WEF – Maclay Big Eq

WEF – Maclay Big Eq

I bet I wasn’t the only one who didn’t really know that “big eq” and the Maclay Medal Finals was a really big deal before the Horse Power  TV series on Animal Planet.  Since I didn’t grow up showing on any type of hunter/jumper (or any) circuit, I had no idea of the big eq world.


Even when I did figure out the big eq existed, the classes weren’t usually big in NC and we don’t even have a decent 3’6″ junior equitation on our local circuit… so when I had some free time at WEF on Sunday I spent a lot of time parked by the big eq ring for a Maclay equitation class.


One house keeping note – all of these riders are essentially kids.  Some did great, and some had bloopers.  Let’s not rip them apart, because we all know we can make major mistakes at a horse show.

She stayed on!  Great save
She stayed on! Great save

I shouldn’t have been surprised to see just how difficult the equitation course was.  It’s hard to see in the pictures, but the whole thing was full of rollbacks and bending lines and combinations.

One particular area of difficulty was a longish three stride with a rollback to a one stride.  Several riders had trouble getting out of the one stride, or one stride and a chip instead.


Though there were definitely some “eep” and “oh no” rides that I watched, for the most part riders were able to get around the course technically decent and in good form.  As a somewhat educated observer, I would divide the class into three kinds of riders.


Some riders had a good eye, but looked like hunter riders riding a technical hunter course.  Their leg might not have been as solid, and even though they were on an equitation horse they weren’t really as polished or perhaps as motivated as some of their competition.  They weren’t scary, and they weren’t BAD… they just weren’t the winner that day.


Other riders you could tell were very solid.  They rode a lot of horses, and you would literally see them get off their equitation mount to go walk to another ring to get on their next jumper.  They did the class well, but though they were solid they weren’t super duper polished.  There was a little special spark that may have been missing… or hey, maybe it just wasn’t their day.  That happens for sure.

The last group were the minority, but these were the equitation stars.  The riders that rode into the ring knowing damn well they belonged there, and just owned that course.  These riders didn’t have a look of “oh I’m so glad I survived that class” on their face, they had the “Yup, that was awesome” look.  Coincidentally they may or may not have had Frank Madden whooping and hollering for them after their ride, ha!

Only a select riders were called for the flat phase, but it wasn’t as intense as I thought it’d be.  They called for rising trot, sitting trot, canter, and canter lengthening.  I was expecting counter canter for sure and perhaps no stirrups.  Also they reversed at the walk, not a turn on the haunches like I thought.

I don’t have a great video setup, but I tried to film some of the class for y’all to see.

I think a rider from almost any discipline can find these tough 3’6″ equitation classes interesting. What are your thoughts on the Big Eq?

13 thoughts on “WEF – Maclay Big Eq

  1. I am always so impressed by the Big Eq riders! They work so, so hard and the courses they’re asked to do are extremely challenging. And that giant blue WEF fence is terrifying!!!

    1. I thought it was a fence too! In this course, it’s just a jump to be in the way pretty much. It’s fairly giant at closer to 4′ than 3’6″ and the trainers were joking that it would erase one bad fence if you jumped it at the end of the course 😉

    1. Haha! I was like “oh my HELL those eq fences have gotten bigger”. 😉

      I was never going to be a player on the eq circuit–my childhood was spent going to one or two local shows a year in low divisions on lesson horses and usually doing poorly.

      It is fun to watch now, though.

  2. That WEF photo is great! Big eq riders always impress me and I find it so interesting to watch these classes (as opposed to individual videos) because you CAN really tell who belongs there and who doesn’t. Even at the finals-I remember watching a girl who made it from my area versus someone like Victoria Colvin or Lillie Keenan and the difference is marked.

  3. Such a great photos (as usual)! I love to watch the big eq classes! I think it’s typically a really technical and challenging class which makes for lots of difference in rides. I’m fascinated!

  4. Not that I could actually DO what they do, but it’s super cool the kind of technicality and polish that goes into those rides. Love to watch them!

  5. I love, love, love watching the BigEq classes. I think it’s a great mix of hunter and jumper into one class. Plus, there is so much to learn from watching them. I’ll pour over the winning courses after the finals videos are posted on youtube and try to apply the same finesse, confidence, and ease into my own rides. I wish there were more opportunities for adults to show in similar classes, but it seems that most medals are geared toward juniors.

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