When you first start riding, there isn’t much classification. When you start out, maybe all you know is the difference between an English and Western saddle on the horse you are sitting on. But as you delve deeper into the sport, things very quickly start to become categorized.
Hunter. Jumper. Reining. Cutting. Western Pleasure. Hunter-under-saddle. Trail. Showmanship. In-hand. Driving. Country Pleasure. Park. Polo. Contesting. Eventing. Barrel racing. Dressage. Halter. Racing. Vaulting. Costume classes. Liberty classes. I could go on for days with all the different subsets of riding.
With each division are a different set of rules, a different set of ideals, preferred methods of training, different equipment, different goals, different ‘perfect’ horses for that job.
And different stereotypes.
I feel like as our sport gets more and more divided, it’s easy to forget that we are all in this one singular sport for the same thing: the love of the horse.
So many facilities are labelled as one thing; A hunter-jumper barn. A western barn. A trail barn. And I’ve seen firsthand that if someone strays from that label, whether it be from ignorance or just pure nonacceptance, those stereotypes rear their ugly head.
I’ve been lucky enough to have a pretty varied riding background. The lesson barn I started out in was spectacular at providing a wide range of disciplines. As a result, I got a taste of everything from Western Halter and Showmanship, and English Hunter-Under-Saddle to Morgan In-Hand and Saddlebred Country Pleasure classes. I wavered between stock horses and bling-ed out everything, to a saddlesuit and a derby, to conservative english.
Once I got to undergrad, Eventing, Dressage, Hunters and Jumpers were added to my repertoire. (I didn’t compete with the Eventing or Dressage teams, but I had many friends who did, and I quickly got an education and appreciation of both facets). Even 2 similar subsets-Hunters and Jumpers-had such different sets of rules. Obviously what the rider and horse are judged off of is different, but what tack is or isn’t accepted, how you train, the type of horse, how they are groomed for a show (i.e. braiding)…just the differences between these 2 disciplines are enormous. Extrapolate that out to every other discipline in the equestrian sport, and it can seem like there are more similarities between your given discipline and football, than between 2 equestrian disciplines.
And it’s easy to fall into a comfort zone within your own little discipline. ‘Oh, I don’t do that, I’m a __________’.
Luckily, my undergrad kept me fairly varied as well. While my own horse is a jumper, I showed on the intercollegiate team, which was hunter equitation. I sat in dressage tack every so often, and (despite my trepidation) I was convinced to get out in the cross-country field on more than one occasion.
But even in these varied environments, there were gaps in representation. I knew nothing of the hunter/jumper world until I went to college. I have had to defend saddle seat on more than one occasion because the representation of that discipline is often clouded by the negative exceptions (i.e. Big Lick, etc.) that give a bad name to the rest of the field. Any Western discipline was rarely explored at my undergrad.
When I set out looking for a barn to move The Mare to after her injury last Fall, I decided not to limit myself to just english or hunter/jumper barns (it isn’t the primary discipline in my area), and I am so glad I did.
When I first visited the barn, the environment was so welcoming, and the facilities so lovely that I was not concerned about the fact that they are a primarily western barn, nor were they put off by the fact that my Mare and I are jumpers.
They have let me bring in my own jumps, and have enabled The Mare and I to get back into full over fences work. More importantly, their care has continued to be excellent, and the trainers, barn owner, staff and other boarders have been spectacular. They have managed to integrate multiple disciplines in a way that I can’t say that I have seen in other facilities. Yes, the disciplines are separate, but they are equal. It has been refreshing, and has given me a renewed outlook on the equestrian industry.
I care more about how the barn and its trainers and staff treat their horses and clients and less about the type of saddle they ride in.
I don’t think it is necessary to know every single thing about every single discipline. But I do think it is important to respect other disciplines. Know that they train differently or use different tack or ride in different clothes or whatever it is, because the goals for that discipline may be different than your own. They might do things that you would never do with your own horse; but they also might do things that you hadn’t thought to do before, but may be helpful for you and your horse. (And if you get the chance to try other disciplines, take it; you might realize how much harder it is than it seems!)
One of the boarders commented to me the other day that jumping looked like fun, but she wasn’t that brave. But just the other day, I watched one of the other boarders run her cutting horse around–and let me tell you, those riders are brave.
I think once you start to look a little closer, there is more common ground than you might think at first glance. Yes, the tack is different, the clothes vary, the horses come in all different shapes and sizes, and the goals may be at opposite ends of the spectrum. But when it comes down to it, we are all here for the same reason: the love of the sport, and the love of the horse.