By Kirsten Loots

The Mark White Nissan Super League equitation series, one of the major events on the annual equestrian calendar, saw riders competing for the coveted title of the most accomplished rider.

Pony riders and horse riders, from novice to advanced, took part in the first leg of the Mark White Nissan Super League series, with judges concurring the quality of the competition was excellent.

The first leg was held on March 8 at Marion Clough’s Fourways Riding Centre, in Midrand, with its stunning new show jumping arena, completed just weeks before the show.

Equitation, the single equestrian sport that judges only the style and ability of the rider, rather than the horse, is seen by South African equitation judges as the one of the most important disciplines to improve the quality and competitiveness of South African horse and pony riders.

What is equitation? The riding discipline was developed in America, and adopted in South Africa decades ago. It differs from show jumping which awards the rider who can jump clear over a course of fences in the fastest time (even if their riding technique isn’t great). But equitation rewards the rider with the best riding style and ability..

Two expert judges give marks to each rider for their “flatwork” (manoeuvres on the ground) and jumping. The most exciting part comes after judges select the top marked riders to go into a final round to determine the winner – after swapping horses. Sometimes a rider who looks good on his or her own horse or pony, falls to pieces riding a more difficult animal.

One competitor at the Mark White Nissan Super League, Stephanie Hiltermann, 14, said equitation “teaches your horse good discipline.

“In a show jumping round, it’s all about your time, and they don’t care if you get a short stride to the jump. With equitation, you have to get the correct stride to each jump, or you don’t get good marks. It’s not about just tearing around,” she said.

What do equitation judges look for? They want to see a rider who is smooth, quiet, balanced and effective. The accuracy of the round, bringing the horse or pony to each fence at the optimal distance, is key. Yanking the reins, swinging legs or rocking the body back and forth are all seen as rider faults. Points are deducted if a horse or pony knocks a fence down, or stops at a jump.

Mark White Nissan sponsored the Super League series because of its importance in developing South African equestrian talent, said Greg Bennett, marketing and events manager. Other sponsors include Midfeeds, Western Shoppe and Tiger Brands.

“We are excited to be sponsoring another discipline of horse-riding and are hoping that through our efforts it will help the Equitation Super League grow and be successful,” Bennett said.

“At Mark White Nissan we pride ourselves on making an effort to give back to the community,” Bennett said. “We are currently sponsoring the South African Lipizzaners, Highveld Horse Care Unit, the South African Warmblood Horse Society and recently decided to sponsor Equitation Super League.

He said Mark White Nissan was committed to help grow and equestrian sport and horse welfare in South Africa through sponsorships.

“Through these sponsorships, the Mark White Nissan name has become well known in the horse riding society and by sponsoring the Equitation Super League we are hoping to establish our name in this different discipline and show our commitment to the entire horse riding community,” he added.

Some see equitation as the foundation for future South African Olympians. Claire Webb, one of South Africa’s most senior equitation judges, has been judging the sport since the 1970s. As a coach who has produced many equitation champions, she said the sport helped to develop top show jumpers, who could go on to compete at the top level in South Africa – and overseas

“What you are trying to do as a judge is to make sure that the rider’s foundation is so correct that they can go on to be a successful competitor in show jumping or other disciplines,” she said in an interview at the Fourways Riding Centre, between judging classes at the first leg of the Mark White Nissan Super League.

“That is exactly what has happened. Many of the show jumper in the 1.50 meter classes were equitation champions. They had very strong equitation basics and went on to the very top,” she said, referring to the Adult Open level of show jumping competition.” She was seen giving riders valuable feedback, to improve their riding technique.

Another judge at the first leg of the Mark White Nissan Super League, Amy Sue Billett, described equitation as “the most important development discipline of all. It improves our riders, it improves our horses and it improves our coaches,” she said. “It’s a nice way to compare your progress against other riders, or your progress against yourself.”

Despite a week of bucketing rain in the lead-up to the series, riders were impressed with the quality of Marion Clough’s new arena, which held up very well despite the weather. They were even more impressed to get through almost the entire first leg of the Mark White Nissan Super League without more rain, although the horse riders vying for the final class of the day did get drenched.

Three more legs remain to determine the champions in each division.

Winners included, Pony Riders: Welcome, Shelley Van Der Wel (winner of both classes); Novice, Hannah Boon, Chelsea Munn; Intermediate, Kaylin Du Toit, Caitlin Wheeler; Open, Sylvia Dixon (won both classes). Young Rider/Adult: Welcome, Jemma Dickinson (won both classes); Novice, Draw between Nicole Bates, Tegan Bruyns; Tegan Bruyns also won the second class, Intermediate, Daniella Machiné, Justine Mackay; Open, Sylvia Dixon, Alexandra Munn.

Judges were Claire Webb, Keith Spargo, Jenni Wyllie, Sigi Sauter, Marion Clough, Amy Sue Billett, Leigh Ann Scott, Danille Van Vuuren, Amelia Cockrell and Rebecca Harrison.

Sylvia Dixon riding Waterside Zingaree 8 March 2014

Winner Pony Rider 70 cm Hannah Boon


Winner Pony Rider 60 cm Shelly Van Der Walt