Equigility — A New Twist on Equitation

I want to start a new sport, and I’m calling it Equigility.

It’s a little like canine agility, and something like Working Equitation. Vanessa Bee got a version of it going in England called Horse Agility (in hand) and Extreme Trail Challenge.

But the sport I want to see, Equigility, would be less structured competition, and more of a creative endeavor — a partnership between the horse and its owner with points given for originality of movement.

You read that right. Originality of movement.

See, I think the horse world relies far too much on standards and measurements. That whole letters thing in dressage and saluting the judge drives me crazy. Getting points off for leaning backwards at the halt is completely unfair when you’re doing a dressage competition with an ex-reining horse.

And don’t get me started on reining patterns! My mare, Belle, liked to memorize them and the trick wasn’t in getting her to complete them perfectly, the trick was to convince her to at least pretend to wait for my cue before spinning or sliding to a stop. What if I could have “mixed it up” a bit and thrown in a piaffe now and then, just for fun?

Some equine sports like eventing give high marks for speed. But some of those jumps are so great, who cares how fast the horse went?

What if the equestrian team got high marks for original movement, instead, as in “nobody, but nobody, has taken this jump the way YOU did.”

Can you imagine?

My friend, LeAnn, once rode her Andalusian stallion, Reggie, at a breed exhibition at the Minnesota Horse Expo, but their real performance happened outside the stadium before they went in.

She and I were waiting with our horses — me with a yearling in-hand and LeAnn mounted on Reggie for a dressage demonstration — in a narrow gated road for our turn to be called. The horses ahead of us were the Budweiser Clydesdale team and they, as you can imagine, were taking up the entire alley. The horses after us, the American Miniature Horse Association’s best driving teams, were milling around like ants. The crowd was thick with children and people were crossing the street in and around us. It was all we could do to not step on a random toddler in a stroller.

LeAnn, a Navy doctor and a part-time race car driver, is a fearless rider, but the situation around us was beginning to get dangerous. To be safe, LeAnn moved Reggie off to the side where a string of rodeo horses were tied, their butts to the passage between the stadium and piles of rodeo panels. Reggie strutted his stuff, increasingly agitated that the mares in the string were so available — and yet so uninviting. He began to snort and fly his flag — until one of the mares turned his way, raised her tail, and gave him a “come hither” whinny.

Reggie lost it.

I had my own problems with my antsy yearling, but I looked up when LeAnn screamed. She was desperately kicking Reggie to make him side pass over what looked like a pile of traffic cones to get away from the rodeo mares when suddenly, a large skid loader had started beeping. A clanging cluster of metal gates swayed precariously from its forks as it backed up, cutting off LeAnn and Reggie’s access to get away from the mares. If that wasn’t bad enough, at that point, a semi parked beside the rodeo string started up, too. Reggie went into a spin which would make any reiner proud, and I caught the look of panic on LeAnn’s face as the semi slowly pulled in between us, thereby cutting off her return. For several moments she disappeared, hemmed into a small square with a pile of traffic cones for footing and bordered by a dozen strange horses, a semi tractor/trailer, a clanging skid loader and a whole bunch of tippy metal panels.

When the semi finally eased its way past them, LeAnn was still in the saddle and none of the rodeo mares had been impregnated. Reggie had an “I’m going to blow!” expression in his eyes, but he didn’t. Instead, he drew himself up, his overstrung muscles ready to pop, and took big, deliberate stomps on the traffic cones — STOMP — STOMP — STOMP — and he gave a huge SNORT! 

LeAnn sent him forward, charging fearlessly into the arena after the Clydesdales, but I would have been certainly happy to have awarded her Best In Show right then and there.

In comparison, Reggie’s dressage exhibition was totally anti-climatic.

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