By GAIL REZENDES-DELL
For many equestrians, April marks the start of the show season after a long winter of staying home and fine-tuning the basics.
April also is designated Alcohol Awareness Month by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. This year, it coincides with a new analysis disputing more than 40 years of research (much of it funded by the alcohol industry) that professed that moderate drinking provided some health benefits. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence concluded that many of those studies were flawed and that the opposite is true-there’s no health benefit to drinking and alcohol can actually increase your levels of stress and anxiety…neither of which contribute to a successful horse show season! While an adult enjoying a glass of wine or a beer can be a relaxing way to end a show day, what I would like to address is the narrative among adult amateurs on social media and in barn aisles that alcohol consumption soothes nerves and has a role to play in sport.
The equestrian world is unique in that older adults frequently train and show alongside their much younger peers. I’m a 59-year-old adult, showing in the same hunter division as my 18-year-old barn mate. I relish the privilege to spend time with barn mates and competitors spanning each of five or six decades of life. I frequently find myself the oldest competitor at a horse show (sometimes the oldest person at the show!) and I’ve begun to listen with a more critical ear to the narrative that amateurs banter about regarding alcohol and riding within earshot of their younger “peers.”
I worry about the example we are setting to the children and juniors both at the barn and at the horse shows. I don’t know if teens sitting around with their adult barn mates, watching them drink influences how they behave around alcohol consumption, but I don’t want to take the risk. There are enough messages out in the world telling kids that drinking alcohol is fun and normal. Ironically, amateurs frequently joke that alcohol soothes their anxiety around riding and showing when the opposite is true. While many people attest to drinking alcohol to relax or help them cope with daily stresses, a quick google search will link you to many reputable studies documenting the causation between alcohol, a drug categorized as a depressant, and increased anxiety and depression.
I wonder why we amateur equestrians so readily accept the marrying of alcohol consumption to our athletic riding pursuits. A quick online shopping search results in plenty of horse, wine, and beer accessories…Apres Ride and Horses and Wine Make Life Better wine glasses, a wine opener hoof pick, Fueled by Horses and Wine t-shirts and Wine is the Answer boot socks, to name just a few. Online forums, Instagram posts, TikToks and Facebook group posters celebrate the relationship between amateurs and their wine. One local horse show association’s awards banquet was sponsored by a popular vodka brand. Equestrian themed drink recipes are posted. Even though riding and showing are hobbies for amateurs, most of us take it seriously and devote the majority of our free time and finances to this passion.
Many of us view ourselves as athletes. Alcohol affects endurance, reaction times, muscle development, hydration, and recovery. How about putting that on a ringside banner?
I understand that alcohol is often used as a means of celebration or relaxation, and athletes of all types frequently consume drinks without much thought of the effects on performance and health. But most athletes don’t find themselves on a “team” ranging in age from 7 to 70. I’m an amateur who loves horses and horse sport. I love the feeling of community and like-mindedness at horse shows and horse events. I love that our governing bodies are finally beginning to address inclusion and diversity in our sport. And I love that some amateurs can, in maybe just the tiniest of ways, show those who follow us that alcohol is not a best practice in horse sport.
Gail Rezendes-Dell is a successful amateur hunter rider, competing in shows in the Mid-Atlantic region with her Oldenberg, The Best Man. She is a writer and is working on her first novel. Gail lives in McLean, VA and rides in Great Falls, VA and at Perfect Fit Farm in New Oxford, PA.
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