I am so tired of trying to defend what I do on horseback to those outside this sport, as a sport. I am tired of fending off the “you just sit there”, the “the horse does all the work”, and the “it’s not a sport”.
I have been watching the Olympic Equestrian events with pride, seeing the U.S. take home an individual bronze in Eventing with Phillip Dutton and Mighty Nice, and the U.S. Dressage Team claim team bronze, with plenty of brilliant riding thus far and more to come.
Recently, an article was published on Deadspin, a popular sports blogging website. This article, which I will not link you to, nor mention the authors’ name as I do not wish for his mockery and vitriol to be publicized any more than it has, claimed that there was no place in the Olympics for horses. That the riders are not athletes, that they are merely jumping some jumps and doing an obstacle course, and that horse training and dance has no place here. That this past time is for the rich upper-class, is boring to watch, and the Olympics are only for humans.
This article was met with a swath of outrage, and I’m sure if you have a horsey friend, you saw them share this article or post about it, angrily defending our sport. This author then had the nerve to post a follow-up article, stating that he’d received more feedback on this article than any other, and posted some of the emails he’d received. He again, mocked the sport, using a less-than-stellar vocabulary, and put in screenshots of some of the emails he’d gotten-insulting the writers (or “Horse People” as he negatively connotates).
I refused to share this article, to comment on it, or otherwise give him any boost on his article; but I will defend my sport.
I’ll start with this: we are called equestrians, not ‘Horse People’.
While my friends may use ‘horse people’ as a term of endearment, it clearly wasn’t. Should I refer to golfers as Club People? Or tennis players as Racquet People?
Next, I’d like to dispel the notion that this sport is only for the rich. Yes, equestrian is an expensive sport to take up. But so are a lot of other sports. The leotards that the women’s gymnastics team cost over a thousand dollars a pop. In ANY sport, you get what you pay for, and there are many tiers of expense and affordability.
That being said, the athletes riding and competing in equestrian at the Olympics aren’t the ones with the money; those big-name horses are often syndicated and owned by groups of people, or wealthier owners who aren’t equestrians (read: not the caliber of athlete to compete at a high level with their fancy horse). These riders are working their butts off to make a living doing what they love, and it’s not uncommon to see GoFundMe pages set up to help these athletes achieve their goals. It is no different than any other sport with expensive equipment.
This article tried to claim that what the horses do is simple; it’s an obstacle course and they just jump over some things. Easy peasy…what part of making a 1,200 pound animal do ANYTHING sounds easy? Let alone something that takes athleticism, skill, cleverness, and synchronization to do? The jumps are taller than most people, the tests are comprised of technical movements, and the preparation for a horse in the Olympics is years in the making.
An equestrian is working constantly; a horse is not readily going to hurl itself over brush, or bright stadium fences, or extend and collect its gaits; it is the job of the rider to coordinate every square inch of his horse’s body. And to do this takes an incredible amount of stamina, knowledge of the horse and the equipment being used, and mental and physical strength. If you have never sat on a horse before, you may not realize how physical it really is.
Lastly, this article claimed that the Olympics should just be for humans, as a triumph of human accomplishment.
A VERY brief search of ‘history of equestrian events’ will result with the Olympic webpage popping up first. There, you can read about how the equestrian events hosted by the Olympics have their roots in the military. The very method of training for these military horses-whose individual skills would eventually become dressage, show jumping, and eventing-date back to ancient Greece. If this is supposed to be a competition showcasing the progress of human sport, is equestrian not the ideal example? We have taken a process dating back to ancient times, honed, refined and improved the training methods, technique and results; that gave us the military horses. From there, we recognized certain strengths and split into disciplines, leading to more refinement and honing of skills, progressing to the competition of Olympic equestrian events that we have today. If that is not an example of human sport and progress, I don’t know what it.
And the insults of saying the sport is ‘dumb’ or ‘boring’ is just inane. That is an opinion, not a fact. Many people find many sports boring. Some people don’t like sports at all. But it doesn’t give anyone the right to make a mockery of that sport, insult those passionate about the sport, or tout incorrect or harmful images of that sport.
If you would like to read more about the history of equestrian events, you can check out the following links:
For now, the horses are here to stay. These equine and human athletes work just as hard as anyone in the sports industry. And if you don’t like horses, or don’t think it’s a sport, that’s fine and dandy. But please at least educate yourself before you word-vomit a negative image about any sport (or subject matter).