Horse riding disciplines – Tentpegging, Showing, Western Mounted Games and Vaulting

The South Africa Equestrian Federation is the governing federation for several equestrian associations within South Africa. Equestrian sports are an integral part of the culture of South Africa. Equestrian sports promote a healthy lifestyle, encourage the development of skills, and plays a vital role in the promotion of upliftment, unity, and equality of South Africa’s society.

The federation was established so that all members would have assistance with awarding the National Colours and acquiring funding or other financial support from regulatory organisations for the benefit of the group and its members. The federation also helps with securing the needed support for regulatory agencies for the development of the sport and the participants while representing equestrian sports in negotiations between regulatory organisations and bodies. One of the ultimate goals of the federation is to ensure that all associations adhere to the Sport Act, rules, and guidelines as established by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee.


South Africa Equestrian Tentpegging Association

Tentpegging originated from an ancient cavalry sport that focused on the agility and usefulness of the horse in combat situations. The term ‘tentpegging’ refers to mounted games that involve edged weapons such as swords or lances.  This particular equestrian sport requires a well-schooled horse that will instantaneously respond to commands. The horses that are used in these competitions must have no fear of noise, sudden movements, or strange objects. There are five divisions of the mounted games.

• Tentpegging – The rider guides the horse at a gallop and uses a sword or a lance to pierce, pick up, and carry away a small target on the ground or a series of ground targets.

• Ring Jousting – The rider guides the horse at a gallop and tries to pass the tip of a lance or sword through a ring that is held up by a cord.

• Lemon Sticking – The rider attempts to pierce or slice a lemon that is hanging on a cord in mid-air or that is sitting on a platform.

• Quintain Tilting – The rider and horse charge at a mannequin that is attached to a swiveling or rocking base.

• Mounted Archery – The rider must hit archery targets while on horseback.

The rules for each given tent pegging competition specify the size and construction of each target, the number of targets placed on the course, and the length and weight of the sword, lance, or bow that they will use. These rules also state the minimum amount of time in which a course must be finished, and the extent or distance that a target must be struck, cut, sliced, or carried. The rider must maintain posture when the horse is at full speed as the judging officials award points for the style and accuracy of their performance.

The South Africa Equestrian Tentpegging Association is thoroughly represented throughout South Africa. The sport has developed in all nine provinces, and there is an annual Interprovincial competition held to determine the best provincial team. SAETA is also well represented internationally in over 18 countries. The primary goal of the South Africa Equestrian Tentpegging Association is to encourage the growth of the sport until it is recognized at the World Equestrian Games.

The South Africa Showing Association focuses on the show hunter horses, working riding horses, and the working hunters as well as the same for the respective pony divisions. These types are also the same three categories of grading for the competitions. The grading is very similar to all three divisions. However, there are subtle differences that must be noted to ensure top marks are awarded.

Show Hunter Horses and the respective pony divisions are judged on conformation, soundness, quality of the horse or pony, the polish of turnout of the horse/rider pair, movement, their manners, and ability to move at a gallop. These horses and ponies stem from the tradition of fox hunting. The animals must have an excellent ability to jump while maintaining their manners and displaying proper motion at a gallop.

Working Hunter Horses and Working Hunter Ponies are judged on conformation, soundness, quality of the horse or pony, the polish of turnout of the horse/rider pair, movement, style and manners, their ability to jump, and their ability to move at a gallop.

Working Riding Horses and Working Riding Ponies are also judged on conformation, soundness, movement, their manners, the polish of turnout of the horse/rider pair, and their overall utility as a working riding animal.

South African Western Mounted Games Association

Western Mounted Games is the intensive precision sport of the equestrian sports world. The horses need to be able to move at great speeds while having the ability to make sharp turns while exhibiting control and responsiveness.

The Western Mounted Games originated from colonial Gymkhana events. However, games such as the rescue race and barrel racing have been added. In South Africa, the Western Mounted Games only include the American Gymkhana events such as the following:

Barrel Racing

Barrel racing is a rodeo event that requires the horse and rider to attempt to complete a cloverleaf pattern around barrels, which have been previously set up, in the fastest time possible.

Keyhole Race

Keyhole Race is a speed event that requires the horse and rider to try to finish the course in the fastest time possible. The event begins when the horse and rider cross the timing line and then the team enters the keyhole (which is a keyhole pattern marked on the ground with white chalk) at a gallop. Then, they turn in either direction inside the keyhole’s circle without stepping on or over the chalk lines. The goal is to turn as fast as possible, and then the team exits the keyhole at a gallop before they cross the timing line again to complete the pattern.

