Combine the breathtaking excitement of a speeding horse, the powerful elegance of dressage, and the sheer complexity of maneuvering obstacles on horseback and you've got Working Equitation, or WE, one of the fastest growing disciplines in equine sport. Mix that with an international line-up of competitors riding in a beautiful venue for more than $100,000 in prize money and you had me at "WEeeeee."
I am NOT going to miss the 2016 Haras Cup presented by Haras Dos Cavaleiros, the premier competition for Working Equitation in North America. The third annual Haras Cup will pit horse and rider duos in a series of competitions designed to test their meddle Oct. 14-16 at Haras Dos Cavaleiros in Magnolia, Texas, and I am totally in.
I've been a fan of Working Eq for years. My little Lusitano, Universo do Bosque, aka Uno, is a former Brazilian WE horse and I have taken lessons in the sport in the U.S., Brazil and Portugal. Working Equitation is based on techniques used in countries where riders rely on their horses for ranch and fieldwork. Pioneered in Portugal, Spain, France and Italy, Working Equitation seeks to preserve each nation's equestrian heritage along with cultural traditions and native tack and attire. The first international competition was held in 1996, and the sport has gained popularity in Europe as well as the Americas.
One of the cool things about Working Eq is that horses and riders are expected to be consistent in their tack and attire choices while paying homage to heritage. I've ridden Uno in a Portuguese saddle and bridle while I sat astride in my traditional Portuguese country riding attire (complete with trousers AND a skirt) while my friend rides her horses in a Western saddle wearing chinks and a cowboy (or is it a cowgirl?) hat.
Working Equitation consists of three or four different phases of competition, depending on the level of prowess. Dressage, Ease of Handling and Speed Trials are integral to every level, and Cattle Work is part of the more advanced levels of competition.
In the Dressage phase, a pattern of required movements is ridden and each movement is awarded a numerical score with additional marks given for impulsion, rider's position and the horse's obedience. As horses and riders progress up the levels, the requirements increasingly test their skills. In the Ease of Handling phase, the horse and rider team must navigate a series of obstacles to simulate difficulties encountered in the fields by working ranch hands. The duo must negotiate the obstacles which may include gates, jumps, bridges, barrels and poles with accuracy as well as style and finesse.
In the Speed Trials phase, these same obstacles are ridden at top speed with reduced marks for improper maneuvering through the obstacles and slow time. The Cattle Work phase, used for the most advanced levels in competition, tests the horse and rider's skill at working cattle both individually and as a team. They must sort, cut and herd cattle in timed events to earn their scores. To see the prize list, click here.
Not only will the three days of the Haras Cup feature thrilling riding, there will be a cocktail party and gala (I hear it's a spectacular affair), and a children's entertainment and educational area, as well as food and shopping (two of my favorite things!) at vendor booths on site. There is even a Hat Derby where spectators get to show off their fancy chapeaux. And in the true spirit of paying it forward, the Haras Cup supports Be An Angel Fund, a charity that serves thousands of special needs children throughout Texas by providing specialized programs, services and equipment.
Haras Dos Cavaleiros will also host the first Americas' Lusitano Cup in conjunction with the Associação Portuguesa de Criadores do Cavalo Puro Sangue Lusitano (APSL or, loosely translated, the Portuguese Association for the Pure Blood Lusitano) and the International Andalusian and Lusitano Horse Association (IALHA) Oct. 8-9. The event will be a Lusitano horse competition to determine the best of the breed in hand and under saddle.
Haras Dos Cavaleiros is the top Lusitano horse breeder in the United States and, to many competitors, the Lusitano horse is the breed of choice for Working Equitation, although the sport is open to horses of any breed. Haras Dos Cavaleiros offers Lusitanos for sale as well as breeding opportunities to their top stallions. They not only sponsor the Haras Cup, but they provide riding lessons at their equestrian riding school, equitation clinics for adults and children, dressage clinics and horse boarding. Within the Haras Dos Cavaleiros complex is housed a 275 ft. x 175 ft. main indoor arena, a 216 ft. x 93 ft. indoor arena and a 230 ft. x 100 ft. outdoor arena, all outfitted with state-of-the-art European footing and permanent irrigation systems. Other facilities within the estate include a restaurant, hotel, spa and elegant facilities for hosting special events.
I'm looking forward to renewing my passion for Working Equitation and Uno, who loves racing around the obstacles at top speed while I try to execute one-handed flying changes, will also appreciate it. Maybe in 2017 we will be among the competitors at the Haras Cup but, until then, I'll see you in Magnolia, Texas, in October.
To learn more about Haras Dos Cavaleiros, log onto harasdoscavaleiros.com.