Equestrianism, which is more often known as riding, horseback riding, or horse riding, refers to the skill of riding, driving, or vaulting with horses. This broad description includes the use of horses for practical working purposes, transportation, recreational activities, artistic or cultural exercises, and competitive sport.
Horses are trained and ridden for practical working purposes such as in police work or for controlling herd animals on a ranch. They are also used in competitive sports including, but not limited to, dressage, endurance riding, eventing, reining, show jumping, tent pegging, vaulting, polo, horse racing, driving, and rodeo.
Some popular forms of competition are grouped together at horse shows, where horses perform in a wide variety of disciplines. Horses (and other equids such as mules and donkeys) are used for non-competitive recreational riding such as fox hunting,trail riding or hacking. There is public access to horse trails in almost every part of the world; many parks, ranches, and public stables offer both guided and independent riding. Horses are also used for therapeutic purposes, both in specialised para-equestrian competition as well as non-competitive riding to improve human health and emotional development.
Horses are also driven in harness racing, at horse shows and in other types of exhibition, historical re-enactment or ceremony, often pulling carriages. In some parts of the world, they are still used for practical purposes such as farming. Horses continue to be used in public service: in traditional ceremonies (parades, funerals), police and volunteer mounted patrols, and for mounted search and rescue.
The Origins of Using Horses for Equestrian
Though there is controversy over the exact date horses were domesticated and when they were first ridden; the best estimate is that horses first were ridden approximately 4500 BC. Indirect evidence suggests that horses were ridden long before they were driven. There is some evidence that about 6,000 years ago, near the Dneiper River and the Don River, people were using bits on horses, as a stallion that was buried there shows teeth wear consistent with using a bit.
However, the most unequivocal early archaeological evidence of equines put to working use was of horses being driven. Chariot burials about 2500 BC present the most direct hard evidence of horses used as working animals.
In ancient times chariot warfare was followed by the use of war horses as light and heavy cavalry. The horse played an important role throughout human history all over the world, both in warfare and in peaceful pursuits such as transportation, trade and agriculture. Horses lived in North America, but died out at the end of the Ice Age. Horses were brought back to North America by European explorers, beginning with the second voyage of Columbus in 1493.
Types of Equestrian Events
Equestrian events were first included in the modern Olympic Games in 1900. By 1912, all three Olympic disciplines still seen today were part of the games. The following forms of competition are recognised worldwide and are a part of the equestrian events at the Olympics.
Dressage (“training” in French) involves the progressive training of the horse to a high level of impulsion, collection, and obedience. Competitive dressage has the goal of showing the horse carrying out, on request, the natural movements that it performs without thinking while running loose. Dressage masters often define it as returning the freedom of the horse while carrying the rider.
Show jumping comprises a timed event judged on the ability of the horse and rider to jump over a series of obstacles, in a given order and with the fewest refusals or knock-downs of portions of the obstacles.
Eventing, also called combined training, horse trials, the three-day event, the Military, or the complete test, puts together the obedience of dressage with the athletic ability of show jumping, and the fitness demands of the cross-country jumping phase. In the last-named, the horses jump over fixed obstacles, such as logs, stone walls, banks, ditches, and water, trying to finish the course under the “optimum time.” There was also the ‘Steeple Chase’ Phase, which is now excluded from most major competitions to bring them in line with the Olympic standard.
There is also one equestrian discipline in the Paralympics: Para-Dressage is conducted under the same rules as conventional Dressage, but with riders divided into different classes based on the severity of their disabilities.
The additional non-Olympic events sanctioned by the FEI as international disciplines are: combined driving; endurance; horseball; reining; tent pegging; and vaulting. These events are recognised internationally and are part of the FEI World Equestrian Games every four years, and hold their own individual World Championships in other years.