Hurry Scurry Race

In the Hurry Scurry Race, the horse and rider are required to jump three fences in a predetermined pattern. The rider and horse begin at the start line and canter a straight line down the long side of the arena. Then, they may jump one or two fences before turning to ride the opposite direction. After they turn, they may then jump over one final jump or the two final jumps.

Pole Bending (Poles I and II)

Pole Bending is an event that has plastic poles set up in a straight line. In Poles I, the horse and rider must weave between the poles and down to the end before turning and zigzag back to the starting line to finish their run.

In Poles II, the poles are set up in the same manner as Poles I but, the horse and rider must run to the end pole, zigzag back through the poles, weave again, and then run all the way back to the starting line.

Quadrangle Stake Race

The Quadrangle Stake Race is a preset course of four corner markers that create a pattern such as a square. The horse and rider must begin in the center and then proceed to make four turns (two rights and two lefts) around the markers in the fastest time possible.

Birangle Stake Race

Birangle Stake Races require the horse and rider to make two turns around the pattern markers before running back across the starting line. These two turns can be performed in any direction, but there must be two turns to complete the event.

Single Stake Race

The Single Stake Race requires the horse and rider to begin at the starting line and then gallop down to the turn marker before turning either right or left. After the team makes the turn, they must run back to the starting line in the fastest time possible.

Figure 8 Flag Race

The Figure 8 Flag Race requires the horse and rider to start in the center before riding down to one turn and exchanging a banner or flag. After the first exchange, they have to run down and turn around the end of the course and transfer the second flag.

Figure 8 Stake Race

The Figure 8 Stake Race is similar to the Figure 8 Flag Race’s pattern design. The horse and rider start in the center of the designed course and run down to one turn marker, turn, and then run down to the turn marker on the other end of the course for the final turn. After the final turn is made, the horse and rider must run back to the center of the course to complete the pattern. It is the same design. However, there are not any flags that need to be exchanged at each turn.

Speed Ball

Speed Ball Races require the horse and rider to run down to a cone at the other end of the course to drop a golf ball into the top of the cone just as they make the turn around the cone. The goal is to get the golf ball in the cone without stepping on or knocking over the cone. Once the golf ball has been dropped, it cannot be touched again, and the rider and horse must run back to the starting line to finish the event.

Big T

Big T-Races are a combination of poles and barrels in the formation of a T. The horse and rider must weave three poles down to the barrels, turn the two barrels, and then weave the three poles back to the starting line to finish the event.

Speed Barrels

Speed Barrel Races require the horse and rider to weave three barrels in the same manner as horse and rider teams weave the poles.

All of the events listed above are designed for the horse and rider to display correct, well-controlled actions and ultimate teamwork. The events ask for the demonstration of many skills such as flying lead changes, roll backs, sliding stops, and more. There are a variety of classes for all ages and skill levels, so riders can compete at the speed level that they are most comfortable with based on their experience.

The South African Western Mounted Games Association (SAWMGA) adopted the game patterns, rules, and regulations from the California Gymkhana Association. The discipline is registered with the South African Equestrian Federation as well. The SAWMGA association is a dynamic organization that continues to grow throughout South Africa. The International Mounted Games Association World Team Championships will be hosted in South Africa in 2017.

Vaulting Association of South Africa

Vaulting can be traced back to ancient Roman games where acrobatic maneuvers were displayed on cantering horses. Modern vaulting developed in Germany after World War II as an initiative to introduce children to riding and equestrian sports. The modern sport of vaulting is gymnastics performed on horseback.

Vaulting combines both skills of gymnastics and horsemanship into one sport. Vaulting requires great balance, rhythm, coordination, and as well as confidence in the horse. In vaulting competitions, there are predetermined routines as well as freestyle routines. Freestyle routines are generated by the rider before entering the show and then approved by the judging officials. Freestyles are performed with music. Musical interpretation is added to the factors that may improve the score awarded to a horse and rider combination.

Vaulting was reintroduced to South Africa in 2000, and later on, in that year, vaulting was held in the Inter-Africa Cup. The first South African individual competed on an international level in 2004. After that, seven individual vaulters then obtained qualifying scores in 2005 and 2006. These scores later entitled South Africa to participate in the World Equestrian Games near the end of 2006 in Aachen.  Since then, vaulting divisions have been recognized at the World and Continental Championships as well as the World Equestrian Games.

Two years later, South Africa sent a vaulting team to Aachen again in 2008 for the World Equestrian Games as well as in 2010, when the World Equestrian Games were hosted in Kentucky, United States.

What’s your favourite horse discipline or what discipline looks like the most fun?

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