I have been riding horses since I was five years old. They have always been something I could turn to when I was stressed or confused or just needed to clear my mind. Riding has always been an integral part of my life, whether it was nights spent at the barn after school, or entire summers at the stable showing, working, practicing, and spending time with friends. The stable became my second home, and my riding companions became part of my family. But what I didn’t realize was, despite how much riding affected my life, it also reflected who I am as a person. Each class that I competed in, each time I rode into the ring was another example of the person I am becoming. Riding not only shaped my life, but defines it in an unexpected way.
“No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.” ~Winston Churchill
Dressage, in its most basic definition, is the French word for training. It is a riding discipline in which the rider and the horse strive to appear flawless and impeccable, and is often described as horse ballet. The goal of the sport is to have the horse respond to minimal commands from the rider, while that rider appears relaxed and effort-free.
In life I often try to remain in complete control of my reactions to circumstances around me. I attempt to retain a measure of effort-free living, while remedying situations with an air of discipline and authority that reflect the restraint of the dressage rider.
“A lovely horse is always an experience....” ~Beryl Markham
Flexibility, Responsiveness and Faults
Jumper classes consist of several show jumping obstacles that are often high and very colorful. The course itself containsseveral twists and turns that is difficult to navigate and tests the riders trust and teamwork with their horse. The intent is to jump cleanly over a set course within an allotted time.
Jumper classes represent the expected twists and turns in life. Those that, while foreseeable, without the proper reactions can cause a significant amount of difficulty in life. In jumping, if a specific turn angle is missed, or a rail is knocked down, the rider cannot stop and remedy the situation, they must continue on with the course and change their approach to prevent any other complications. It is often the same in life. Too many times I catch myself getting caught up in a small mistake that I am unable to fix and then allow that to affect how I respond in the future. I have begun to try and learn from my experiences, but not dwell on them. The only way to win is to learn from past mistakes and apply developed knowledge in order to prevent future mistakes.
“In riding a horse we borrow freedom.” ~Helen Thomson
Goal Oriented Perseverance
Cross country is an endurance test that is designed to prove the speed, endurance and jumping ability of the true cross-country horse when he is well trained and brought to the peak of condition. Riding in a cross country competition is a measure of trust between you and your teammate, a measure of willingness to go into the unknown, and an adventure shared between you and your horse. Cross Country is full of open spaces, unknown obstacles, and potentially dangerous situations. A rider must retain full and absolute focus on the situation at hand, and they must be willing to adapt.
This event parallels lessons I have learned that are vast and varied. As a rider, you must learn to keep your head in unforeseen circumstances, know when to take full control, and know when to trust. I have learned that I must be able to revel in the experience and lose myself in the moment. I must be focused, but adaptable, willing to change and allow those around me to step into the lead when necessary.
“To ride a horse is to ride the sky.” ~Author Unknown
Humility and Insight
Hunters are judged subjectively on the degree to which they meet an ideal standard of manners, style, and way of going.
The most important thing about riding that most non-riders have difficulty understanding is the relationship developed between horse and athlete. It is stronger than most friendships, and relies on many of the same things. In order to succeed, the trust between the two must be incredibly strong. The horse needs to be able to trust their rider to not steer them towards dangerous situations, and the rider needs to trust their horse to follow direction and keep them safe. Because the class is judged mainly on the horse, the rider must put aside their ego and do whatever is possible to make their teammate look as flawless as possible.
This is strongly applicable in daily life and, in my opinion, needs to be recognized and implemented much more prevalently in today’s society. Team work and collaboration can achieve success when synergistically working towards the same goals. There are many different roles in life, some more visible than others but not less important. Competing in hunter classes has shown me to look beyond what is on the surface, the driving force to make a difference may not always be apparent.
“If there's one great lesson horses teach us, its humility.” - Anonymous