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The Kentucky Horse Park is renowned for hosting the ultimate display of horsemanship. Over the years, the park has not only been the place to see horses and experience an authentic working horse farm, it has also been home to many equestrian events of various types. From mounted games for children to the internationally-renowned Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games that were hosted at the park in 2010, many types of riding competitions can be seen.

There is an endless amount of disciplines (categories) in the equestrian world. The most common disciplines you will see at the park and at its events are those recognized by the governing body of international equestrian sport, the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI). This organization recognizes eight disciplines of equestrian sport where men and women compete against each other and/or on teams with one another.  All were seen at the park in 2010 at the FEI World Equestrian Games, or WEG. Today, most can be seen throughout the year at the park. Here’s a look at all eight:


This is the most recognizable discipline of the horse world. Performed by all ages in every country, Jumping exemplifies the grace and power of the horse and its relationship with human kind. Horse and rider, either individual or in a team, must complete a round of ten to thirteen jumps in the allotted time span. These jumps are also set up in a predetermined course. Penalties, called faults, are given when a rail of the jump is knocked down, the course is ridden the incorrect way, the horse refuses a jump, or completion of the course takes longer than the given time.

Jumping is also one of the three disciplines that can be seen at the Olympics. Beyond the Olympics is the FEI WEG where jumping is also performed and perhaps the most popular discipline to watch.

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Like two dancers gliding across a ballroom floor, the horse and rider that perform dressage show the beauty, grace, and incredible skill of horseback riding at its best. This equestrian dance requires various and extreme movements that few horses master and must exhibit in a set course.

The movements were first used by the cavalry of ancient Greece to protect the horse and rider from enemies and to transform the pair into deadly war machines. Examples of the movements that would be seen are the Half-Pass, Piaffe, Passage, and Pirouette. The Half-Pass makes the horse appear as if it is gliding sideways around the arena. When the Piaffe is shown, it looks like a trot but is flashier, more elevated, and done in place. The Passage is another trot, but instead of being flashy, it is quiet and it appears as if the horse is floating above the ground. Finally, the Pirouette is performed when the horse plants one foot on the ground and the horse moves in a circle around it. All of these acts are beautiful to see but difficult to perform.

Dressage is the second of the three Olympic disciplines.

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The only equestrian competition at the Paralympics, Para-Dressage is Dressage except the riders are individuals with impairments. This step was taken by the FEI in 2006 to have the organization and the equestrian sport world be inclusive to all of its riders.

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Perhaps the most grueling discipline of the FEI is Eventing, or commonly known as a three-day event. It is a human triathlon but with horses and riders working together to showcase their versatility and strength. This competition is set over three days in a row where each horse and rider pair participating must complete dressage, jumping, and cross country, one competition on each day. Dressage is performed on the first day, jumping the second, and cross country on the third.

Dressage and jumping in eventing is the same as when they are individual competitions. Cross country is a long distance race interrupted by twenty-five to forty-five jumps. These jumps, while all solid (they do not have lightweight rails), vary from raised logs to massive carved wood in the shape of animals. Ditches and pools of water that must be scaled are also present. The famous water jump of the Kentucky Three-Day Event held at the park every April is one example.

After all three competitions are completed, scores from each of the competitions are added together for each horse and rider. The pair with the smallest number—or fewest faults—wins. Due to the incredible skill of the athletes, both human and horse, it is no surprise that eventing is the third Olympic equestrian event.

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Before there were cars, humans drove horses that pulled carriages, carts, and wagons. Although horses are no longer needed for transportation, the tradition of driving horses is far from dead.

Today in FEI approved shows, the driver of a vehicle (carriage or cart) can drive a single, pair, or a team of four horses or ponies. They compete in three competitions: dressage, marathon, and cones.

Dressage in driving is similar to the dressage exhibited by a ridden horse and its rider. The difference is that the precise and difficult movements such as the Passage and Half-Pass are not executed. A set pattern is performed by the driver and the horses instead. The set includes variations of speed, pace, halts, and sizes of circles.

Marathon is similar to Eventing’s cross country. It takes place outdoors on a natural course with natural obstacles such as trees, and manmade obstacles such as wooden gates the driver and the horses must go through or weave around. The course is timed. Water holes and steep hills greatly test the trust between driver and the horses, and the endurance and strength of the horses. In marathon, a groom (assistant of the driver) can be seen clinging onto the back of the vehicle. The reason for this is that the driver and horses may take a turn so tightly and quickly that the vehicle would tip over if not for the groom throwing his or her weight to the opposite side.

Cones is extremely detailed and requires a high level of skill for the driver and horses and a great amount of obedience on the horses’ parts. The course that is run is narrow and framed by cones with little balls on top. Running over the cones and/or knocking off balls is a reason for faults.

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Similar to Para-Dressage, Para-Driving brings drivers with an impairment in par with able-bodied drivers. Though in separate competitions, Para-drivers compete in the three-day driving events the same as able-bodied drivers. The FEI brought this about in 2006 and is considered to be part of Driving as one discipline.

