Is horseback riding a true sport ?

Of course, this sport has its own group of maligners.

How is riding a horse  a sport ? *scoffs*

How did it even make it to the Olympics?

How is it ranked as one of the hardest sports in the Olympics ?

Wait…hardest sport ? Now we’re talking.

As a novice, and a beyond passionate rider, it is inevitable for me to defend this “don’t you just sit there?” sport. Before I present the facts, I grit my teeth with balls of fists every time one says that. How I wish I could allow the critic to ride bareback at 35 miles per hour, on an 1800 pound wild creature, which could do potential jumps to the height of five feet, or might even get spooked. Things could escalate.  Imagine an encounter with a 300 pound football player; imagine jabbing them in their ribs and smothering them with a saddle. Then, yank them in the direction of your choice. Now, try that with a four times bigger…savage..brute.

Equestrian sports featured on the Olympic program of the Paris Games in 1900, with jumping events, and were then withdrawn until the 1912 Games in Stockholm. Since then, this sport has been on the Olympic program with remarkable regularity.

Horseback riding, to spectators, appears smooth and easy. What they fail to acknowledge, is that professionals are supposed to make it look and seem that way. In contrast, if you place a rider with no experience, the rider would jiggle , joggle, swing, and eventually come to consensus with the idea of it being a sport. The aforesaid lines only apply to those who manage to stay on.

Moreover, horses go through rigorous training and repeated abuse. These creatures are subjected to extensive conditions to suppress their energy levels. They are tethered and made to starve until they are compelled to respect and obey the master. Horses are hang tied to create exhaustion and support lower head carriage. Some are excessively jerked and whipped. They are ridden to absolute black outs. What makes you think an animal could possibly rebel after such constant, sometimes abusive, and painstaking training. They are TAMED.  They’re not easy.

This sport demands significantly high levels of athleticism and resilience. It requires some powerful muscles to stay at par with the horse’s movements. It would not look presentable if your body kept jerking back and forth. I would also state the need for a sixth sense. You constantly have to sense the aura. Anything could go wrong.


A huge chunk of sportsmanship is to respect and accept the myriad of sports around in the arena. I could call baseball “swinging a bat”. I could call rugby “sprinting with an egg”. But, every sport has beauty and fan-following deeply embedded in it. The key is to persevere the one that nurtures a sense of belonging.



What’s the real question ?


or Western

Perhaps, that is the real question.

As this irrepressible rider’s spirit daunted me day and night, I was posed with this common doubt. I was a novice who was bound to start fresh, and I believed that both styles equaled in difficulty . So I turned to finance (aha!) . The cost difference is quite perceptible. Western does  tend to amount to a bigger sum, and that inevitably did cloud my decision. The equestrian center I chose charged $85 (cost an arm and a leg) for an hour of western riding. Almost abruptly, my brain beautifully highlighted the pros of English riding($65). I coerced myself into deep admiration for the English style. But my heart sang the Western hymn to me.

The answer lied in the English stables. The horses looked gigantic. They looked like they could knock a building off. They looked powerful, stark and formidable. I sat myself precariously on one of the English horses. It was two minutes and I begged to get off. English is for the dauntless. These horses jump fences and obstacles. They don’t trot, they fly. In fact, there have been an umpteen number of instances of people being brutally thrown off their horses while they jump. To me, an $85 bill looked manageable; thus, I concluded that it was tiny as compared to a medical expenditure. Now here’s an exaggerated universal truth – even a greenie could ride western pleasure horses amidst an earthquake and not fall off. In short, western pleasure is relatively safer.  However, it’s a misconception that the western riders  just “sit” there.  These riders just share a little more relaxed relationship with their horses. Thus, when I chose my style, I chose companionship over looking powerful. I’ve heard people say the following –

“I will say barrels and reining looks fun, but western pleasure is like watching a rock grow” (ouch). Again, let’s watch you on a wild western horse that bucks.

If you choose to ride the western style, you will have to start afresh for a switch to English. Even, in terms of difficulty. You have to be prepared for something tougher. You would have to exercise more control and discipline over your horse.

But, again, when done the right way, there’s absolutely no distinction in levels of difficulty. Riding a horse, is quite a strenuous process which requires painstaking focus, and perseverance. Be it the English or the Western way. These two, however are two very distinct schools of training. There is not just a vast difference in the rapport shared between the rider and his horse, but also the equipment. the western saddle is larger and heavier than the English saddle. It’s designed to spread the weight of the rider over a larger area of the horses back, making it more comfortable for long days out chasing cows. The English saddle is smaller and lighter and designed to give the rider a closer contact with the horse’s back. The English style is definitely harder (just a wee bit). But regardless of the style you choose, riding requires dedication and sweat(sometimes blood) in both.

