What Does The Word “Equitation” Mean? Definition Of This Equestrian Term

Having taken riding lessons in the past, I have always heard this word being thrown around. “Wow, your equitation is really improving!” “Let’s work on your equitation before we start jumping.” “We should find you a horse to compete in hunt-seat equitation!” and so on. For a while, I had no idea what equitation was until more recently when I finally learned from a trainer what the term equitation (eq for short) meant.

What Does The Word Equitation Mean?

Equitation basically means the way someone looks on and communicates with a horse while riding. Someone that has good equitation is in sync with the horse, communicates with the horse effectively, and also makes riding the horse look like the easiest thing in the world. A rider with good equitation appears calm and confident while riding and has their body positioned well while riding each of the horse’s gaits with ease.

Why Is Equitation Important?

Mastering the equitation of your discipline before advancing is really important. One example of why this is important is so that you can remain balanced and centered on your horse at all times and are able to effectively communicate with your horse while doing so. An example of this is that you want to make sure that you are able to ride the horse confidently with ease before you move onto something more intense and difficult like jumping or barrel racing.

If you are riding with poor equitation and are positioned awkwardly on your horse, it is a lot harder to give your horse cues, direction, and commands as your horse is too confused with the way you are riding that it will be harder for them to know what you are asking of them.

What Does It Mean If Someone Says I Have Good Equitation?

If someone tells you that you have good equitation, they are basically saying that you look really good on your horse, you appear to be communicating with your horse easily, you have good posture and balance, and you make it look easy to ride your horse. To be told you have great equitation is a compliment!

Is There A Different Equitation For Different Styles Of Riding?

Yes! There absolutely is. When it comes to Saddle seat equitation, the judges are looking for something completely different than what they might be looking for in western pleasure equitation. This is the ideal equitation for:

Saddle Seat

In the saddle seat riding style, there is in fact equitation classes that you and your horse can enter into. Saddle seat equitations requires a few things of their riders.

Riders should be sitting straight with their shoulders back and their chest up. They should also be looking forward. Good posture and a confident seat is one of the main things that judges will be looking for in this discipline.

Another thing unique to saddle seat equitation is the desire for the rider’s lower legs to be off the horse. This might sound strange to all you hunter riders out there, but yes, keeping your legs off your horse is another thing a judge will pay attention to.

HEELS DOWN! Saddle seat is big on having your heels down. They will even pull their riding pants down past their boot heel to make their heels appear further down that they actually are. Keeping your heels down is crucial in any style of riding, but for saddle seat equitation, it is essential.

Holding your hands up and in front of you is another thing that is desired. In most riding styles, keeping your hands low near the horse’s withers is what judges are looking for, but holding your hands up in saddle seat is what is required.

An important part of equitation judges on the communication and riding ability of the rider. A horse should be responsive to the rider and demonstrate all cues to show the rider knows how to tell the horse what motion to perform.


Dressage is a riding style that judges both the performance of the horse and the performance and equitation of the rider.

The rider should be sitting deep in their seat with excellent posture. The rider should have their shoulders back, their chest out, and should appear to be riding the horse calmly and confidently.

Dressage typically requires the rider’s legs to be positioned long and straight in the saddle. The dressage saddle actually has a large knee roll to help keep the rider’s legs in position and keep their legs from bending up and forward. The heels of the rider should be held down and the legs should appear mostly still except for when giving commands.

The rider’s hands should be held just above the withers and be used effectively to guide the horse to their next command or cue.

The rider in a dressage ring should not bounce in the saddle but instead should move with the horse in harmony no matter what gait the horse is performing. The rider should appear to just be riding the horse and the cues and commands given to the horse should be subtle enough for the average person to miss.

Hunt Seat

Hunt seat is often judged for the rider’s equitation. This is one of the most popular equitation classes for riders to compete in as the English hunter riding industry is so popular.

The rider should be riding the horse with confidence and should sit in such a way that a straight line should be able to be drawn from the rider’s ear, to their shoulder, to their hip, to their ankle.

The legs of the rider will be more bent than what is usually seen in dressage or in western pleasure and the stirrups should sit just at the ball of the rider’s foot.

Riders in this discipline should sit tall and use their seat to their advantage.

Tip to my hunt-seat riders: don’t sit on your crotch, sit on your seat or on your butt bones. This will improve your balance, equitation, and make your horse relax because your body is more relaxed.

Riders who ride in hunt-seat should hold their hands low. The ideal spot to put your hands is right above the withers and in front of the pommel of the saddle.

When riding, riders should have their face up and always look to where they are going.

Western Pleasure

Western pleasure is a more relaxed and slow discipline as compared to the other disciplines I just mentioned. In western pleasure, the ideal equitation is where the rider sits straight and upright in their saddle.

Because of the longer stirrups in this discipline, riders will have a slight bend in their legs and should make sure their heels are down in their stirrups.

Sitting back confidently with your chest up, your head looking where you are going and having your shoulders back will give you the confident appearance that the judges are looking for.

Unless the horse is being ridden in a hackamore, the rider should hold their reins in their left hand and either let their right hand hang, or hold the end of the reins in that hand.

Make sure to relax when riding in this discipline as your horse should perform these gaits at a slow steady pace.

Hailey Sipila

Horses have been my passion ever since I can remember. At school, I was known as that weird horse girl, and I would read horse encyclopedias for fun. Over the years since those days, I have only learned more. My experiences with horses of a variety of breeds have taught me a lot. Now I want to share what I know with you!

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