polished boots. Hair should be tied up, and the overall impression should be of a neat and well-presented rider and horse.

Take-home message

Equitation is a fun and informative discipline that has been enjoyed by many top and recreational riders over the years and provides a great medium for riders to improve their skills and the way in which they work with their horse. Equitation shows are hosted all over the country and give graded Equitation riders an opportunity to earn points and to be chosen for a team that will then represent the province at the South African Championships at the end of the year.

Equitation is seen as the basis for all disciplines in the equestrian sport as it teaches the riders to apply the correct aids, sit correctly, hold the correct position and ride in an effective manner. These skills are used in all the other equestrian disciplines, and doing Equitation as a discipline will greatly improve these skills and make you a better all-round performer.