Most of my longstanding friends also love horses. I’ve met most of my closest friends in the barn, where horses strengthened my relationships.
I played on a school sport team, once. For a year, I was a lacrosse goalie. I went to practice after school, but unlike most of the other girls I didn’t go home after practice. I went to the barn, frustrated I lost out on daylight I could have used to be riding in. The experience of playing on a team sport wasn’t lost on me though, and I often found (and still find) myself wishing I could have experienced that a little more, but with horses.
I think equestrians lose out on traditional sports camaraderie because our treasured teammates are our horses. I wouldn’t want it any other way, personally, but our sport can be lonely because we don’t have other humans we’re working with as our teammates. Not always, at least. Unless you’re part of a wonderful barn community where other riders are supportive even if they are your competitors, it’s likely that your main relationship is with your horse.
Who wants to be stuck on a team with 19 other girls (and guys) if they’re used to having their horse as their teammate, first? Plenty of people roll their eyes at the suggestion of riding in IHSA, but I’d argue that it’s the most unique opportunity for a hunter jumper rider. You’ve got a chance to put your human teammates first; as in, they’re your closest teammates for once. Because you choose a horse out of a hat, you don’t have a relationship with them until the moment you’ve mounted up. Your teammates, however, know your strengths and weaknesses. They’ll know to remind you that “yes, you really do pump before a jump on a slow horse”, and they’ll help you create a strategy to ride better in your class.
How many times have you made a friend simply because you both love horses? Imagine that, but times 15, or 20. Or however many other team members you have. Contrary to popular belief, the ability to make insta-friends doesn’t necessarily go away once you’re an adult. At heart, we’re all still five years old and we all still love horses, ponies, and anything that reminds us of any of the above. Tempting, it is, to think that we’re different because we come from different barns or backgrounds.
But we’re still just the same person who fell in love with a horse. At the end of the day, we’re all still the same person who fell in love with a horse which can bring us together.
It might not be your favorite horse from home that you ride in your weekly team lesson. It might not be the best lessons you’ve ever had, either. Sometimes, the shows are lackluster and the judging is frustrating. Other times, you might face your own insecurities by being teammates with riders who are, possibly, much better than you.
But riding on an IHSA team gives you the chance to be part of something bigger than your own horse-showing and competing. And if nothing else? There’s a handful of others who, at the end of a bad show day, a shitty test, a crappy work-week, are happy to grab a beer and commiserate with you. In our world of solo-sporting events where we don’t get the traditional camaraderie of a team, that’s pretty priceless.
Besides, face it. You’d rather hang out with horse people anyway, any day. At least they’ll be happy when you flick on the USEF Network while you’re doing your homework.