I had an interesting conversation with one of my young riders’ parents the other day which sparked a somewhat philosophical evaluation. The philosophical discussion centred around the fundamental differences between the sport of horseback riding and other more widely understood sports like say, hockey or soccer. This parent was a top flight hockey player in her time and as such she understands the commitment and dedication required by all athletes to achieve success in their chosen sport. So, you can imagine my surprise when she casually declared that to her riding was just a bunch of practice, practice, practice, and because there aren’t consistent weekly competitions available year round, she feels that all the lessons and all the practice are pretty much a big waste of time.
I was dumbfounded! During all the years I have been involved in this sport, it’s never occurred to me that I was wasting my time if I did not compete every single weekend. It never occurred to me that other athletes or observers might think that the mastery or validation of this sport, or any other, was dependent upon the hockey or soccer ratio of 2:1. For every two practices there had better be at least one game/competition. Somewhere along the way I obviously missed that memo!
Needless to say, I spent the next 20 minutes desperately trying to convince this parent that the sport of riding and the development of the partnership between horse and rider encompassed so much more than the external validation a rider gets from competing.
I was determined that she view her daughter’s commitment to this sport as a worthy and beneficial endeavour. Her daughter is dedicated and committed by anyone’s standards, never mind that she is only twelve years old. She has earned a championship title at each of the shows she’s attended in what some would describe to a 12-year-old as the difficult and dry sport of dressage.
When you don’t ride it can be hard to adequately understand the feeling most riders strive for: Synchronization. That feeling swallows you up and the rest of the world ceases to exist. That moment makes endless hours of frustration and doubt disappear. In those moments the number of competitions available seems a little less than important. The lack of dressage competitions is something I’d like to see change, but that is a conversation for another time.
That evening the kids and I had a lengthy discussion about how best to explain to the uninitiated what prompts riders to practice, practice, practice, even though competitions can be few and far between, depending on your discipline. The art of horsemanship is just that, a form of expression equal to any painting or sculpture, any ballet or concert, and as such it is worthy of the same distinctions. Riders are passionate about their art and like any other artist their need to express themselves and to perfect their craft, is internally driven. We felt sure that Picasso would have painted whether he was able to “show” his work or not. Inner drive and motivation is an essential part of riding and the ability to practice, regardless of competitive opportunities, is an essential part of the process.
Riders must be prepared to perfect their sport regardless of competitive opportunities. Any time a young person challenges themselves to explore this sport and pursue it as an art form, we should applaud their efforts and encourage their commitment to excellence. As with any endeavour there will be many factors which play a part in whether an individual is ultimately successful in this or any sport. Finances, geography, and yes luck, will play a part but those obstacles shouldn’t have any bearing on a rider’s desire to achieve excellence for the sake of excellence and that can only happen with practice.