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Equestrianism 101–Meaning, Skills, and Horse Sports

Last updated: July 7, 2021

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

Kids and some adults often get confused by how the word equestrianism is used or what it means to be an equestrian. In many regions, people use horseman and equestrian interchangeably. But I wonder if this is correct and what equestrianism is.

In general, equestrianism is the art of riding horses, including training or participating in equine competitions. It is derived from the term equestrian. An equestrian is a horse rider or person with a deep understanding of the care and training that goes into horses.

When someone thinks of the word, “equestrianism” horses and riders come to mind. But there is a lot more to being an equestrian, and the term covers a vast range of activities. Let’s find out what it means to be an equestrian.


Equestrian basics

The word “equestrian” is derived from the Latin word Equus, meaning horse. It is a term that can be traced back to ancient times when kings and emperors would gather together their subjects at military training grounds to display the skills of their best horses and riders.

In this guide, I will talk about different equestrian sports, the essence of being an Equestrian, the equestrian events held in the Olympics, and the safest and most dangerous horse sports out there. With this knowledge under your belt, I hope your move into the competition arena will be successful and enjoyable.

What it means to be an equestrian.

If you are passionate about horses, then you might be an equestrian. Equestrians are a special breed of people. They have their own language, which is filled with words some people may not understand, but they all have one thing in common, a love of horses.

If you are a college student considering a career in the field of horses, then you could consider taking Equestrian College Programs available today at many universities. If college isn’t for you, there are many other options to consider to get a start with a career you are so passionate about.

The discipline to ride is just the beginning of the development of an equestrian. To become a true equestrian, you must learn how to tack and care for horses, like grooming or getting their fitness level up!

As your skills develop with your horse, you will get in sync with each other through subtle cues that are only perceptible to an Equestrian expert like yourself!

Remember: equestrian isn’t just about you; it is about both the mount and the rider. Many people erroneously think that the hardest part of being an equestrian is getting a horse to follow your direction, but that isn’t the case, and there are many aspects to it.

The Essence of being an equestrian.

The essence of being an equestrian is about more than just riding a horse; it’s about the lifestyle that comes with it. It takes dedication to create this type of discipline, but the rewards are limitless once you’re all in!

As a true equestrian, you must be able to take care of the horse and even understand its anatomy, maintain its diet, grooming, and general care.

The following quote from JAMART Photography best summarizes what an equestrian means:

I don’t just own a horse, I am one half of a partnership, I untangle manes and scratch itches, I am an amateur veterinarian, Student, athlete, coach. I ride, rain or shine I nurse bruises Give kisses I can fly like the wind And know a horse’s love I AM AN EQUESTRIAN

Equestrianism in the Olympics.

Equestrian events have been held in Olympics since the 1900s; the initial equine competitions included polo, Grand Prix Jumping, high and long jumps. They were exciting and, on occasion, dangerous to watch, and after the 1904 games, the Olympic committee dropped equine competitions.

The modern Olympic equestrian program has its roots in Stockholm, Sweden, with the reintroduction of horseback riding competitions in 1912. From that point on, there would be military riders only until 1952, when they opened it up to both men and women athletes from around the globe, making it an early entry into a mixed sports event!

Today, equestrian sports are contested with individual and team events, making six events on the Olympic Program. The governing body for this sport, Federation Equestere Internationale (FEI), was founded way back in 1921 and has 125 member nations nowadays! Events include:

  • Jumping or Show Jumping – This includes jumping over a series of obstacles without touching the fences.
  • Dressage – Dressage is sort of a ballet on horseback where the rider has the horse perform a series of intricate maneuvers of stepping. Here, the scoring is done by judges who decide how well the horse has executed the moves.
  • 4-day event known as Eventing – This combines the above two events along with a third competition of riding cross-country. Judges keep scores by evaluating each day’s performance.
Picture of an equestrian jumping her horse,

How Many Different Horse Sports are there?

Horses have been a part of our world for centuries! And, because so many cultures and countries use them in their own ways, it’s hard to count how many different types of horse sports exist.

From games to show jumping competitions, all around the globe is home to its fair share of equine-related events – this means that no matter where you are in the world, there will be something nearby for you to enjoy!

The following horse sports are popular in the United States and around the world:

Flat racing, also called Thoroughbred racing.

Flat course racing is run over level ground with no obstacles. It is a popular and exciting sport for spectators of all ages. Horses run as fast as they possibly can, oftentimes reaching speeds up to 40 mph! This type of race is usually between 3/4 mile long to 1.5 miles long.

It is the most popular type of horse race and is dominated by Thoroughbreds. Races vary according to the age and gender of the horses. The most prestigious horse race in the World is the Kentucky Derby that showcases the fastest three-year-olds in the land.

Endurance riding

Endurance horse riding is a unique sport that may not be for the faint of heart. Horses and riders are constantly on the move, covering 20-25 miles in a 2 to 3 hour period.

The horses must have tremendous endurance to keep moving at such a high pace without getting tired or sore. It takes both the rider and their horse to work together to complete an Endurance race successfully!

