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More Than Just Horsing Around
As a horse enthusiast and avid rider, I have had my fair share of conversations with non-horsey people. Most of these discussions develop into a debate concerning the validity of horseback riding as a sport. Many people I have talked to do not understand how challenging riding horses is, and therefore write it off as a pleasure activity. As an eyewitness, I would be more than happy to describe the my-kid-is-better-than-yours, I-woke-up-at-3AM-for-this- horse-show, God-my-legs-are-sore world that is Equestrian sports. To make things simple, let’s look at Equestrian sports in relation to well-known football terminology.
The Kickoff: In football, the kickoff marks the beginning of the game. In my hunter-jumper world of horse shows, the kickoff is a small circle on one end of the ring. It is the rider’s chance to set the pace and prepare for the job.
Offense: Usually referring to the team with possession of the football, I think of myself as the offense, always trying to reach the end of my jump course to achieve victory.
Defense: On the flip side, there is always an opposing team who try to prevent the offense from winning. In horse shows, every other entry in the class is the defense, all aiming to beat you and take the victory for themselves.
The Huddle: Football teams are allowed to call time-outs to discuss plays. My huddle tends to be much smaller; horse, rider, and trainer. Unlike football, there are no time-outs during a course of jumps. The huddle happens only before and after the ride, the first to give last advice and form a plan, and the latter to talk about how well the last advice and plan were followed.
The Coach: The coach is the all-powerful leader of the team. They call the shots, and have a good idea of what needs to be done to win. Horseback riding instructors are no different. In the ultra-competitive world of riding, trainers do everything in their power to help their students succeed. From years of experience, trainers know what certain judges look for, and how courses are designed at different shows. The trainer becomes a walking dictionary of knowledge about the show world, and have solutions to every problem under the sun.
The Referee: For football fans, refs can be known as friend or foe based on how they call. If the calls are in favor of your favorite team the refs are friends, but if the calls seem to be in favor of the opposing team, people are up-in-arms. At a horse show, the judge has a similar job as the referees. You hope the calls are in your favor so that you win your class, and when they aren’t, you question what the judge saw in the competition that he or she failed to see in you. The judge and the refs have final say, and arguing with them is a very bad idea.
Offside: Referring to a player who crosses the line of scrimmage in football, offside is not good, and can get a player in trouble with his or her coach. In the equestrian world, this term is called “off course.” Going off course is a mortal sin of horseback riding, and very often gets the coach very mad. When you only have six jumps to get over, there is no room for error. If a rider goes off course, they are eliminated from the competition.
The Tackle: Once again, depending on the team, a tackle can be a blessing or a curse. In the equestrian world, a tackle is never a blessing. Ever. A tackle for a rider can be a rail being knocked from a jump (lost points), or a fall (disqualification). Either way, a tackle almost always “knocks” you out of the ribbons.
Complete Pass: During a football game, a completion is when the ball is successfully caught during a play. In the show ring, a completion is every jump that is safely cleared. With each jump, there is a feeling of relief and excitement knowing you are one jump closer to finishing the course.
The Touchdown: Most importantly is the touchdown. In football, a touchdown is worth six points, and causes mass hysteria within the crowd. While crowds are usually more calm at horse shows, the touchdown is still the most valuable score. For riders, the touchdown is the ending up with a ribbon, especially one that’s blue. The greatest possible outcome of a successful course, a win elates the rider and the coach, as well as the horse, who usually receives a little extra something for his or her hard work. One touchdown can get riders enough points to move on to the championships.
The Championship: Nothing is better than watching your favorite football team move up in the ranks to make it to the championships. The same is true as an equestrian. With enough points, a rider can qualify for National Finals and compete against the best of the best. A win at the championship level is something many riders only dream of, and simply making it to the competition is an accomplishment of astounding proportions.
From Kickoff to Championship, Equestrian sports entail many of the same things as American football. Compared side by side, the two activities are extremely similar. Football is an accepted sport. Seeing as horseback riding can be categorized effortlessly with football, the conclusion can be reached that Equestrian sports are, in fact, sports. The games may be very different, but the components are the same. Considering the similarities between the two sports, I hope that more people are able and willing to realize that horseback riding is a lot more than just horsing around.