Horseback riding is something special to all riders. It becomes our passion, our obsession and our outlet. It connects us to other riders where we feel a sense of community and support. We become people who are sensitive to nonverbal communication because it comes natural to us.
Some people, however, don't understand what is so special about our sport. In fact, some don't consider it a sport at all. What do you say to them?
"It's not a sport, you just sit there and the horse does everything for you."
How many times have you heard that throughout your riding career? It's almost impossible to not come across at least one person who will see horseback riding this way. It can make you feel bad about yourself, or angry or frustrated. So how do you handle it?
In my experience, I try not to let it bug me. If they haven't tried riding in the past (and pony rides at the zoo or tourist trail rides don't count), then they really don't have much to base their opinions on. We as riders know the truth about our sport and you shouldn't let them get to you.
We know that riding is dangerous, mentally challenging and physically challenging. It's more than sitting on a horse and pulling on the reins. You have to communicate to an animal through physical, emotional and sometimes verbal cues. It's more than just actions, but also feelings. A rider must develop a partnership and relationship with their horse. But most of all, you need to be able to trust in order to ride. The horse and rider need to trust each other to accomplish the task at hand.
So when someone says it's not a sport to me, I just can't help but smile. Usually I don't say anything, sometimes I do. You'll be able to tell if someone is saying that to pick a fight or because they just aren't aware of everything involved in riding.
In some ways, yes they are right, riding is not a sport. It's more than just a sport. It's a journey and an experience. It's more than just about winning ribbons, but the struggle to get there. It's about your connection with an animal and building a special relationship that cannot be found anywhere else. And as for "just sitting there", that's when you know you're a good rider. When your bond with your horse is so strong that you can communicate so discreetly that it looks effortless.
Just like in any sport, an athlete is looking for perfection. It could be the perfect serve in tennis or the perfect goal in soccer. Ours is the perfect approach to a jump, the perfect pirouette in dressage or the perfect turn around a barrel.
So the next time someone says that riding isn't a sport to you, don't let it bother you. You know the truth about our passion and you have many riders around the world who will stand behind you and support you. What they believe doesn't have to have an effect on you. Keep your head up, heels down and leg on.
Until next time, happy riding!