Over the years, and as recently as last week, I have been asked, “Is equestrian really a sport?” In fact, equestrian is not only a sport, but a team, a community and a lifestyle.
First, I would like to start with the facts. Equestrian is extremely physically and mentally involved. I consider it to be the most dangerous Olympic sport due to the extreme physical demands on both the horse and the rider. When riding a horse, you actively use many muscles in your body. Your brain is also constantly being pushed to new limits as you learn how to work effectively with a one-thousand-pound animal.
Many people consider equestrian to be an independent sport, not a team sport. However, Equestrian is most definitely a team sport. While you are not working alongside a group of riders as you compete, you are in a constant partnership with your teammate — your horse. You and your horse must achieve a synchronized relationship — both mentally and physically — in order to succeed.
Some days you and your horse may achieve complete harmony and balance within your ride. Other days may not be so perfect. You and your horse may be having an off day and lose your connection and partnership, and suddenly you’ll find yourself tumbling to the ground or being thrown in the air, eventually crashing through the jumps.
I have personally experienced and seen many riders take quite serious falls off their horses, get back up and keep riding. One quality that all riders must have is the determination to keep pushing themselves and their horse beyond their comfort levels and never give up. The bravery I have seen within the equestrian world is unique, for both the horse and the rider.
The amount of time and dedication many riders spend is extensive. I will spend an average of ten hours per week at the barn, but on a horse show weekend, I may spend up to twenty hours with horses. Some people will spend double these hours or more and devote their whole lives to their passion.
There is a possibility that the free periods currently given to ninth and 10th grade equestrian members may be taken away, and the girls given a fitness exempt will be required to return to fitness. Next year, girls may only be given free periods for one season or even none, according to Coach Benjamin and Coach Lennon.
I personally think that taking away our free periods would be a mistake. With the hours we dedicate, our free periods help immensely in completing work and minimize a lot of stress so that we are able to participate in our sport and not feel overwhelmed.
I understand that fitness is a great program that not only allows for beneficial exercise but also incorporates leadership skills, but I still think that due to the time many riders spend on equestrian, the extra homework time makes all the difference.
There is also a possibility that riding may not be considered a sport next year but a club. It’s insulting that a sport I’ve spent my whole life competing in would now be effectively demoted. I think that equestrian should be considered as athletic as any other sport.
Riding is difficult and competitive. It is impossible to achieve perfection within the equestrian world. Both the horse and rider are constantly facing new challenges and breakthroughs, no matter what type of riding you chose to do.
All I am asking is that people reconsider the way they think about equestrian. Please know that is is a real sport and that riders spend immense time and effort within it. It deserves the same respect given to other sports.