I’m not really a “sports” kind of gal in the traditional sense.
Don’t get me wrong, I slogged through P.E. with the best of them in grade school, always looking for convenient methods to “forget” my gym clothes on the way school. But I never, ever, in my life forgot my breeches and boots for after-school riding lessons.
I was freakishly tall as a youth, so my dad encouraged me to play basketball. I was decent at becoming a human wall and putting my hands in the air to block the ball on defense. But I was woefully uncoordinated, and equally as unmotivated to do anything else. I remember I used to count the “strides” of my fellow teammates as they dribbled the ball past half court. I’d mentally “ding” the ones that chipped the line where the ref would host the “jump-off” at the beginning of the game.
Fast forward a few years (more like a few decades) and I’m an adult. My husband signed us up for a happy hour type, casual “bonding” volleyball league with a few other 30-somethings he works with. Somehow he got me to agree to join the team.
These are people I know — co-workers of my husband’s, a gang I’ve seen socially a few times outside of a work setting. And even though booze was involved, I was not totally convinced I was going to have fun joining their volleyball league.
But here I am four seasons later, still a begrudgingly tolerant player. I’m not the best on the team and I’m not the worst. Sometimes I miss practice or games because of farrier appointments or barn chores. Most of the time the games more arduous than fun. But when we win in a clinch, they can be pretty amusing.
No matter how many dozens of games I’ve played at this point, participating in another sport has made me appreciate my horse, my trainer and my barn (team)mates that much more.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned as an equestrian trying out another sport.
Other sports should take footing more serious. Playing volleyball in the sand is hard. Sometimes it’s too hard, like injury-inducing hard. Instinctively it’s the first thing I’m analyzing when I kick off my flip-flops and walk over. “I’d never work a horse in these conditions,” my brain tells me almost instinctively.
Breeches aren’t that bad, I guess. As breeches become more like yoga pants in terms of comfort and flexibility, they really aren’t that bad. I’d rather wear a pair of my Greenhawk breeches than these constantly creeping-up, wedgie-inducing bike shorts any day.
Respect the helmet. You don’t need one in volleyball, but man, it hurts when you get hit in the nose/face/head with an incoming spiked ball. Or when you fall head first into the sand in a failed attempt at keeping the volley alive.
Communication is key. In the heat of the moment, like during a back-and-forth volley, teammates have to talk to one another in order to successfully send the ball back to the other side of the net. I sometimes find myself “clucking” as the ball is falling where a teammate should be running up to send it back. If only it was legal to carry a crop…
Co-ed sports are cool. Equestrian sports are unique in that men and women compete against one another all the way up to the Olympic level. In my casual happy hour league, the stakes are sort of (OK, not really) the same. Sometimes this plays in our favor, sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s pretty cool to be a girl and spike the ball onto the unsuspecting team’s side of the net.
So while volleyball might not be my cup of tea, it does make me appreciate my true passion with horses. The muscle tone may be different on a rider versus a volleyball player, but the core skill set is still very much the same. A player has to communicate with their teammate(s). And they must be agile and have a good eye to see the path, or play, ahead.