Frequently Asked Questions about Working Equitation


Where does Working Equitation (WE) come from?

What Makes Working Equitation Different?

How do I get started in Working Equitation? 

What kinds of horses are used in Working Equitation?  

Do I have to use special tack or attire?  

Do I have to have prior Dressage Experience?  

How do I find Working Equitation shows and training in my area?  

What are the phases or elements?   

What is the Working Dressage Phase?

What is the Ease of Handling Phase?  

What is the Speed Phase?

What is the Cattle Handling Phase? 

What happens at a WE competition?

Are there Working  Equitation Shows?


Where does Working Equitation (WE) come from?  Working Equitation is a discipline intended to preserve and develop equestrian skills related to handling and sorting cattle. The principles of WE have been used in Europe while herding livestock for 100’s of years. WE competitive trials were created in the early 1990’s in the four initial countries – Portugal, Spain, France and Italy –it then rapidly expanded and is practiced in a large number of European countries as well as in Austrailia, Asia, Mexico and South America. The Working Equitation discipline aims at promoting competition between the different traditional ways of riding used in the ranch work of various countries. Another of its special features is the fact that it constitutes a prime example of an ethnographic and cultural showcase, maintaining the traditional costumes and saddlery characteristics of each country. These characteristics of Working Equitation have lead to its huge success since the first International show in 1996.


What makes Working Equitation (WE) different from other American equestrian sports?   It is about true unity of horse and rider. It has a number of objectives including: Helping to select and give value to the best suited horses for professional usage in the cattle working sector. Passing on and promoting horse riding and training techniques used to drive and sort cattle. Developing equestrian activities based on working equitation techniques and thereby encouraging the use of horses in society.

WE showcases two concepts of equal importance the Performance and the Horsemanship. The first 2 of the 4 competition phases Working Dressage and Ease of Handling present a high standard of horsemanship while the Speed and Cattle Handling elements show the importance of ‘getting it done’. WE is about using the true principles of horsemanship to create lightness, balance and self-carriage. Through the use and principles of what is called Dressage in Europe or Horsemanship in America a true seamless partnership of horse and rider with the ability to do productive work is created with a long term commitment to the training process.


How do I get started in Working Equitation?   Everyone who rides a horse is doing Working Equitation to a certain degree.  Any type of basic Classicial Dressage or Western Dressage, Western Stockhorse or Traditional Bridlehorse training will get you started on the horse and rider unity needed for Working Equitation.  By joining the United States Working Equitation Association you will get the information about training, lessons, clinics and competitions that will immerse you in this magnificent sport.


What kind of horses are used in Working Equitation?  This sport is designed to show off the abilities of horses that could or do work cattle. The intrinsic qualities sought in the horses are: calmness, balance, impulsion, submission, boldness and an aptitude for working cattle. Horses that are obedient, athletic, fast and able to perform intricate moves in tight situations are best suited for WE. Horses of pure or mixed Iberian decent such as Andalusians, Lusitanos, Aztecas, PRE, Kigers, or Spanish Mustangs as well as Arabians, Morgans and Quarter horses excel at this sport. But any horse, pony, mule, or donkey regardless of breeding is welcome and may participate in WE events with the United States Working Equitation Association.


Do I have to use special tack or attire?   No, the concern to preserve traditional techniques and cultural practices has led to the creation of this sport.  The rules are intended to allow riders to compete in this sport on their own cultural terms and display the intrinsic qualities of their horses and the skills of their riders. One of the main points of Working Equitation is every rider competes in the tack and attire of their traditional riding style.

Most European countries have one main traditional ‘style’. America being the true ‘melting pot’ has created a traditional style all its own known as the American Cowboy.  The Cowboy originating in the Southwest especially Texas, and the Californio/Buckaroo developed west of the Rockies especially California are examples of truly traditional American riding styles and should be proudly honored in the sport of Working Equitation.  Any traditional discipline dress such as Classical Dressage, English Hunt Seat, Working Western, Portuguese, Spanish or Charro is acceptable as long as the styles are not mixed. Horse and rider must be true in both tack and attire to the style chosen.


Do I have to have prior Dressage Experience?  No, you do not have to have any formal dressage training or experience to get started. In WE ‘Working Dressage’ is the term for the first phase which is an arena test everyone is capable of learning. Once you get started you will need to learn about the elements used in Dressage training including the training, element and show terms. the letter used in a small dressage court and how a standard dressage test is ridden and judged. In the USA you can do this by taking lessons in either or both Standard Dressage or Western Dressage.


