Guest post by Lindsay.
A few months ago, before teaching a lesson, I heard a a six year old boy teasing his sister, “Riding isn’t a sport- the horse does all the work!” I very calmly corrected him, in defense of his sister and myself. His mother responded, “He’s only teasing his sister.”
For over 20 years, I have been defending my SPORT. I have been teased, not only by my own brothers, but by gym teachers and other “sports” or “athletic” people. Many people classify riding as a hobby, where the horse does “all of the work” and the rider is “just along for the ride.”
I guess, for some people riding can be a hobby. I have never looked at my sport that way, but for argument’s sake, I will try. There are plenty of people in the horse world that are much more casual than I am. (A nice way of saying that I am incredibly intense.) Even at show barns, there are people that breeze in once or twice a month, putter around grooming, and perhaps take a lesson if the weather is nice. For those people, riding is just one of the many things that they do. I have met many people that just want to enjoy time with their horse, do some work in their lesson or on the trail, and get a little better each time they ride. (I would like to be very clear- if this is the type of rider that you are, the more power to you. I know you truly enjoy your rides and your horses and I do love seeing you around the barn. As a super intense person, I need to learn from you and remember that I am in the horse world because I enjoy it and it is fun- sometimes, I forget that.)
Some people prefer horsemanship to riding. (I cannot stress the importance of horsemanship!) They prefer to come see their horse everyday, groom, care for, and pamper their animal. I do know people who LOVE and prefer ground work with their horses. There are also people that prefer to be spectators; they love to audit clinics, watch horse shows, or even hang around the barn and watch lessons.
Okay, so for some people, this might just be a hobby. (Maybe.)
On the other hand, there are many people that treat riding as a sport. I am one of those people. The horse, for me, certainly does not “do all the work” – quite the opposite, in fact. I am an athlete. At 1/10 (or less) of the weight of the horse, it is up to my body to control this animal that will eventually become my partner, my teammate.
For those that don’t think riding is a sport, I ask: how does a horse know what to do when you ride it? Magic? As some one who has been the first person on a few horses, I can tell you, it is not magic. It’s strength and skill. It is knowing where exactly to put you left calf muscle, while knowing what to do with your right pinky. It is having control over every single muscle in your body and knowing what to without watching your body work. (We all know what happens if you look down!)
The statement I often hear is, “Okay, well riding is a physical activity, but what about competition? You can’t have a sport without competition!” I am no stranger to “typical” sports. My family boasts college and semi pro athletes in baseball and football, my grandfather is even a Major League Baseball Scout. I have been involved in “typical” competition from a young age. Horse shows are more competitive than any other sport I have played or watched. Our athletes put tremendous mental pressure on themselves and their competitors. Riders and horses push themselves to their physical limits. Blood, sweat and tears? You will certainly find all of those at a horse show. Under a seemingly cool and calm demeanor, you find men and women that expect nothing less than a perfect performance from their horse and rider team.
So, what is left to prove? Riding’s physical difficulty? Take a lesson with me, and of course your upper thigh will hurt, but your abs will hurt for days. Try to lift up a horse, set him on his haunch, keep him straight – only using your legs, and then squeeze the dickens out of him to try to get him over a jump. Ask professional equestrians about their injuries; the list will be too long for most people to remember.