The Junior Equitation Ring: Focus On Improving Your Riding Instead of Demolishing Your Self Esteem

Hannah Hoch aboard E.V. Commander at Capital Challenge. Photo by Emy Lucibello


Showing in the equitation is a game of comparison. Judges need to scrutinize each rider until one comes out on top, named better than the rest that day. Does the institution of equitation hurt riders self esteem, or does it push them to become the ones on top? Does equitation pressure riders to have “the perfect body”? Is the “big eq diet” fact or fiction? With all of these factors swirling around the division, it’s easy to wonder how the competition affects the mental health of its competitors.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not out to target anyone specifically, but instead discuss the division in general. As a rider myself, I’ve always loved watching the top equitation riders go around a course so smoothly and flawlessly. However, it’s necessary to discuss the not so secret world of equitation.

For junior riders specifically, equitation is such a competitive division of this sport. It pits riders against each other, and forces them to compare themselves to each other. Growing up, I learned not to compare myself to others. Everyone is different, and wishing I was a certain way wouldn’t make me feel any better about myself. But equitation can often place that thought directly into the rider’s mind, especially after placing lower than expected. What did they do that I didn’t? Was their leg more stable than mine? Was their round that much smoother? I question if this constant game of comparison is good for anyone’s mental health.

Taylor St. Jaques named champion at the 2017 Pennsylvania National Horseshow. Photo by US Equestrian

When riders rely on ribbons to boost their self esteem, they often quickly turn to criticizing their riding and feeling down on themselves. Do you ever finish a round feeling accomplished, just to find out you didn’t even place? Or have you ever watched another person’s round, and it makes yours seem horrible in comparison? These feelings are prevalent in all horse showing, but in my experience, they’re especially common in the equitation ring.

There’s also the whole idea of the “big eq diet.” Now, if you’ve never heard of it, let me explain. Simply put, equitation riders are supposed to be thin and long legged because apparently that is “the look.” As a member of this sport, I’ve heard riders joke about the “big eq diet” as they decide whether or not to have an ice cream cone with the rest of their friends after a horse show. Not only is this harmful to someone who might already fit these stereotypes, but it hurts the people who don’t. There are so many different body types, and pushing everyone to fit into a stereotype is simply not realistic. Thinking that one can only do well in the division if they fit that standard is just crushing.

An equitation round at the Kentucky Horse Park. Photo by Vyla Carter

The equitation ring isn’t a mentally harmful place by its very definition. I believe that looking up to top equitation riders and seeing how they ride a course can be very helpful. However, equitation needs to be viewed not from a point of comparison, but instead education. Watching to view great skill that can be translated into one’s own riding, instead of looking for reasons to feel bad about yourself.

The best way to remove the “dark side” of equitation is to change the way we view it. Instead of falling for stereotypes, body shaming and comparison, view it as a learning tool to develop your own riding.