BY CARLY PHOON
The most tiresome conversation of all is explaining horseback riding as a sport to a skeptic. We’re accustomed to the responses: “Isn’t it really easy?” “So you just sit there.” Or our favorite: “So, do you do any real sports?”
Equestrians intuitively know that riding is a sport. Yet, we must constantly defend our athleticism to the ever-vexing cynic or well-intentioned friend. If you find yourself having this conversation frequently, I’ve provided my arguments below to help you turn skeptics into supporters and walk away from the conversation always confident that the equestrian sport is the best sport out there.
1. Riding requires muscle training and balance.
Obviously, the sport is more physically strenuous for the horse than the rider. However, making the job appear effortless is part of the appeal in this sport. Next time a skeptic challenges the athleticism of riding, smirk with the knowledge that an intense thirty minutes of no stirrup work would render them completely useless.
In addition, you would be hard-pressed to find a sport more influenced by subtleties than riding. Riding requires both endurance and fine muscle control—a unique combination among sports. The way that you sit, the position of your leg and hands… every small adjustment affects your ride. Okay, I get it. Football is a difficult sport as well… but I’m pretty sure a football coach never yelled at their players about squeezing with their knees.
2. Riding requires strategy.
Memorizing an intricate equitation course makes my Top 5 for Most Stressful Situations, right up there with finals week and needing to pee right before entering the show ring! And not to mention the actual execution of the course! Whether it be for hunters, jumpers, equitation, cross country, or any other discipline, it requires quick thinking and a cool head. Every day, your ride will be different, and there’s no playbook to rely on. You must do the best with what you have.
3. Riding requires communication and teamwork.
In a sport where our teammates don’t speak the same language as we do, communication and trust is of the utmost importance. We pick up every subtle cue from our horses, and they from us as well. In the arena, where we don’t usually have visual cues to react to, we rely on sensory cues. How does your teammate feel today? There aren’t many other sports to which you can actually apply that question. The equestrian sport is truly the epitome of communication.
4. Riding requires bravery.
Danger isn’t a necessary attribute to qualify an activity as a sport, but the equestrian sport certainly poses dangers. So naturally, equestrians are people who believe that the joys of riding are worth the aches and soreness. And along that mindset, we also have the understanding that serious accidents do happen. They aren’t predictable and they definitely aren’t desirable, but we work through the hurdles as best we can. Because in the end, the experiences we gain from the sport are priceless.
5. Riding is competitive.
There are horse shows across the globe. Many people have made careers in the equestrian world due to their success in the show ring. There is a huge market for all products equestrian-related. People get scholarships and sponsors for their skills in the equestrian sport.
For goodness sakes—it’s in the Olympics! (Just a warning; strong skeptics may proceed to clump the equestrian sport with other sports that appear in the Olympics such as ping-pong and speed-walking. But don’t get offended—because these are legitimate sports too in their own way!) At this point, your opponent must either admit the inarguable fact that equestrian is a sport, or they must bring into question the validity of the Olympics.
Therefore, I adamantly conclude to skeptics everywhere that riding is absolutely a sport. And when you combine our sport’s difficulty with the amazing community, the connections we form, and the sheer feeling of flying — it’s a pretty amazing sport indeed!