The Dreaded 19

In my time as an Equine Studies major, I learned oodles and oodles of Theory of Riding. Let me tell you, dear readers, that I ate that up with a spoon and begged for more. I still have every note I ever took in Sue’s Stable I class. It was incredibly educational, and I only wish circumstances had been different for Virginia Intermont so I could have stayed longer.

One thing that I wished we could have studied but didn’t is the USEF Equitation Tests. These 19 tests could make or break your flat portion of your medal. The sad part? The tests are all so easy. “Well, Kelsey, you’re a show jumper. You don’t even worry about how your equitation looks!” You’re right, anonymous protestor. I am a show jumper. But I still dabble in the equitation classes. And these tests are great for any horse and rider to practice, regardless of discipline. Cross training is GREAT for a horse’s brain and really keeps a rider thinking about how to be clear with her horse. So do I practice the equitation tests? Every chance I get! (And for the record, my equitation won’t win the Maclays any time soon, but it damn sure keeps me on the back of my horse if he bucks, bolts, rears, stops, what have you. Stirrups… That’s a different story!)

The USEF Equitation Tests, 1-19

  1. Halt (4-6 seconds) or halt and back
  2. Hand gallop
  3. Figure eight at the trot, demonstrating change of diagonals
  4. Figure eight at the canter on the correct lead, demonstrating a simple change of lead, which can be done through the walk or trot
  5. Work collectively or individually at the walk, trot, and/or canter
  6. Jump low obstacles at a trot as well as a canter. The maximum height and spread for a trot jump is 3′ for horses, 2′ for ponies.
  7. Jump obstacles on a figure eight course
  8. Questions regarding basic horsemanship, tack and equipment, and conformation
  9. Ride without stirrups; riders must be allowed to cross stirrups
  10. Jump low obstacles at a walk as well as a canter. The maximum height and spread for a walk jump is 2′.
  11. Dismount and mount. Individually.
  12. Turn on the forehand done through the walk or the halt
  13. Figure eight at the canter, demonstrating a flying change of lead
  14. Serpentine at trot and/or canter on correct lead demonstrating simple or flying changes of lead
  15. Change leads on a line demonstrating a simple or flying change of lead
  16. Change horses (the equivalent of two tests)
  17. Canter on counter lead (no more than twelve at once)
  18. Turn on the haunches from a walk
  19. Demonstration ride of approximately one minute. Rider must inform the judge of her intentions.

So 19 different choices for a judge to torment you just a little longer… You know what the scary part is? You have no idea which test the judge will pick! As a boy scout might tell you, BE PREPARED! Practice all the tests! They’re all fair game. And each one offers its own challenges.

One that isn’t used very often is number 10, walk a jump. I thought this was an unsafe test, but I did have a trainer explain it to me. A horse should ideally have enough impulsion at the walk to clear something as low as a 2′ jump. Makes sense when you think of the walk that a horse should have in any flat class, right? You want a horse that is marching. Your walk should be easy to move into a trot or a canter. If your upward transition takes longer than four seconds, you’re doing something wrong. (I don’t wrongly throw stones. I have drilled myself time and again on transitions!  It really makes a difference in your rides!) So when you think of the walk jump as a transition upward, it makes a lot more sense. It’s like teaching a lead change, where the low jump presents a moment of lift for the horse to move its body forward.

copyright COTH 2014
copyright COTH 2014

Then, of course, there’s everyone’s least favorite: no stirrups. Now I have ridden with the stirrups dangling and I have ridden with them crossed. There’s pros and cons to both. Here’s my opinion: practice with your stirrups dangling so you learn to tighten your leg, but show with them crossed so if your leg lets go for a second, the judge can’t tell instantly. If your leg lets go with your stirrups dangling, there’s a chance they will fly in front of or behind your leg. Why risk it?

My personal favorite test is 17. I went to IHSA Zone Finals in spring 2013 (as a volunteer, not a competitor unfortunately) where this very test was asked of the Open Flat Individual Riders. There were 11 in a medium sized arena with very deep footing. 11 is a lot of horses. The class seemed to be decided by the time they cantered the first direction, but then the judge called for the riders to change direction. That was it. “Change direction.” Never did he say change lead. Yet about half of the riders begged their horses for a flying lead change or did a quick skip change. There were a lot of near collisions. I’m pretty sure I closed my eyes for about two seconds. When I opened them, riders were still confused and catching glances at the other riders. The ones who were counter cantering began to try to change leads back to match their competitors. Some horses were cross cantering. I’m pretty sure the judge just threw that out the window because he called for everyone to walk and reminded these riders (OPEN RIDERS, the top level of IHSA) to space out. The lesson to take away from that is listen very carefully to the instructions the announcer gives.

I’ve seen Number 11 stump riders. This was local junior medal finals. Not the most prestigious show in the world, but these riders had to be skilled nonetheless After some great over fences portions and a very competitive flat phase, the judge called for the riders to line up. My trainer had a couple of students in this medal. Because she couldn’t coach them, she chose to instead educate some of us, like me, who were not up to the level to compete in medals yet. I remember the rest of us were trying to pin the class, and she said, “Oh no. They’re about to get tested.” And the instructions came over the speakers, “Riders, please dismount. When your number is called, mount up on your horse.” It was like watching the circus. Only two riders were able to mount their horses in a smooth and mostly educated manner. The rest struggled.

copyright COTH 2013
copyright COTH 2013

Because most of my horse show education is from the IEA, IHSA, and IDA, my favorite test is number 16, switch horses. Having been the lesson kid, I’m used to hopping on whatever is handed to me and learning its buttons and cues very quickly. I was practically bred for this test. For some riders, this can be a big shakeup to what they know. The best way to practice this is to hop on anything you can. If you board at a barn with sale or lesson horses, change up your routine. Ride a friend’s horse. Take a lesson with a different instructor to ride a different horse. This is such a useful skill, regardless of if you ride equitation or not! You never know when you’re going to need to hop on an unfamiliar horse.

What’s your favorite or least favorite test? What’s your strategy for practicing and getting through it? Study up on your rule book, dear readers!


  1. What would you say is an “educated” mount in this context? Did most of the riders just have horses too tall to mount from the ground?


    1. I’m not sure what you’re asking about an educated mount?

      As far as ground mounting goes, I’ve managed to ground mount a 17.2 Holsteiner and I’m about 5’5″, so unless their horse was 18 hands, there are ways to do it. It’s simply a skill they must not have practiced very much.


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