Horses are wonderful companions, and they also make fantastic athletic partners! But there are a lot of equestrian sports out there—how can you decide which one is right for you? Why not try our just-for-fun flowchart and see where you end up? Who knows—you might just consider a new disciplien you haven’t already tried. When you finish, look below to find out a little about each activity.
Want to try free and natural? Riding bareback is lots of fun, especially with a few friends. If your horse’s back is on the bony side, you can always get a bareback pad to make it a little more comfortable for you and your horse.
Jumper classes aren’t judged on subjective criteria; winners are decided by faults (knocked rails) and time. In general, the cleanest, quickest round wins.
Hunter classes feature the thrill and challenge of jumping, but with a focus that’s more on style and accuracy rather than speed. This is a judged class. If you’d like to try jumping but want a little more relaxed pace, then hunter classes could be right for you.
Want to try a sport that truly highlights the relationship and communication you have with your horse? Dressage is a fun sport that involves riding a specific pattern called a test, which can range from quite easy (walk-trot only) to extremely complicated at the highest levels.
If you’d like to take your jumping to an even more exciting and challenging level, consider eventing, which is made of up of three distinct phases: dressage, cross-country, and show jumping. The cross-country phase, for which the sport is most recognized, involves an outdoor jumping course, complete with natural obstacles and water.
Hunt Seat Equitation/Pleasure
Walk! Trot! Canter! Hunt seat flat classes are loads of fun, no jumping required. Equitation classes are judged on the rider’s abilities, while pleasure classes are judged on the horse and his way of going. Depending on your circuit, this could also be called “hunter under saddle.”
For English riders who want to try something different than hunt seat, saddle seat classes are a fun alternative. These classes are designed for more upheaded breeds with natural high action (as opposed to the long-and-low of hunt seat.) Morgans, Arabians, Friesians and American Saddlebreds are most commonly seen in saddle seat classes.
Like its English counterpart, Western rail classes feature a ring full of horses and riders competing at various gaits. Equitation is judged on the rider, pleasure on the horse.
This is a sport that is great for the spectators as well as the competitors. Inspired by real work on ranches, cutting requires that a horse and rider team remove (or “cut”) a particular cow from the herd.
Barrel Racing/Pole Bending
Do you and your horse make a fast, agile team? Put your skills to the test—and the clock—with barrel racing or pole bending.
Reining is a western sport in which an individual horse and rider perform a specific pattern—a little like dressage for Western riders. Spins, sliding stops, speed and flying lead changes are the hallmarks of this sport.
Think of combined driving events as three-day eventing on wheels!
Walk! Trot! Trot on! You won’t hear any canter calls in a Pleasure Driving class, but you will see a lot of tradition, skilled drivers, and beautiful horses in harness.
Showmanship is a ground class judged on the handler’s ability to “show off” the horse in-hand. You’ll also be asked to lead your horse in a specific pattern. At some shows, it can be a very large class!
How close if your horse to the standard for his breed or type? Are his legs straight? Does he have good conformation? Halter classes are fun for everybody, and a great way to truly “show off” your horse.
Daniel Johnson is a freelance writer and
professional photographer. He’s the author of several books, including
How to Raise Horses: Everything You Need to Know, (Voyageur Press,
2014). Dan’s barn is home to Summer, a Welsh/TB cross, Orion, a Welsh
Cob, and Mati and Amos, two Welsh Mountain Ponies.