Equitation Scoring

Photo by Adam Hill.

BY Hannah Fichter

Stepping into the ring, the rider’s mind swirls with questions. It’s a nerve-wracking dance where every detail counts. 

Is my number perfectly centered? 

Have I dug my heels down deep enough? 

Is my leg positioned just right, or is it too far back or forward? 

Are my hands skillfully set on the reins? 

The rider understands that only perfection can win the equitation class. From posture to heel depth and hand position, every aspect should be flawless. 

As the horse and rider make their grand entrance, all eyes are on the rider. But the rider’s focus is split. They must guide the horse in the right direction and perfectly time the distances. Interestingly, while the judge zeroes in on the rider, the rider’s attention is majorly on the horse. 

Although the horse isn’t the main focus of the judge, its role in shaping the rider’s appearance is crucial. Some horses, with their smooth canter, are natural fits for the equitation ring, helping the rider maintain composure. Bringing a hunter horse into the equitation ring can be a gamble. The horse’s impressive jump and stride might steal the show, making it challenging for the rider to showcase their position. 

Unlike the hunter scoring system, which is numerical, the equitation ring plays by different rules. Typically, no score is announced post-round. 

Per the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) rulebook, the rider’s position in equitation classes is evaluated on three aspects: hands, basic position, and position in motion. 


The USEF rulebook is crystal clear on this. Judges look for rider’s hands over and in front of the horse’s withers, not in their lap. The knuckles should be thirty degrees inside the vertical and slightly apart, creating a straight line from the horse’s mouth to the rider’s elbow. For riders using two reins, the snaffle rein should be on the outside, the curb rein inside. Twisted reins are a no-no. 

Basic Position 

Regardless of the horse’s movement, the rider’s eyes should be up, not glued to the ground. Shoulders should be back, ruling out any hunching over. The rider’s toes should angle ideally to their body’s conformation. Heels need to be down, with the calf of the leg in contact with the horse but slightly behind the girth. The irons should be on the foot’s ball, and tying them to the girth is forbidden, although some might employ this tactic during practice to keep their leg in place. 

Position In Motion 

During the walk, trot, and canter, the rider’s body should be slightly forward, just a few degrees from a completely vertical position. They should lean forward in the posting trot as well as during galloping and jumping. 

To win an equitation class, one must not only look their best but also match the judge’s vision of perfect equitation. 

The equitation ring might share some of the same jumps as the hunter ring, but it’s a whole different ball game where rider perfection is expected.