No, I didn’t buy my riding pants at American Apparel. No, they don’t sell these boots at Nordstrom, but that’s a good try; and no, I don’t race in the Kentucky Derby. Despite popular belief, equestrians don’t “just sit there” when they ride. It’s not a hobby; it’s a sport. I’m still known as the crazy horse girl by those around me, just like I was as a kid. And with the horse show season fully underway for 2015, I’m reminded of the false image people have of equestrian.
Riding is my life. Horseback riding takes tons of time, practice, dedication and devotion to be competitive and successful both in training and in the horse show ring, and it isn’t something that is to be taken lightly.
Riding horses is probably one of the most unique sports out there. Not only does it require extreme athletic ability, stamina and strength, but it also requires the bond of the rider with his or her horse, a bond which requires communication without words. According to the Horsepedia, riding a horse for around an hour and a half burns upwards of 1,000 calories, not to mention the before and after warming up and cooling out your horse.
Communication between horse and rider is present in all types of riding. In Hunter/Jumpers, which is the discipline I participate in, much time and effort is spent in not only working with your horse at the walk, trot and canter, but also regularly training and jumping fences so that you are ready for competitions, a culminating experience of the training that went on before that particular show.
At these horse shows, riders from all over will compete in their specific classes to earn points and qualify for various finals that happen toward the end of the year. Not only is the showing itself difficult, but horse shows generally last weeks, so stamina and focus is key in performing your best.
What people don’t understand, though, is why equestrian is so different and takes so much time and effort. I have to turn down plans (extremely often at that) due to my obligations to train and ride my horses. For me, I don’t mind so much because it is my love and my passion.
However, for those friends who aren’t familiar with what goes on, it can seem sort of selfish. “Why can’t you just ride later?” or “Why can’t you have a friend ride your horse?” are questions I often receive when I say that my riding takes priority. The answers to these questions are often difficult to articulate to those who don’t ride, but here is my chance, and I’m going to try:
Riding horses isn’t just a sport; it’s my lifestyle and will hopefully be my career soon. It’s addicting to say the least. There is nothing more rewarding than being successful at a horse show, or even in a lesson with my trainer on something I have been working so hard and closely on with my horse. The amount of practice and dedication makes success that much sweeter.
Misunderstood by some? Of course — most sports are. The sport of equestrian provides something more than football or baseball: the bond and reliance a horse and rider have is different than any interaction with a human teammate.
Follow Emily on Twitter: @emilytgoldberg