Like most sports, there are athletes with exceptional natural ability who compete at the top levels, those who aren’t naturally blessed but who work twice as hard to compete at the same level… and then those with the skills (or not) but who don’t possess that inbred desire (or pressure) to compete. In our case, it’s a little more complicated as there are two athletes working together… but does it make us less of a rider if we choose to forego show results for a simple love of the game?

I was recently privy to a friend’s distress about her ability to ride. As she lamented on Facebook that a professional trainer had told her she wasn’t good enough for her horse. She wasn’t doing right by her horse because she wasn’t good enough. I saw her slowly unravel into a gloopy mess of doubt.

For context, she is a happy hacker who lives in the US, rides western style, and owns a gorgeous appaloosa called Brûlée. It dawned on me (I can't say it was the first time) that horse riders are either the best of people or the worst of people. We either build each other up or just break each other down. And herein lies the problem.

Not everyone can be a professional rider. Nor does every rider want to be a professional rider. Some of us land up with scurvy swamp donkey's we want to turn into a Grand Prix dressage horse and some of us land up with an open showjumper we are only ever going to jump 50cm. Does it matter that your horse will or will never reach its full potential if he or she is YOUR horse?

There are more happy hackers than there are professional riders. They are the lifeblood of the industry. The carrot crew, the ill seated pony club, the bareback crusaders, the ones who are in this for the love of the horse. What makes their contribution to the greater industry any less than those few who can piaffe, hurtle over 1.30m, or gallop to victory in the country?

So why the criticism?

As an industry, there is a lot to be said about compassion or the lack thereof. This is an industry built on the back of the horse, it is hinged on the love of the horse, and it starts with the wide-eyed wonder of a small child who falls in love for the first time with these equine gods. A shift in thinking needs to happen, one that moves away from the Louis Vuitton way of thinking to a more inclusive approach to why we all started riding in the first place.

I can’t imagine that runners (and I am no runner as I was built for comfort not speed) judge each other on the tar. Or do they? Is it just an elitism that had crept into the heart of all sports by the select few that have the talent, the opportunity, and have honed their ability based on their desire to be one of the best to point out others failings?

It is an uncomfortable truth for some and a dawning realisation for others. My advice to my friend was that she is the bravest person I know. Why? Because she arrives every day. Puts her foot in the stirrup and swings her leg over the saddle. She is there for her pony, and she loves him regardless and to be honest – I don't think Brûlée cares that she isn't the top reining rider in the US – as long as she has a carrot, a smile and ensures he has grass.

Because why do we do this? I know personally it is not to look cool – it is merely for the love of the horse. So next time someone has made you doubt yourself. Walk up to the mounting block. Put your foot in the stirrup, swing your leg over the saddle, and remember that you arrived for your horse. Not the critics.

Content Credit: Charlene Carroll

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