McAteer leads classes in new equine discipline |

McAteer leads classes in new equine discipline

Linda Lafferty
Special to The Aspen Times
Maree McAteer sets up the “Lance the Bull” challenge at a Working Equitation class at Strang Ranch. Riders must use the metal “lance” to snatch one of the rings from the stand as they ride by.
Heather Lafferty/Special to The Aspen Times |

If you go ...

What: Working Equitation Day

When: 9 a.m. Saturday

Where: Strang Ranch, 393 County Road 102

Cost: Entry fee $60 for Pony Club members, $30 for kids

More info: or 970-948-3219

Aspen attracts athletes, coaches and trainers from around the world in many sports, so it isn’t surprising to find Maree McAteer, an internationally known horse trainer and riding instructor, offering working equitation classes at Strang Ranch in Missouri Heights.

Working equitation may not be a familiar term, even to many avid riders, but it is a growing discipline, gaining in popularity both as a form of training and as a field for friendly competition.

According to the Working Equitation International Association of the USA, working equitation has “the objective of enhancing the equestrian techniques developed in countries whose riders use horses in different aspects of ranch and fieldwork.”

But the challenges go well beyond ranch work. It is a cross-discipline for rider and horse, incorporating dressage (from very simple routines to advanced tests) and riding fun obstacles.

“Working equitation is one of the simplest, most interesting and compassionate systems of training that I have come across,” McAteer said. “Not to mention how much fun it is.”

At the Strang Ranch working equitation class, one is greeted by a brightly colored paddock filled with a variety of obstacles, some based on challenges that a rider might encounter when riding on a trail: opening and closing a gate, backing up through a short course, slaloming around trees (cones, actually) and jumping a hay bale. Some challenges are more technical, such as using a long pole to spear a ring on a spinning metal bull’s horns.

In competition, the rider and horse are first judged on calmness and teamwork, but the subsequent round is timed.

Building a Relationship Between Horse and Rider

McAteer is a riding instructor, but she teaches more than riding — she teaches a rider to heal a horse, with a focus on fostering a lasting, healthy relationship between rider and mount.

“Too many riders push a horse when he’s not ready,” McAteer said. “I help riders see things from the horse’s point of view.”

Working from her experience as a professional show jumper and endurance rider, the New Zealand native focuses on “you and your horse doing a job together with the utmost harmony and efficiency.”

McAteer added, “Working equitation broadens a horse’s scope. It teaches him to be a good partner in any equine sport you care to pursue. Horses love working equitation.”

Through working equitation a rider learns to slow down.

“It’s all about respecting your horse and building trust,” McAteer said. “Instead of going faster, stop and wait. Slow down. It is a process that too many riders force, making their horses nervous and unwilling.”

An example of this is introducing a young horse to a wooden bridge, something that a rider will encounter on many trail rides.

A typical rider might use a crop on a horse or rush it across. The proper way, according to McAteer, is to have the horse stand by the bridge and let him lower his nose to the boards and sniff.

McAteer runs various trainings throughout Colorado. Locally she trains riders every other Monday at Strang Ranch. Groups range from beginners to advanced. In addition to this ongoing training, McAteer organizes daylong events she calls “Almost a Show.” These allow riders to become familiar with courses and philosophy while riding their horses at a relaxed and appropriate level.

The first “Almost a Show” is slated for Saturday.

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