Why can’t you be perfect?

Loaded question, I know. Why cannot we all ride perfectly, have our horses react perfectly to the amount of pressure we elicit, and have them execute perfectly to those cues?

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Tori Repole Photos; Featured in this Chronicle Article.

Well, there are many reasons. For one, we are human and horses are horses. If you are thinking *no duh* and doing a facepalm, I dare you to keep reading. A point will be made, eventually.

Beyond the unavoidable things that happen to divert us from perfection, what’s wrong with striving for it?

Perfection has a lot of weight to carry. It means that every component of the picture has the same amount of attention to detail.

In the context of horses, this means not jumping a course of crossrails until you master the transition to the canter. And before you produce an uphill, engaged, and straight canter departure, it means building a connected, marching walk.

Before you even step in the saddle, you must command your horse successfully to stand quietly at the mounting block. Before reaching the mounting block, your horse must walk respectfully next to you, listening to your body, hand, voice as you lead them.

I could go on. Perfection is hard. Perfection is work. Perfection is unachievable.

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Tori Repole Photos, Featured in this Chronicle Article.

Why strive for something unattainable?

This is my new state of mind lately with horses and work. If we use an excuse that it will “never happen” to be perfect, then why bother trying to improve?

Asking “what’s the point” is defeatist. We all have room to grow. To focus on the shortfall we will always have limits our potential.

Be healthy in your mindset, strive for perfection, and celebrate your progress.

/ end monologue

How do you all handle the idea of perfection as it relates to horses?

The Effect of Urbanization on the Industry

It’s no secret that the world is moving to cities. As we migrate to our high-rises and skyscrapers, land becomes increasingly expensive as most of our public spaces will be converted into vertical architecture.

We cannot put horses in skyscrapers. Though at the Royal Agricultural Fair, there is a two-story stable building which has always given me pause. As well, I do know some carriage horses in New York and other large cities reside in multi-story buildings.

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This is far from the ideal circumstances for our performance horses.

So this begs the question, how will increased city living change the way we ride our horses?

More with Less

This is the key driver forcing all of the below listed after effects. My suspicion with increasing property values is that horses will have to be managed on less land. That means larger scale barns, smaller turnouts, and meticulous scheduling.

Regimented Exercise

Getting a horse moving will become increasingly reliant on treadmills / hot walkers and other “simulated” turnouts. Gone will be the days of endless lush green turnouts for solely two horses.

Veterinary Shifts

Our horse care professionals will need to accommodate for less variety of footing and likely less of “freeform” exercise. We will see more injuries related to inconsistencies in work frequency and loading; fewer related to turnout-related freak accidents.

Increases in horse proximity and activity may lead to higher instances of ulcers.

Behavioral Accommodation

Horses that are given strict schedules may flourish (high-level of detail on care and training) or flounder (over drilling until submission). With greater time spent in a stall, owners may spend more on enrichment objects and activities for their horses.

Upward Costs

With the mounting pressure financially, some barns will not be able to afford to be a mid-tier facility. Stratifying the divide between “us” and “them”, the elitism of the sport will be positioned to intensify.

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Living in close proximity to others has shared advantages of public services, transportation, and culture. We gain so much from interactions with diversity and enabling a pooled set of resources.

Horseback riding is not a typical sport. You cannot shove it in the basement of a gym, and rest laurels on the comradely of people. Our equipment requires special storage, care, and attention.

As we adjust to the new normal, this will present real shifts in our industry. In my suspected future, what do you agree or disagree with? What did I miss?

Is Horseback Riding a Sport?

So many of us equestrians have been in conversations with a skeptical and bombastic uncle that assures us that “horses do all the work”. I don’t even engage these people anymore as most of them introduce the topic with a smile on their lips and watch for a theatrical reaction (nice try, you are talking to the person who after hours on hold with customer support will still use “sir”, “ma’am”, and “please”).

It does bring into the forefront why we treat horseback riding as a sport, and also why it even matters how it is defined.

There are two main ingredients to the definition of sport – skill and physical exertion. Skill is less arguable. Because my general practice is to keep my passion for horseback riding quiet around new acquaintances, I’ve managed to shy away from stories of disastrous trial rides on family vacations. But most are willing to acknowledge that they could not imagine taking the quarter horse they rode in the Rocky Mountains over a course of 1.60m jumps. Skill brings tact, and both are necessary inputs.

Skill is undeniable. But physical exertion remains a question mark.

I don’t know about you guys, but a day spent at the barn leaves me feeling tired. When I owned my horse, I did everything myself. Turnout, tack, cleaning, grooming, feeding, picking stalls, etc. The work does not stop there, once you swing your leg over the saddle, it is pressure, release, softness while strong. Most people recognize the effort involved in dancing with a 1,000 lbs+ animal.

This, Stephen Colbert, does not qualify as a sport.

Playing devil’s advocate, when watching a cross-country course for instance, the horses physical feats are very clear to an uneducated eye. Foaming, sweat, leaping over obstacles. What is not present to these new observers is the rider’s fitness. Let me say, their stamina is no joke.

Not shockingly, I claim we check boxes of skill and physical exertion (and danger, which may bump it up from a hobby level as well).

Why does it matter? Who cares if it is not a sport? Whether we qualify horseback riding as a sport may be phrased as whether what we do is worth-while.

Often my “is horseback riding a sport” or “does it belong it the Olympics” will eventually boil down to us explaining why we our commitment meets the minimum threshold of worthiness in the eyes of others. Equestrians dedicate hours to bettering ourselves and advancing in our passion, and it invalidates our time by dismissing what we do as “not even a sport”.

There is a lot of sleep to be lost if you worry about the opinions of naysayers. I don’t allow those dissenting thoughts to affect what I love and how I spend my time, but as we advance this sport, it may be a valuable to consider the barriers we face in the general audiences.

Why do you categorize horseback riding as a sport? Or, better yet, why do you not?