Essays of an Equestrian

For years my family would gather together, sometimes for the holidays, sometimes not. Although I’d manage to make it for the big events like Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving, I rarely made it to others. I’ve missed an untold number of baptisms, birthdays and graduations and I’ve missed them due to one factor: my horse.

For 30 years I would spend my weekends at the barn, riding, going to shows or clinics and participating in all sorts of equine events. While the family was getting together, I was waist deep in all things horsey. No one in my family, including my parents, ever got involved in any of my horsey endeavors, except for coming to watch a show or two.

The one time my dad did go to a show I was quickly reminded of how alien it was to him when he noticed my gelding’s sheath, pointed at it and yelled “Oh my god, what’s that on his stomach!” in a loud booming voice for all to hear.

Thanks for coming to the show, dad.

But now I’m older and burnt out from working horse projects and from volunteering. Tired from my job and home duties I’ve had to cut down on my equine activities and so I only do a fraction of what I used to do.

Now, rather than run and organize shows, I’ll occasionally go and visit one for a hour. Rather than trailer two hours for a lesson, I utilize an instructor who comes to my barn every other week. Rather than show ten times during the summer, I show not at all, much preferring to clinic here and there.

This leaves more time available for home and family and so I’ve been attending more family events, including hosting a summer barbeque for twenty five to thirty very loud, but fun people.

So now that I’ve cut down my equine projects and I’m spending more time with the family, they’re finally opening up on what they thought I was doing all those years. It was surprising to hear their thoughts.

They believed that I wasn‘t with them more often for all those years because I didn‘t like them. They added that now they were very happy to “welcome me back to the family” as if the prodigal rider had returned.

I could only blink in disbelief as I was completely unaware of having been “gone” from the family! It’s not like I didn’t see them for the three major holidays as well as the occasional wedding. In trying to defend myself I stated that I was never “gone”, but just learning and refining my skills as a horseman. I expressed my surprise and asked that if I were instead a gymnast or skater could they better understand how I had spent all that time?

They didn’t get it.

Knowing them I’m of the opinion that were I a gymnast or skater I would have been looked upon with a lot more respect by my family. I would have been admired and considered as dedicated and motivated for attempting to reach the pinnacle of my chosen sport. Athletes like gymnasts and skaters are always lauded for their dedication to their time consuming sports as you see during exposes played on every Olympic games. We are told that their sacrifice makes them noble.

But for us, not so much.

Aren’t we athletes too? Why doesn’t equine sport get that kind of respect?

This got me thinking a bit. Not only doesn’t the outside world really “get” what we weekend warriors do (and I know we apply ourselves more than just on weekends), we don’t even really respect each other.

Don’t believe me? Ask a trail rider what they think of dressage. Ask a dressage rider what they think of western pleasure. Ask a western pleasure rider what they think of eventing.

Dressage riders are thought of as snotty rich bitches.

Trail riders are thought of as lazy uneducated sacks being packed about by a horse and that most of them can‘t ride for squat.

Western pleasure riders are thought of as peanut rolling, go nowhere, four beated lope, dead horse, riders.

Eventers are thought of as being crazy, wild jumpers with more brawn than brain and a serious death wish.

Admit it, we often think that way!

Yet in reality each of these endeavors require a certain degree of skill. Skills that maybe should be a little respected. And before you tell me that trail riding takes no skill, look around and see how many dressage riders would be willing or able to take their Prix St. George horse Gunther Von Piaffer on a nice long trail ride.

Even more incredible is that within the same equine discipline we don’t really respect one another. One fraction of dressage against another. One trainer against another. One ammie against another. An instructor against their student.

Is this lack of respect wrong, or maybe is it right? Do we deserve more respect?

 

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The good will of the horse is like the scent of a rose. Once it is gone, it is gone forever.