What is Equitation: Medals, Big Eq, and Tests

Equitation Rider

The land of equitation, especially “Big Eq,” is a dazzling and confusing place- what is Big Eq? What are the tests? And how the heck are they judged? 

Basic Equitation Classes:

Almost all horse shows, whether school shows, regional, or A-rated, hold equitation classes.  These are regular, non-medal equitation classes. For example, you might have a Modified Hunter division, and then an accompanying Modified Equitation division.

Horse show schedules usually have these classes run concurrently with their hunter counterparts, since the course and fence heights are going to be the same.  There are generally just two differences from the hunter classes. First, judges examine a rider’s technique, position and control, rather than the horse itself.  Second, courses often have some kind of deviation from the typical hunter route- maybe throwing in bending line, or rollback to test the rider’s ability to pilot the horse on a different and unexpected track.

These classes do not have tests, or call-backs. They do have, as part of the Equitation division, a Flat class. The Flat class, like a Hunter Under Saddle Class, has all the riders enter the ring as a group to demonstrate the walk, trot, and canter.  Again, the rider, not the horse, is the focus of the judge. Therefore, the judge may ask for more complicated maneuvers in order to accurately separate and compare the riders. Depending on the age and skill level of the class, judges may ask to see a sitting trot, halt, or lengthening of stride.  They may also ask riders to demonstrate riding without their irons.

Medal Classes (Big Eq):

Medal Classes are the bigger, more challenging version of Equitation classes, with separate phases and testing.  They are called Medal classes because when they began in the 1930’s, riders were awarded actual medals! Even though now it’s down to big ribbons, they name has stuck around. Some smaller shows will hold a Mini-Medal, at 2’3” to 2’6”, and there is are also sometimes 3’ Medals held at individual shows.  

The USHJA also holds a Hunter Seat Medal and a Jumper Seat Medal at 3’3”.  These are different than typical formats, and are designed as a lead-in to upper level hunter, jumper, and equitation classes.

The following classes, however, are the major Medals, and what people are usually refer to as “Big Eq:”

The ASPCA Maclay

  • Year of Inception: 1933       
  • Fence Height: 3’6”
  • Phases: 2, Over Fences phase, Flat phase
  • Finals: National Horse Show (currently KY Horse Park)
  • Open to riders who’ve not reached their 18th birthday as of Dec. 1 of the                competition year.
  • Website
  • 2018 Winner: Sam Walker

The USEF Medal

  • Year of Inception: 1937
  • Fence Height: 3’6”
  • Phases: 2, Course over fences, Work-Off (tests 1-17)
  • Finals: Pennsylvania National Horse Show (Harrisburg, PA)
  • Open to riders who have not reached their 18th birthday as of Dec. 1 of the competition year.
  • Website
  • 2018 Winner: Brian Moggre

USEF Talent Search

  • https://www.usef.org/forms-pubs/CbIQDSckvs4/2019-talent-search-qualifying
  • Year of Inception: 1958
  • Fence Height: 3’6” to 3’11” (depending on the rating of specific class)
  • Phases: 2: Jumper Phase, Flat Phase
  • Finals: Separate East Coast (Gladstone, NJ) and West Coast Finals
  • Open to riders who have not reached their 21st birthday as of Dec. 1 of the competition year.
  • Website
  • 2018 East Winner: Daisy Farrish

Washington Equitation Classic

  • Year of Inception: 1992
  • Fence Height: 3’6”
  • Phases: Hunter Phase and Jumper Phase
  • Finals: Washington International Horse Show
  • Hunter Phase and Jumper Phase
  • Open to riders who have not reached their 18th birthday as of Dec. 1 of the competition year
  • Website
  • 2018 Work Off- Winner Ellie Yeager

Judging Equitation

A great resource for understanding how judges look at equitation is actually the USEF Rule Book.  It fairly specifically lays out what the standards are, mentioning a “workmanlike appearance,” seat and hands that are light and supple, and an overall impression of control.

Hands are to be over and in front of the withers, knuckles 30 degrees inside of vertical, and hands slightly apart. And of course, a straight line from bit to elbow. Riders must maintain a light contact with their horse’s mouth.

Even though we hear these things all the time, it simplifies and clarifies them to read them in the rule book.  Eyes up, shoulders back, ankles flexed in and heels down. Calf in contact with the horse’s side and slightly behind the girth, iron on the ball of the foot.

Interestingly, it doesn’t specifically mention the depth of seat (ability to sit is typically highly prized in the equitation ring). It does talk about that riders should be 2 degrees ahead of the vertical at the walk, sitting trot, and canter. At posting trot, as well as when galloping and jumping; however, riders should be inclining forward.  That said, for flatwork, it is usually true that riders who have a better seat- ability to sit quietly, maintaining contact and reducing impact, and remaining still through the upper body- are at the top of the field.

The Tests

For the BigEq Medal classes, judges can ask riders to perform any of the following, individually or collectively.  

    1.  Halt (4 to 6 seconds) or halt and back. When riders working collectively are asked to halt and then back, they must not be penalized if they walk forward a few steps and halt after backing.
    2. Hand gallop. A hand gallop may be used on the approach to a jump.  
    3. Figure eight at trot, demonstrating change of diagonals. At left diagonal, rider should be sitting the saddle when left front leg is on the ground; at right diagonal, rider should be sitting the saddle when right front leg is on the ground; when circling clockwise at a trot, rider should be on left diagonal; when circling counterclockwise, rider should be on the right diagonal.  
    4. Figure eight at canter on correct lead, demonstrating simple change of lead. This is a change whereby the horse is brought back into a walk or trot (either is acceptable unless the judge specifies) and restarted into a canter on the opposite lead. Figures to be commenced in center of two circles so that one change of lead is shown.
    5. Work collectively or individually at a walk, trot and/or canter.
    6. Jump low obstacles at a trot as well as at a canter. The maximum height and spread for a trot jump is 3’ for horses, 2’ for ponies in classes restricted to ponies.
    7. Question(s) regarding basic horsemanship, tack and equipment and conformation.
    8. Ride without stirrups, riders must be allowed option to cross stirrups.
    9. Dismount and mount. Individually.
    10. Turn on the forehand done through the walk or the halt.
    11. Figure eight at canter on correct lead demonstrating flying change of lead.
    12. Execute serpentine at a trot and/or canter on correct lead demonstrating simple or flying changes of lead. (See EQ112.4 for simple change.)
    13. Change leads on a line demonstrating a simple or flying change of lead. (See EQ112.4 for simple change.)
    14. Change horses. (Note: this test is the equivalent of two tests.)
    15. Canter on counter lead. (Note: no more than twelve horses may counter canter at one time.) A canter on the counter lead may be used on the approach to a jump.
    16. Turn on the haunches from the walk.
    17. Demonstration ride of approximately one minute. Rider must advise judge beforehand what ride he plans to demonstrate. BOD 1/20/18 Effective 12/1/18

Hopefully, this overview gives you a good idea of what the major Equitation Medals entail- but this doesn’t cover all of it by a long shot.  To be competitive in these classes requires a tremendous understanding of track, speed, strategy, and horsemanship. And of course, a great deal of practice and preparation with an educated and effective trainer.  Contact NC trainer Alicia Wilkinson, a proven success in the equitation ring, today.

Jenn Crow
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