I’m not going to lie, I’m saying I want to compete next year because I feel pressured to. I don’t have goals of becoming a Grand Prix rider, let alone the budget. I don’t know what I would do with ribbons if I actually won any. And, honestly, I don’t know how I’d take losing even if I’m expecting to. This feeling comes from years of being made to feel like there’s no point to me riding if I’m not competing. Of being told there’s no point in me taking lessons if I’m not going to show. But I’m done caring about what other people say.
Taking lessons and learning a discipline has many benefits for me personally, both mentally and physically. Mentally, it’s a break from worry about work, home life, and all the crazy things going on in the world. When I’m with my horse, it’s my job to take care of him, to stay balanced, to keep my heels down and my head up, my core engaged, and to breathe. There’s no time to think about anything else. Physically, I’m getting a great cardio workout plus I’m working my core and legs in different ways than just running and doing yoga. Even if I’m not competing, I’m actively making myself a healthier human being.
Learning a discipline also gives me new things to learn and practice. This keeps me, and my horse, physically and mentally engaged instead of just riding around the ring. Learning a discipline also helps me learn how to be more assertive with my horse, especially since my nationally-titled lease horse knows way more than I do and will be as lazy as possible if I let up even a little. Not only am I building up my assertiveness in the saddle, but this builds up my confidence, especially when I ride through a refusal, my horse tripping, spooking, or any number of issues that come up. This confidence and assertiveness follows me home, too. I’m not the quiet doormat anyone can take advantage of anymore just because I’m too afraid, or too nice, to say no.
But what does all of this have to do with being a “real” rider?
By definition, a horseback rider is, “a person riding a horse.” That’s it. It has nothing to do with showing, what discipline you ride, how much you ride, or how long you’ve been riding. It doesn’t matter why you’re riding. If you’re paying for lessons, you’re worth your trainer’s time. If you’re paying board and taking care of your horse, you’re allowed to make time for yourself in the arena or on the trails. As Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” So don’t feel like less of a rider just because you don’t want to enter a show ring.