How do I find Working Equitation shows and training in my area?   By joining the United States Working Equitation Association you will get the information about lessons, clinics and competitions to help you get started. A suggested curriculum is being developed for the instruction of Working Equitation. Many dressage instructors are able to teach the foundation training of Working Equitation as well as Working Cow horse and trail trainers can be an asset to learning competition skills, obstacles, cattle handling skills and basic horsemanship. There are now a number of horse trainers and instructors who are devoting themselves to the sport of Working Equitation. Contacts are listed on this website.


What are the phases or tests?  Standard Competitions are comprised of three phases or tests:  Phase 1: Working Dressage, Phase 2: Ease of Handling and Phase 3 Speed.  Championship trials include  Phase 4 the Cattle Handling  test to have four judged phases and have the compulsory feature of the horse being ridden strictly with one hand at the L5 Advanced and L6 International level.


What is the Working Dressage phase?   It is a test to show the rhythm and regularity of the natural gaits and the precision of the horse to prepare for the other 3 phases. These are achieved through systematic gymnastic movements which are judged individually on a scale of 0 -10. Working Dressage does seek to demonstrate a horse’s natural athletic ability, willingness to work and lightness as does traditional Dressage and Western Dressage.  It differs from Competitive Dressage as there is not an emphasis on extension work and the trot is only used as a training gait and appears in the tests less and less as the levels advance, focusing on the working gaits of the walk and canter. Working Dressage creates an opportunity to chain together the movements usually practiced in a work situation with cattle. Working Dressage requires that a horse show regularity and purity of gaits performed in horizontal balance who is then able to continue on to perform obstacles, work cattle and remain obedient at fast speeds.


What is the Ease of Handling phase?  This phase which in other countries is also called 'Manability', ‘EOH’ ‘Style phase’ ‘Obstacle test’ or ‘Handiness test’ is an obstacle type event in which horse and rider must overcome elements which symbolize the difficulties natural and not, relative to those likely to be encountered in the field (i.e. crossing bridges, passing through gateways, side passing, etc). The manner in which the obstacle is executed – focusing on agility, submission, working attitude, as well as ease of movement and of handling – is scored by a judge the same way as the Working Dressage test on a scale of 0-10 for each element.


What is the Speed phase?  This is the second test of handiness, the first “EOH’ (listed above) is a test of technical handiness; this is a test of time handiness. It is a timed obstacle race, using the ‘Ease of Handling’ Obstacles. This is the same event as ‘EOH’ but measured in an objective way by the use of a stop watch -timer. The goal is to promote the horses which are most manageable. The individual scores are based on elapsed time through the obstacles and time penalties for course errors. The routes and the penalties applied for the mistakes must be such as to prevent any attempt to promote just the top speed, and not the handiness which would be contrary to the spirit of the discipline. It is the most exciting element in the Working Equitation competition series.


What is the Cattle Handling phase?   The Cattle handling phase is the essence of the sport of Working Equitation. It is performed by a ‘Team’ of three or four riders.  This is a timed test which is to prove the skills of the competitors with cattle. The constraints of the test are to show: 1.) A calm approach to the cattle. 2.) The isolation and the sorting of the cattle in respect of the integrity of the herd. 3.) The conduct of the cattle sorted efficiently and accurately. 4.) Teamwork.  The event consists of team members individually separating a particular animal from the herd, and then as a team herding it into a separate pen. It is similar to the American sports of Team Penning or Ranch Sorting.


What happens at a standard WE competition?   Every competitor performs the 3 phases or tests as part of a single competition (4 phases at Championship level).  All 3 or 4 phases carry equaly weight so no one test is more important than the other. The riders compete and are scored individually in each test and points are awarded based on each individual score. The points from the three phases are totaled for the final overall placing. The ‘Working Dressage’ and ‘Ease of Handling’ elements are scored like a standard dressage test where judges evaluate each movement/element on the basis of an objective standard appropriate to the training level of the test and assign each movement a score from 0 – 10 – '0' being "not executed" and '10' being "excellent". A score of 9 is very good and is a high mark, while a competitor achieving all 6s (or 60% overall) should be considered average. There are also many collective marks for overall horsemanship. The ‘Speed’ test and 'Cattle handling' test are timed events strictly against the clock with time penalties for mistakes. The times are converted into a point score. Each phase has award placings based on the event specifications. The Champion awards go to the highest overall scores of the combined test of competitior at each level.


Are there Working Equitation Shows?  Working Equitation Competitions in the US are still few. But as the sport is quickly gaining popularity there are more and more events offered all the time.  USAWEA is working diligently to create more shows. Any horse club or show association is welcome to request official show sanctioning from USAWEA so that competitors points will count towards USAWEA’s year end high point awards as well as other annual awards. This also allows the Show Committee assistance and they may rent the association's EOH Obstacles and WE equipment. The biggest hurdle at this time is qualified judges. Contact us to find a qualified judge in your area. Keep checking our events page for updates on new events.

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