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Endurance riders and horses are the marathon runners of the horse world. Both rider and horse must have excellent stamina, discipline, and determination to complete an endurance course.

The run is timed, but the main goal of the rider is to finish with himself or herself and the horse in good condition. The best Endurance riders and horses finish in good condition and on time.

Each course is split up into several parts, with each division having a vet gate. Here, a vet will go over the horse’s vital signs and perform a health inspection. If the horse is in good condition and the rider is also, then the pair may continue. If one or the other is not in good condition, then the pair may not continue the course.

The history of this discipline began as dressage did. It was a test to train cavalry horses and mold them into top athletes.

The breed of choice for Endurance is the Arabian, where its origins as a desert horse serve it well in rough terrain over a long course.

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The only Western riding discipline recognized by the FEI, reining is an exhilarating competition that brings forth images of cowboys of the American West. While it has much more fanfare today than it ever did in the days of the cowboys, many of the movements seen in a reining competition are derived from that time. They have been formed to showcase the abilities and skill needed by ranch horses in a confined arena rather than out in a field on a cattle ranch.

In this competition, an audience member will see dizzying spins: the horse will plant one foot and then whip around 360 degrees in both directions. Flying lead changes, or where the front leg that leads when the horse is moving is switched, are breathtaking; the horse will switch lead legs in mid-air. For example, a horse leading with its left leg will switch to its right leg while it is cantering through the arena.

Sliding stops are the crowd favorite. The rider will direct the horse to one end of the arena, then urge it to race to the other end. Several yards before the other end of the arena, the rider will lean back and cue the horse to stop. The horse, outfitted with special shoes on their hind hooves, will tuck their haunches in and slide to a stop. The tracks left by this act can be several feet long.

These movements are not ridden at random. They are placed in a pattern, ten of which a rider may choose from. Along with the spins, flying lead changes, and sliding stops, slow, small circles and fast, large circles are done.

The breed of horse that dominates reining competitions is the preferred Western riding horse: the American Quarter Horse.

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Gymnastics and horseback riding meet in this illustrious show. As heart-stopping and thrilling as this discipline is, there is no lack of grace and harmony.

In vaulting, a horse is guided through a lead line, or a long rope, by a lunger, in a circle as vaulters (gymnasts) twirl and flip on its back. A horse with an unflappable temperament and steady gait is essential to the safety and success of the vaulters.

Handstands, shoulder stands, quick mounts and dismounts, lifting of vaulters by teammates, and other exercises are done while the horse canters in a circle. These exercises are also done in teams of three, pairs, or as individuals. Once again, the history of this discipline began with the military. Soldiers learned to “vault” on and off their horses to become expert cavalry fighters.

While there are many things similar in vaulting to the ridden and driven disciplines, men and women compete in separate classes.

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Arabian: A breed of horse often associated with Endurance riding. Characteristics include a dished face and large eyes.

Cones: A sub-discipline of Driving in which a pattern is followed within the outline of cones with balls on top.

Cross-Country: A sub-discipline of Eventing in which a long distance course of jumps must be completed in a certain amount of time.

Discipline: A category or kind of riding in the equestrian world.

Dressage: A recognized discipline of the FEI where horse and rider perform a pattern with a series of movements.

Driving: FEI recognized discipline in which a driver directs a single, pair, or team of horses that pull a vehicle, such as a carriage.

Endurance: A recognized discipline of the FEI where horse and rider complete a long-distance course over rough terrain.

Eventing: An FEI and Olympic-recognized discipline where horse and rider participate in three trials over three days.

Faults: Penalties acquired by horse and rider during a competition.

FEI: Fédération Equestre Internationale, or the governing body of equestrian sport based in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Groom: An assistant to a driver and caregiver of horses.

Half-Pass: A movement of Dressage where the horse moves sideways.

Jumping: A recognized discipline of the FEI and Olympic Games in which horse and rider navigate a course of jumps that must completed with as few faults as possible in a given amount of time.

Kentucky Three-Day Event: The largest non-racing equestrian competition that takes place every April at the Kentucky Horse Park.

Lead Line: A rope used to a guide a horse when lunging it.

Lunger: The individual who guides the horse during a vaulting competition.

Para-Dressage: FEI-recognized discipline in which riders with impairments compete in Dressage.

Para-Driving: FEI-recognized discipline in which riders with impairments compete in Driving.

Passage: A Dressage movement where the horse’s trot is so graceful, it appears as if the horse is floating.

Piaffe: A Dressage movement that is an elevated trot.

Pirouette: A Dressage movement where the horse plants a hind foot and makes a circle around it.

Quarter Horse: A breed of horse that is most often associated with cowboys and Western riding.

Reining: The only Western riding discipline recognized by the FEI where a series of movements needed by ranch horses is performed in an arena.

Vaulting: The FEI-recognized discipline where gymnasts perform atop a cantering horse.

WEG: World Equestrian Games that is a four-star event and celebrates equestrian sport by bringing together the best athletes of the equestrian world every four years.

Western Riding: A type of riding where Western tack is used for riding.