I think we can all agree that animals are wonderful creatures. Cute, cuddly and sometimes fearsome, each animal has something special to offer. Out in the wild, they do their thing to contribute to our ecosystem and, when domesticated as pets, they can teach us responsibility and what it means to have a true friend and companion. And most kids say if they could have any “dream” pet regardless of cost it would often times be a horse they call their own.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Sports are a great way to learn useful life skills and gain qualities such as responsibility and self-reliance — all while teaching you how to communicate with people to get a certain goal accomplished, which may make you wonder… What happens when you take sports and add an animal to the mix? I’ll tell you what you get…. You get Equestrianism! A fun and interesting group of sports that help you grow mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
There are many forms of Equestrianism (which basically just means a sport involving horses). From Horse Racing to Haute Ecole, Calf Roping to Bronc Riding, there are plenty of ways to train with this beautiful and majestic beast. However, I’m going to focus on the basics of horseback riding because who doesn’t love the romantic or rugged idea of settling into a saddle riding a great steed galloping across the wide open plains or the shoreline of the beach? It’s a fun and kid friendly activity that allows you to spend quality time with a beautiful creature while simultaneously receiving numerous benefits and gaining skills you possibly wouldn’t learn otherwise. Horse-crazy kids grow up to be horse-crazy adults.
Competition in horseback riding is called “Eventing”, and it’s as interesting to watch as it is to participate. Watching those gorgeous horses run and jump and their riders wearing their fancy gear is captivating, to say the least and conjures up images of sophistication (sounds strikingly like the Swan Lake ballet on pointe!) The show is made up of three phases – Dressage, Cross Country and Show Jumping — and lasts three days. Each day is a new set of intricate tasks for both rider and horse to perform, and takes such discipline and determination to get it right that it’s no wonder Eventing has been part of the Olympic Games since 1912!
Usually when people hear the word “sports” they imagine big teams working together to win. But sports don’t always use teams – sometimes it’s a pair or partnership. Horseback riding is an interesting sport in that you have a partner, but your partner is an entirely different species from yourself. Of course it’s common for there to be trouble communicating with your partner in any sport, but this takes communication issues to a whole new level! The good thing is, though, that horses are very intelligent and love to learn and please their masters. This means that once you start to understand your new equine partner’s way of thinking, training will be fun and easy and will soon become something both of you look forward to.
Working so closely with your horse creates a special bond between human and animal. You get to know each other on a very deep level that is hard to compare to any other type of human-animal relationship. Imagine if your pet, your best friend and your teammate merged together and became one — they would be someone who understands you and is loyal, who will stick by your side and remain patient while you’re both learning new strategies and moves, and wants to accomplish the exact same thing as you. Since you both have the same goal in mind (to win and have fun while doing it!) and it’s just you two who will need to work together to achieve it, you begin to depend on your horse and will start to know each other inside and out, which makes you form a sense of trust in each other. This is an incredibly important development since it can strengthen your human relationships and help you trust others, as well.
Admittedly, riding seems like it would be less physical of an activity than, say, soccer or ballet. It seems like it’s just a person riding a horse, with the horse doing most of the work. This is where looks can be deceiving! Riding is in fact very much a workout – both mentally and physically – for the rider and the horse. My now 18 year old daughter remembers as a kid being more exhausted from an hour in the ring with “Zeb” as a full afternoon rehearsal at the ballet studio her current love. Riding (ballet too!) improves your cardiovascular and respiratory health while teaching coordination, balance and even helps correct your posture (which is something a lot of people can benefit from. How many times in your life have you been told to stop slouching?).
Along with posture, it also helps with something called “core strength”. Have you ever jumped over something while riding your bike? That tension you feel in your abdomen when your bike is in the air is what happens when you use “core strength”, which is something you really need when riding a horse. Since your horse will be jumping over bars, you will quickly improve your core strength, which helps with balance and stability – something you’ll find especially useful when riding. Stability and core strength are what keep you from falling off the sides of your horse when it runs or jumps, and also helps with everyday tasks such as bending to tie your shoe or pick up a ball.
Just like with other sports, horseback riding instills a sense of pride and increases your self-esteem. Working with such a beautiful creature and knowing you have a special bond with it is bound to make you happy and feel good about yourself! But horseback riding is a unique sport that will teach you some useful skills that you wouldn’t learn with other sports like football or basketball.
Since horses scare easily, you’ll quickly realize that you need to be gentle with the way you speak and with your movements (which is definitely not something you’d learn with football!). This is a way of learning empathy and understanding different needs, which will help you learn how to speak and interact with different people. Some people can’t hear well and need you to be a bit louder than usual, while some people prefer a softer voice. Some people can take jokes while others are sensitive. Learning how to speak and act with your horse will help you understand how to adjust your way of speaking and acting with others.
Horseback riding has many mental benefits.
Once you start learning about horseback riding, it’s almost like you never stop. There is so much to learn that from the moment you take up this fun and exciting sport, your mind is constantly working. It makes you more mentally alert, which means you can react much more quickly to any situation. From emergencies to math problems, you’re able to react swiftly. And since you’re constantly learning new things while riding (whether it’s new terms or how to groom your horse), your memory will improve which will keep you sharp, focused and ready for anything!
With all these amazing benefits, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to find out that horseback riding isn’t used strictly for sport – it’s also used as a form of therapy. Therapeutic horseback riding is often used to help aid people with disabilities, veterans and at-risk youth. Whether for physical, emotional or mental problems, horses provide a calming and enjoyable way to deal with a number of disabilities.
Horseback riding increases motor skills – both fine and gross – and can even help with social skills. Something as simple as holding the reigns can help with flexibility in your joints and improve hand-eye coordination. Brushing your horse is something that can help fine tune your motor skills over time while giving you an opportunity to bond with your new best friend (your horse, of course!).
Many veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have greatly benefited from horseback riding. Since they sometimes avoid social situations due to fear or paranoia, horseback riding helps because they are able to interact with a gentle horse in a peaceful environment, which eases them onto the road to recovery. Depending on the level of disability, some people may need to have an assistant help them with their horse. This will allow them to interact with others and, if needed, help with speech and language — which is one of the reasons why therapeutic horseback riding is strongly encouraged for children with autism. Some autistic children feel a stronger bond with animals than they do with people, so having your child interact with a horse will allow them to feel a closeness with someone and hopefully help them eventually feel more comfortable and bond with other people.
Whether for sport or therapy, horseback riding is an incredibly enjoyable activity for people of all ages that gives an opportunity to take a break, get out and enjoy nature. Improved fitness, flexibility and respect for the great outdoors is something everyone could benefit from, so why not take up horseback riding and make a new friend in the process? Horses are intelligent, intuitive and gentle animals who want nothing more than to make people happy – all of which are qualities of a great teammate and friend forever!
Let’s Ride Like The Wind,