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English riding is a form of horse riding seen throughout the world. There are many variations, but all feature a flat English saddle without the deep seat, high back or saddle horn seen on a Western saddle nor the knee pads seen on an Australian Stock Saddle. Saddles within the various English disciplines are all designed to allow the horse the freedom to move in the optimal manner for a given task, ranging from classical dressage to horse racing. English bridles also vary in style based on discipline, but most feature some type of noseband as well as closed reins, buckled together at the ends, that prevents them from dropping on the ground if a rider becomes unseated. Clothing for riders in competition is usually based on traditional needs from which a specific style of riding developed, but most standards require, as a minimum, boots; breeches or jodhpurs; a shirt with some form of tie or stock; a hat, cap, or equestrian helmet; and a jacket.
English riding is an equestrian discipline with many different styles, however, at the most basic level, most versions require riders to use both hands on the reins, rather than just one hand, as is seen in western riding. Riders generally "post" or "rise" to the trot (rising and sitting in rhythm with each stride). The "posting trot" is used most often in a working or extended trot, although there are also times when English riders may sit the trot; the "sitting trot" is most often used to ride collected forms of the trot seen in dressage, show hack and hunt seat equitation competition.
Several disciplines originated from military training or foxhunting in England and Europe.
Competitive Trail tests the stamina, manners, and conditioning of the horse and rider. Competitive Trail has some similarities but is quite different from the discipline of Endurance (see below). Competitive Trail rides can be up to 40 miles long and are to be finished within the time allotted, and not over or under the set time. Veterinarian checks must be completed.
Horse and rider pairs are scored on a demerit system, based on the conditioning and manners of the horse and rider. A scoring system penalizes horse and rider for aspects such as unsatisfactory pulse rate, lesions, lameness etc. The pair with the lowest score (lowest number of demerits) wins.
“Dressage” is derived from the French verb “dresser”, meaning “to train”. Dressage is the systematic and sequential training of horse and rider, developing harmony between the two. The object is to produce a willing, obedient, balanced, and supple horse that appears to require minimal input from the rider.
A standard dressage test involves a series of movements the horse and rider must perform to demonstrate the correct progression of the pair’s training. Each movement is preformed at a specified point. The difficulty of the tests increases gradually, with a horse at the highest level showcasing a very high degree of obedience, gymnastic ability, and wonderfully graceful, expressive and rhythmic movement.
Dressage can also be performed as a freestyle or as a pas-de deux. A freestyle is a dressage test set to music of the rider’s choice. A required set of movements must be demonstrated, and it is the choice of the rider as to where and in what order the movements are executed. A pas-de-deux involves two horse and rider pairs, who perform a series of movements together in mirror image of the other.
In dressage, horse and rider combinations are scored in percentages; a score in the early 60’s and upwards is desirable. The pair with the highest score wins.
Show jumping is a test of power, precision, agility, and speed. The horse and rider must navigate a course of brightly colored fences in an optimum time while incurring as little faults as possible. The courses are designed to challenge the horse and rider’s ability to make adjustments on course as required in order to leave all the obstacles intact.
Faults are assessed for a knockdown (4 faults), a refusal (4 faults), a run-out (4 faults), a fall (elimination), or for being over the time allowed (1 fault per 4 seconds over the time allowed). While there are several different formats used in show jumping, generally, a horse and rider pair that posts a clear (fault-free) round is eligible for a jump-off. A jump-off is a race against the clock over a shortened course. The horse and rider with the fewest faults and fastest time wins.
Eventing tests the courage, stamina, and versatility of the horse and rider. Advanced eventing is held over 3 days - called 3-day eventing - each day featuring a different phase of competition: dressage (see above) on day 1, cross-country - which can include 4 phases - on day 2, and show jumping (see below) on day 3. Cross-country consists of 2 roads and tracks phases, a steeplechase phase, and the exciting cross-country phase in which a jumping course made up of natural, solid obstacles is set over varied terrain that the pair must negotiate.
The competition encompasses 3 separate tests, each scored individually but added together for the final results. Penalties or faults will be totaled and the horse and rider pair with the fewest combined faults over the 3 days wins.
Endurance riding tests the stamina, speed, and conditioning of the horse and rider. Total distances per ride vary, with the longest and most difficult rides around 100 miles, to be completed in 24 hours. Different types of terrain and natural hazards must be negotiated, calling for an obedient horse and knowledgeable rider. Various veterinarian checks must be completed during the ride to monitor the horse’s “soundness” or conditioning and deem the horse and rider pair fit to continue.
The object is to complete the ride in the fastest time possible, while passing the vet’s inspections. The first horse and rider pair to finish the ride and also receive the vet’s approval wins.