For a select few students, riding is more than just horsing around.
Equestrian riding encompasses all forms of horseback riding, including western style, eastern style, jumping, dressage, and eventing, which is often referred to as the triathlon of horseback riding, as it has three stages: dressage, stadium jumping, and cross country, or wide, open field racing. While each area of competitive riding requires different training and a different set of skills, most aspects of the sport are consistent through all forms; even pleasure riding demands many of the same techniques that are required in competitions. As Mason doesn’t have an equestrian team, riders look to practice and compete in their sport at barns outside of school.
Junior Tanner Gorman said he has been riding with the rest of his family for years.
“I’ve been on a horse since nine months old,” Gorman said. “We have seven horses, and my sister and I enjoy riding, even if it is just for fun and not competition.”
Gorman said he has not gotten into heavily competitive riding, though his sister, Sophie, is beginning to work towards the path of shows and awards, and his father competed through college. In fact, equestrian riding is dominated by women, as only 25 percent of the sport is made up of male competition.
“I’ve been to horseshows, and there’s a fair number of guys there, as well as the girls, so I think it’s just a stereotype that girls like horses more than guys do,” Gorman said.
Allison Morua, a senior and an experienced eventing rider, said guys have just as much of a love of horses as girls. She also said when she competes against guys, she hardly notices who’s sitting in the saddle.
“When you’re out there, no one really has a reputation. We’re all on a level playing field, and honestly you worry more about the horse-to-human relationship. It’s less of a ‘I’m going to beat you’ sport, and more of a personal sport,” Morua said.
In equestrian riding, Morua said, athletes can’t be as aggressive as in other sports.
“Our number one priority is the well-being of the horse,” Morua said. “They sense your emotions when you’re on them, and if you’re too aggressive, they won’t cooperate. They’ll refuse to jump, they’ll jerk the reins, and that all has potential to end badly.”
Senior Sarai Narouth competes in western style and said taking care of the horse adds many challenges to the overall sport.
“A horse is a living, breathing creature, and you have to make sure it’s healthy and sound. In most other sports, you pick up your equipment and use it and that’s it; it’s not a real creature,” Narouth said. “If you’re riding a horse you’ve known for years, it goes smoothly, but you can’t get on a random horse and expect to compete well. You don’t know them well enough, and you don’t have a connection.”
The precautions that have to be taken during equestrian competitions are extremely strict because of the dangers which come with riding a 900 pound animal. Thousands of riders are injured every year, with 60 percent of those injuries damaging the spine, neck, and head. Gorman said there are dangers which riders have to be aware of when working with such large animals.
“If a bird, or a crunch of leaves, or something small startles [a horse], some won’t react, but others will start jumping and kicking. A lot of the time, it’s pretty unpredictable,” Gorman said.
Morua said the biggest threat when riding is falling, or being thrown, from the saddle.
“Riding is definitely one of the most dangerous sports,” Morua said. “The horse isn’t trying to hurt you, but accidents happen all the time. There are improvements being made in safety, now that we’re realizing which falls are the most common and most dangerous, and it’s because of that that better helmets, better stirrups, and just better equipment is coming out. But there’s only so much you can do.”
There are relatively few material benefits that students receive from equestrian riding. In addition to the dangers it presents, the sport comes with high expenses, with owning, maintaining, and riding a horse costing about $15,000 a year. There are few hopes of a scholarship, as there are only 15 openings per college, and exactly two colleges in the state of Ohio who offer such scholarships; a full scholarship is practically unheard of. There is little to no offseason, as well, as the horses have to be trained year round to keep them in shape, so riding in the winter is a requirement. However, Morua said that she looks past all of the negative aspects and rides anyway because she cannot imagine not competing.
“The sense of adrenaline, and knowing that this animal can hurt you so badly, but the partnership is so strong that they wouldn’t, it’s incredible,” Morua said. “Because I do believe they get to know you as a person, just as you get to know them. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”