Equestrian Sports and Disciplines

Equestrian Sports and Disciplines

There are many sports involving horses; some are popular like racing, others are even part of the Olympic Games, for example dressage, but there are many that people not involved in the equestrian world have no idea exist, (and even some in the horsey fraternity); one such is polocrosse.This article takes a look at some of these games, sports and disciplines in alphabetical order.


While this discipline needs no explanation to horse lovers, under the same banner we can put The Spanish Riding School and therefore the lesser known White Stallions of Kayalami in South Africa. The display put on here is just as good and of as high a calibre as the Lipizzaner’s at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. The Spanish Riding School is the oldest “classical dressage school” in existence, (1735), while Kayalami is very new, only starting this sort of riding with Lipizaner horses in 1944. The real difference is in the price, €89 in Vienna but just €10 in Kayalami, although the air fare to get to South Africa will cost considerably more than a short flight to Vienna.Either one or both are a spectacle well worth seeing for any horse lover and is even enjoyed by the non-horsey too.


This, as the name suggests, embraces any sport where the horse is harnessed to a wagon, carriage or other contraption and driven rather than rode. Some classes are judged like showing classes giving points for confirmation, paces and so forth while others involve driving over all sorts of terrain. The horses may be single animals or teams of up to many animals pulling a carriage of some sort.


Before hunting became known as an anti-social pastime most people did it for one of three reasons. One reason was a form of sport, in some cases this was quite literally the hunt, and in others, (probably the majority), it was simply a good excuse to gallop across country using land you were otherwise not allowed access to. Another reason was as training or schooling for a young horse. This was an invaluable aid when training young horses as it taught them courage and to jump cleanly. It also kept them fit and well exercised, combining as it did, hacking with galloping. Lastly hunting was seen by many as the least cruel way to keep down vermin such as foxes. Strangely the same government who banned fox hunting to stop foxes being killed, have been talking about culling them as they have spread in worrying proportions since foxhunting was stopped.

Long Distance and Endurance Riding

These are exactly what you would imagine from the name; feats of endurance over long distances. This can be done with a group as a fun outing or as part of a competition. The winner, quite obviously, is the first to reach the winning post, but there are veterinary checks along the route to make sure the horses are not suffering in any way and are fit to continue. Rides are usually over 50 or 100 mile distances and winners arrive in around 11 hours. Depending on where the race is held, there may be hills, rocky terrain, water or anything else to traverse along the route. Riders are allowed to dismount and walk or run alongside their mount to give both their horse and themselves a breather.

Polo & Polocrosse


Polo, although slightly different to the game played today, is first recorded as being played before the 5th century BCE. Nowadays it is played by a team of four riders and as it is fast and furious the riders change to another horse after each chukka, (part), and so at least 2 polo ponies of a high calibre are required for a match, more if it is a more important match. The teams can be both men and women these days, although for a long time this was a male dominated sport.Note: Polo ponies are not generally ponies but are normal size horses


Players of polocrosse are adamant that this game was invented because polo rules stated women and left handed players were not allowed to play polo. This may have been a part of it, but is seems the idea of a game similar to polo, but requiring only one horse, (therefore cutting down hugely on expenses), which made it available to more people, was also a part of the reason this game was invented. Reading between the lines, the fun playing polocrosse offered seems to have been another important factor in developing this game.It is a mixture of polo and lacrosse, played on horseback.

Racing, Point-to-Point and Steeplechasing

Called the Sport of Kings as so many of the world’s royalty and aristocracy enjoyed racing and either watched races or owned horses. Racing is a very old sport as shown by its inclusion in the ancient Greek Olympic Games of 648 BCE. It has progresses and digressed until it became the racing we see today. There are different types which necessitate different types of horse and diverse skills.

Point-to-Point and Steeplechasing

Both Point-to-Point and Steeplechasing are races over hurdles made of brush and in some races ditches are included.For years these were strongly connected to hunting and in most cases you could not enter a horse in a Point-to-Point race until he had been hunted six times. The most famous steeplechase race is the Grand National and perhaps the cruellest the Pardubice held in the Czech Republic. This is the longest race of its kind in Europe, (hardly a reason to be proud), with a wicked ditch that costs many horses and even some riders their lives. To qualify to enter this race the horse has “to finish” at least one of the four qualifying races. This speaks volumes about how tough these qualifiers must be and makes you wonder if they are trying to prove Darwin right by only allowing “the fittest to survive” or if they really are trying to hold a sporting event.Included in racing is trotting and harness racing, although popular in many countries these are not very well known in Britain.

Flat Racing

Flat racing is probably the best known and most widely followed in general. A lot of money changes hands in this sport and it is not only through the sale of horses but gambling - one year alone gambling generated over one hundred billion dollars. The most famous and important race in Britain is probably the Epson Derby although the best known could well be Royal Ascot because of its social significance and the presence of royalty.

Showing & Side Saddle


Showing is about confirmation, elegance, turnout and obedience. The best build, best behaved, best looking horse wins – in theory. In practice each judge has their own opinion so the same horses competing against each other will not always be judged the same way each time.

Side Saddle

Not so long ago when ladies never wore trouser side saddle was the only way they could ride a horse. At first when ladies started riding astride side saddle seemed deemed to extinction but it enjoyed a revival and continues to be a popular sport for ladies. There is little doubt that its elegance is hard to beat.

Show Jumping

This was popular as a spectator and televised sport and although hardly ever shown on television remains a popular spectator sport. To be successful requires a well-schooled horse and both horse and rider to be on top form at the same time, as well as a degree of luck, in order to win.

Three-Day Eventing

This requires three skill sets; dressage, (a lower level than a pure dressage horse), show jumping, (again a lower level than a show jumper), and cross country. There was also a roads and tracks part which was 34 miles long, sometimes called endurance, in many of the major competitions. There also used to be a short steeplechasing course as part of this; 10 brush jumps over a couple of miles. These have mostly been eliminated leaving just the three disciplines. Smaller events are one-day events where all three skills are tested on the same day.The skill here is not being an outstanding dressage or show jumping rider, but being good at both and having the courage to hurtle over solid obstacles in the cross country section. Skills are tested to the maximum as; following the original formula, the first test, dressage requires precision and restraint, next you dash through the countryside jumping walls, water and other obstacles, then comes the control of a set of show jumping fences. Unfortunately some shows change the order making jumping second and cross country last, but this rather defeats the purpose of showing your horse can be brought back to compete at a sedate and well balanced pace after careering round in the countryside.

Western Riding

Western Riding Sport encompasses more than the rodeo we all know. There is the rodeo riding of the wild horse or steer, (which are not as wild as they look but rather have a strap around their loins to make them buck), roping, barrel racing and more, basically anything that encompasses the skills a good cowboy had to have in order to herd animals.

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