Ever heard: “Dancing a sport? Are you kidding me? It’s so easy to learn a couple moves to music.” or “Golf isn’t a sport; it’s a skill!”? We have all heard these comments regarding activities that people don’t consider sports. I don’t play golf or dance, but I am an equestrian who is often confronted with similar statements. Many people assume that the horse does all the work and that the rider just sits there. These assumptions are often made by people who have never really tried the sport at a high level. For example, someone whose last encounter with a horse was a pony ride at a birthday party when he or she was five.
As one of history’s oldest methods of transportation, horseback-riding had long been considered a necessity. However, when the automobile was invented, horse-back riding emerged as a sport. In fact, several types of Equestrianism emerged: Racing, Show Jumping, Western Barrel Racing and Cow Roping, Dressage, Eventing and Foxhunting. Although these disciplines vary greatly in style, purpose and execution, each involves a bond between horse and rider that must be achieved through an unspoken language. In other words, a human must communicate with a 1,000-or-more pound animal simply through a series of subtle gestures. Instead of relying on a team, another individual, or him/herself riders must rely on a different being altogether- one with its own ideas and thoughts, and one that is not always in the mood to listen.
So where does the athleticism component come in? For starters, riders use almost every muscle in their body to stay balanced and secure atop a large animal as it vaults itself over even larger obstacles. A rider’s legs are usually the most important, helping to both support and urge the horse forward, while also keeping the rider in place. Strong arms are essential to direct a horse around sharp turns, and check its pace. Core and back muscles are vital to maintain an elegant position: remember, all of this has to look effortless. The horse and the rider must memorize complex courses, and the rider must decide when to signal the mounts while still maintaining perfect timing and precision; similar to memorizing a play in football and timing the throw of the quarterback and the runs of the other players in order to score a touchdown.
While riding may not have the same cardiovascular effects as running a lacrosse ball down a field, it can be easily compared to lifting weights at the gym. In addition, there are more than 300 colleges and universities in America that offer horseback riding as a varsity sport. So next time you come to quick conclusions about a particular sport or activity, I will sharply reply: “I’d like to see you try.”