The oldest riding discipline in the world, Dressage, which means ‘training’, was used to train horses to carry the Knights of the Middle Ages in full armor. In that time, most dressage horses were very large, heavy horses, designed to carry the extreme weight of a grown man in full body armor. As warfare changed, so did the horse, becoming swifter, lighter-bred and more agile. Arabian and Thoroughbred blood was introduced and cross-bred with the larger horses, producing the “Warm Blood” so popular today. Many riding and training disciplines incorporate the basics of classical Dressage in their sport, as it is designed to organize horse and rider in the most complete manner possible.
Three Day Eventing, often known as “combined training” or “horse trials,” an Olympic discipline, is a competition comprised of three disciplines—Dressage, Cross-Country, and Stadium Jumping. At the higher levels, each of the disciplines is held on a separate day, leading to the “three day” designation. At the local levels, three days often are reduced to two, with the Dressage and Cross-Country phases of the competition being held on the first day, and the stadium jumping phase being held on the second day. Divisions range from Beginner Novice, through Advanced, which have increasing levels of challenge for horse and rider in all three phases. This allows for competitors of any age and level of proficiency to enjoy the sport.
The Hunter division is open to any breed of horse and includes classes over fences and on the flat. Originally intended as a field hunter, often used to gallop over hill and dale in pursuit of the elusive fox, hunters now seen in the show ring represent practically every breed. The common denominator for the Hunter division is a horse with a steady pace, smooth jumping form, and dependable disposition. The Hunter division offers classes for the smallest riders, as well as classes for older children, adult amateurs and professionals.
The Jumper division, which is an Olympic discipline, is open to any breed of horse. Jumpers have all body types and are of all sizes, from ponies, to large Thoroughbreds, to even larger European Warmbloods. Many uniquely American breeds, including Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, Morgans, and American Saddlebreds, also produce excellent jumpers. Jumpers must have the ability and desire to jump specific heights and distances. While entries in the Hunter division are judged on smoothness, way of going, and suitability to the rider, entries in the Jumper division are rewarded for jumping with the least number of faults, at speed. Jumpers often are required to negotiate tight turns, short and long distances between jumps, and increasingly higher fences at the upper levels. “Course designers,” individuals who specialize in creating the pattern, the types of fences, and the “look” of those fences, strive to create courses that will challenge horses and riders, while delighting audiences with innovative and colorful fences.
The Show Horses and Ponies division is the most diverse division in the MHSA, including classes for American Saddlebreds, Arabians, Friesians, Hackney Ponies, Missouri Foxtrotters, Morgans, Shetland Ponies, and (Flat Shod) Tennessee Walking Horses. MHSA also includes a division for Open Gaited Breeds as well as an Open Division designed to include classes where all breeds may compete against each other. The Show Horses and Ponies Division includes a large number of classes for Academy riders, (those of all ages who are taking lessons and show on lesson horses.) Academy training produces a safe, moderately-priced avenue to enter the world of horses. The Show Horses and Ponies division produces thrills with its five-gaited American Saddlebred horse, its roadster classes for horses and ponies, and its fiery Arabian Native Costume classes. It provides drama in the Morgan Park classes, and charisma with its beautiful Friesians. It provides pleasure and diversity in its many breeds and varieties of pleasure horses.
The University of Missouri’s Extension 4-H Center for Youth Development provides leadership and expertise with developing communities of young people across Missouri who are learning citizenship, leadership, and life skills. 4-H is publicly supported by county, state, and federal partners, as well as private resources to enrich the learning experiences of both youth and adults. The difference between 4-H and many other horse related opportunities is that the various competitions focus first on youth development, with “winning” a distant second goal. 4-H offers youth the chance to not only gain skills at riding, but also to get back to the basics of equine care and proper horsemanship. 4-H also offers horse judging, hippology, horse bowl, and horse public speaking in addition to horse riding. For more information about 4-H, visit http://4h.missouri.edu.
Horses and equine-assisted activities are used in therapeutic riding settings to help individuals with disabilities achieve goals that enhance their physical, emotional, social, cognitive, behavioral and educational skills. Therapeutic riding focuses on the therapeutic nature of riding, develops equestrian skills to the levels achievable by the individual and encourages the development of a relationship between horse and rider. A team approach, with rider, instructor/therapists, side-walkers and horse combine efforts to enhance the treatment of the individual, all under the guidance and direction of the riding instructor. Therapeutic riding is especially helpful to many individuals with disabilities because of the unique neuromuscular stimulation provided to the rider. Since horses display a rhythmic motion that mimics the human movement of walking, the horse’s stride helps to move the rider’s pelvis in the same rotation and side-to-side movement. Therapeutic riding promotes strength, balance, coordination, flexibility and confidence. And, even if an individual cannot enjoy the benefits of actually riding a horse, horses provide many other therapeutic benefits to individuals who can brush or curry them, thus increasing the individual’s range of motion and enhancing the individual’s sense of caring for another living creature.