Is it worth the risk ?

I watched a colt dart about the periphery of a fence. I was enticed in the magic of this paragon of beauty. “Bullet” had an exquisite albino-white coat. I could sense something was amiss, as if he was trying to unfetter himself from the restricted area he was enclosed in. Almost instantly, his limbs stopped moving in the initial unparalleled symphony, and he started to buck. You would not want a horse to buck when you’re riding it (gulps). Yes, a horse could be very vulnerable to external stressors and get spooked within the blink of an eye. What might appear as an elegant beginning might immediately transition into a grotesque end..with crippled, fragmentary and cracked parts of you.

When I describe horses, it’s typical of me to talk about pulchritude and magnificence. However, when my parents talk about horses they describe a 2200 pounds treacherous beast. In this cruel existence (not in its actuality, just meant for emphasis), I often look up to these 2200 pounds treacherous beasts to restore long lost archaic companionships. I would not deny that horses ARE dangerous creatures. By dangerous I mean that horses can kick, shove, stomp, shy, buck, and bolt. The repercussions could be tissue injuries (bruises, abrasions, lacerations), fractures, or blows that result in concussions. It could also be a short encounter with the grim reaper (gesturing towards an open grave). Let me get you a bit more circumspect about your horse here… in Australia there are an estimated  20 deaths from horse-related injury every year. Compare this with an average of approximately 1.7 deaths from shark attack. Thus, every time a beachgoer swims in shark-infested waters, there is a risk that they are exposed to sharks. Likewise, every time a rider tightens his saddle, and holds his reigns to mount his horse, there is a high possibility of him falling off. These events cannot be predicted. They occur in the moment. But, there is another dimension to this. Horses are flight animals. Evolution had beautifully incarnated some prey creatures and equipped them with a fight or flight response. So, if your horse would sense the slightest form of threat, HE WILL FLEE FROM THEE. The creature, in most cases, is trying to stay alive. After all, it is of paramount importance to understand that one cannot overcome the basic instincts of this creature via training. These instincts are deeply rooted in the strands of its DNA. It IS an animal.

I repeat it IS an ANIMAL.

Now, the question : Is it worth the risk ?

I’d say, ride a horse and come back to me,

for you might return as a mere slave of its beauty. (let’s hope you return, make sure the saddle’s tight)

I’d conclude with one of my favorite quotes :

“You are a ghost driving a meat coated skeleton made from stardust, riding a rock floating through space. Fear nothing.”

From Horseplay to Horseback Riding

Often, after people of the kind finish accomplishing great heights in life, they eventually arrive at one question; how did it all begin?

Of course, I am an amateur, still steering around the brush fences, ditches, and bullfinches of what they call “life”, and no, I have not yet reached extraordinary, momentous, or exceptional heights. Or maybe, I am just not the complacent kind (getting off-topic is second nature to me). But lately (I’m getting there), I’ve had this raving mania for horses; And when I trace back the saga of events that escorted my conscience to this state, it all just began with a DVD that I believe was bestowed upon me. It’s the most magnificent thing I’d beheld – “Spirit : Stallion of the Cimarron”. Now, “why” you might ask. The answer is : I don’t even know. But I could delineate the exact emotions I felt when I watched it. As my preoccupied mind time-travels to a decade ago, I do recollect my mother gingerly inserting the DVD into the player. It was about fifteen minutes into the movie, and my inattentive brain was already bored. “Mom, we just saw Madagascar and Lion King a week ago, and now you’re into horses. Well played mom, but I – “.. and I heard the rhythmic gallops of horses in the movie. I was put into a trance.  Caught in that stupor, my bottom half mechanically pigeon toed towards the T.V. As the horse hooves stumped the dry mud, my body grooved to the gallops. I was seven, and I knew I felt sheltered, I too wanted to feel velvety coat of Spirit, and then my little brain settled down to an unassailable goal – “Ma, I want to be a horse when I grow up”. As I grew up to learn the theory of evolution, my expectations for a drastic metamorphosis of the “human to a horse” kind dwindled. But, I felt a strong urge to belong to the wilderness, to the horses, to the stables again. Now, every time I look at a stallion, I see a mirror, for a very wise soul said the following –

“If you are fearful, a horse will back off. If you are calm and confident, it will come forward. For those who are often flattered or feared, the horse can be a welcome mirror of the best in human nature”