This season here at the Stables always brings many breaths of fresh spring air as riders from all around the country descend on the Golden Isles for spring break vacations, and love to get in a few lessons at the local riding school. We instructors are lucky to have the privilege to teach a wide variety of riders from across many disciplines. This year has proven to be similar to the last few years however: more and more junior riders identify with the hunter, jumper, or eventing disciplines, but almost none identify as an equitation rider.
All of my junior riders are required to be equitation riders first, other arenas second. I firmly believe that form follows function, and therefore form should be the first study. I am a student of the American Forward System of Riding, and love the description George Morris has for the classical seat: a rider with a classical seat "should be able to ride any kind of horse, help his horse when necessary, and show him to his best advantage." I have had riders lesson with me recently that have informed me that they have moved on from equitation, and yet have locked up leg joints because their stirrup lacks the angle that provides flexion to the ankle and knee. They have stopped focusing on equitation classes because they are jumpers now, but have such dramatic two-point positions that they would not be able to recover adequately during an in-and-out. Their horses are too hot for an arena that requires control over every stride, but they have not yet learned that quiet hands encourage a quiet horse. Form follows function, but bad form instigates bad functions.
Equitation is like ballet; many dancers don't love the discipline, but they do recognize the importance. It is the foundation that riders build themselves from. It is not coincidence that so many of the younger Grand Prix riders are a Who's Who of recent equitation circuits. The ability to ride is carefully honed for Medal and Maclay classes, and it shows when riders make the jump to big classes.
Moral of the story? Don't give up on equitation. If things are perfect with your ride, first look to your position and form before examining the horse. Make sure you are very correct and odds are your horse will improve drastically. Stay in the eq divisions; it will inspire you to improve.
"Think about riding as a science and ... love it as [an] art." - George Morris