As the name suggests, a rider will have to show stamina, energy, athleticism, and endurance in this sport. It is a team event, and scores are based on each rider’s performance. During an endurance race, horses are monitored by vets to ensure their safety.


Dressage combines gymnastics and ballet that requires horse and rider to work together and perform complex, difficult moves with elegance and grace.

The ultimate goal in dressage is to reach upper levels, which take years of intense training, dedication, and superior athletic ability. The long hours of intensive work are worth it for the breathtaking displays that spectators witness.


Showjumping is a sport that requires the horse and rider to be careful yet brave to successfully clear a series of obstacles. The goal for show jumpers is generally not about speed but rather how impeccably they can control their horses over jumps without knocking down anything on the course.

Horses must complete a course in a specified amount of time, and they are penalized for knocking down obstacles; these objective measurements have no bearing on what any judges think, making it one of the fairest sports out there! I wrote an article all about the best horse breeds in dressage and showjumping; you should read it if you’re interested in either sport.

Horse trials/Eventing

Horse eventing takes superior endurance and versatility. It’s a demanding sport that is gaining popularity among horse owners and their children, too. Eventers compete in show jumping, dressage, and cross-country running over natural obstacles like water jumps and ditches.

Horse eventing or trials is a sport that tests the stamina and athletic ability of both horse and rider. It requires an endurance level far beyond what would be necessary for only show jumping or dressage.

Eventing requires elegance, technique, and bravery from the horse as well as the rider. They are the triathlon of the equestrian world, and for riders and horses, it an adrenaline junkie’s dream come true!

YouTube video

Combined driving event

Horse driving trials were originally meant to test the horse’s ability to work in a team with other horses. In the most common form, called combined driving, two teams of four horses pull a carriage with three pairs of harnessed drivers.

The idea is that one driver guides and directs his pair of horses while the second driver controls the brake on the back axle so they can slow down or stop when necessary. Also known as CDE, this event tests the rider’s courage, energy, skills of horse handling, and athleticism. It also combines with other events and sports like dressage, cross-country marathon, etc.


Hacking is the term riding schools often use to describe horse riding that involves trotting and cantering. It’s not a real competition but rather a fun outing and an enjoyable way to spend time in a saddle.

Hacking is not just for horse experts, but you need to be able to trot or canter and have some experience. You should know how to hold the reins correctly, have balance skills, and maintain a good rising trot.

It is an excellent way of starting a career in horses, especially for junior riders. This isn’t an Olympic event, nor is it an international competition. However, today, many people participate in video hacking competitions.


  • Harness racing-Horses race pulling a small cart called a sulky.
  • Barrel racing– Horse and rider must circle three barrel set in a cloverleaf pattern.
  • Steeplechase – same as thoroughbred racing but with obstacles.
  • Hurdling – a form of steeplechase racing but with obstacles and used for training horses to more challenging obstacles.
  • Point to point racing – an amateur type of steeplechase race in which horses race from point to point with several obstacles in between.
  • Skijoring racing – common in the Scandinavian nations
  • Quadrille – a team event
  • Rodeo (bull riding, stunt riding, saddle bronc/bareback racing, steer wrestling, calf roping).

Which is the safest horse sport?

Vaulting is considered relatively the safest horse sport out there. It is so safe that no helmets are required. In fact, helmets are not allowed in vaulting competitions. The American Vaulting Society even claims the sport to be safer than bicycle riding, playing soccer, and playing on playground equipment!

Vaulting combines dance and gymnastics on the back of a horse. Although it sounds dangerous, a lot of new vaulters have not even been on horses before. This means that you don’t need to be a dancer or a gymnast. Naturally, if you are a dancer or a gymnast, you will advance much quicker and can easily compete at higher levels.

During vaulting, a longeur is in control of the horse’s speed. So, it takes teamwork to be successful. The vaulter can stay focused on themselves and the movement of the horse.

Which is the most dangerous horse sport?

Horse racing, in general, is considered one of the most dangerous sports in the world. After all, it involves two different species functioning together as a team. Horses can act autonomously and unpredictably.

Moreover, a fully grown horse can weigh about 550 kilograms or about 1200 lb.! It can travel at speeds of 60 km/hour (37 mph), putting the rider who is up to 3 m above ground at significant risk of injuries.

The most dangerous horse sport is point-to-point racing since the contestants are amateur riders. According to the Jockey Club Statistics, point-to-point racing results in a fall in 1 in 7 rides and injury in 1 in 42 rides.


Which is the most common Equestrian sport?

Showjumping, dressage, endurance riding, and vaulting are some of the most popular horse sports today.

Is horse riding the most dangerous sport?

Horse riding is rated as the third most dangerous sport, and it comes after rugby and boxing. These ratings are subjective and not based on solid statistics. For example, in some reporting, motocross and skateboarding are considered more dangerous than horse riding.

Is horseback riding also considered a girly sport?

Unfortunately, equestrian sports are often labeled feminine or girly, although all the sports mentioned above need toughness and masculinity. Professional equestrian events also tend to have more women, so there is even more misconception about it.