Working Equitation has officially arrived in Ontario with the establishment of Great Lakes Working Equitation, a chapter of Working Equitation Canada (WECan) which now boasts 10 chapters in six provinces.

The chapter was formed in response to the desire of many Ontario riders who wish to take part in the sport, says Lise LeBlanc, Great Lakes Working Equitation (GLWE) president and regional WECan director. “Working equitation appeals to many different disciplines because it’s an inclusive sport.”

The sport developed in Portugal, Spain, France and Italy in the mid-1990s to showcase the skills of working ranch horses. Those horses had a foundation of basic dressage and were brave and agile enough to negotiate opening gates, crossing bridges, herding cattle, etc. Since then, it’s arrived in North America and its popularity has grown rapidly. Competitions involve four phases: dressage, ease of handling (with obstacles), and speed, with cattle handling added at the highest levels.

Lise LeBlanc, Great Lakes Working Equitation president and regional WECan director.

LeBlanc says people riding breeds that may not stand out in the regular dressage ring may do well at WE because the tests are less focussed on extended gaits and more on manoeuvrability, obedience and quality of gait. Riders can use the tack and dress of their choice including English, western, Spanish, etc.

“It’s really about showing your best and having fun applying your training to the challenge or handling and allowing the horse to show its workability and technical development,” says LeBlanc.

LeBlanc, who rides and trains French classical dressage, has spent the last two years working in the WE program, training horses for the sport and is a WE judge in training. She reached out to people in the U.S. and internationally to gain insight about how they established WE organizations and found many Ontario riders eager to join. “People are ready for this and looking for it.” She also found volunteers willing to help get an Ontario chapter established, including Cynthia Jones and Jennifer Glover, now GLWE vice-president and secretary-treasurer.

The current focus is education. “It’s a vast sport with four phases and it has an extensive rule book. Obstacles have to be done with precision and that may be hard to do if you’re only watching YouTube videos,” says LeBlanc. “You want to make sure people are executing the exercises properly. We want to avoid interpretations and make sure the fundamentals are covered and done properly and safely.

“Some people in Ontario are already doing working equitation and silently practicing, but need the guidance of expert clinicians.”

The chapter is booking clinics for 2022 and is looking for opportunities at facilities throughout the province. It is also interested in hearing from people involved in team penning, western gaming or cattle sorting to help teach the cattle phase. The chapter also hopes to hold some fun shows in the fall.

A Facebook page (Great Lakes Working Equitation) has been set up and a website will be online soon. Membership is $40 and members will have some exclusive benefits. To join, go to the Working Equitation Canada website, join there and direct the membership to the Great Lakes chapter. People must be members of a provincial organization such as Ontario Equestrian to join.

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