The question is simple and straightforward. The answers are varied and thought-provoking.
Recently, I posed a question to a group of horse owners, riders and enthusiasts. I asked them, “Why do you ride?” If someone were to ask me that question, my answer would have changed during the journey from 10-year-old horse-crazy kid to (nearly) 40-year-old professional horse trainer, as often as the weather changes in Maine.
The majority of the answers I received mentioned the feeling of “being one” with the horse. The connection made when truly riding a horse (so not the guided trail ride kind of riding) is very much akin to ballroom dancing, only with less glitter. Having taken ballroom dance lessons myself, I know that is not a cliche analogy. At each dance lesson I found myself saying, surely much to the annoyance of my teacher, “This is just like riding!” The partnership between leader and follower, the silent communication, the subtle weight changes, the cooperation of both participants, are all components of brilliant riding and dancing.
Not all riding, or dancing (just ask my teacher), is brilliant. Many other people mentioned the
challenge of learning to ride. Riding is physically and mentally demanding, yet also rewarding, if done correctly. One must always consider, as did the respondents to my query, that the horse does not have to allow someone to ride. Here is a 1,000-pound animal that has its own safety in mind, and yet it will allow people to sit on its back, tell it where to go, tell it how fast to go and ask it to do things that are unnecessary for its survival. A good rider always keeps that in mind. In return for allowing us to ride, horses get a safe place to live and continuous care, but they are never beholden to us. We should always be humble and amazed that horses can be ridden.
For many riders, the freedom from earthly limitations and distractions is the draw. Hippotherapy is the use of horses as physical and mental therapy for people with all manner of disabilities. The motion of the horse’s movement can enhance muscle development, balance and coordination. Therapy horses are chosen for their quiet demeanor and steady gaits, so they are very calming for their patients. Sometimes I get calls asking if I offer therapeutic riding classes and while I reply that all riding is therapeutic, I don’t have any medical training. I refer them to someone who does offer that service.
Several people mentioned that when riding, stress, bills, school and all other worries are gone. As one rider put it, she gets a “vacation from the to-do list” when riding.
The time spent with horses, even if not riding, takes concentration and soon the world dissolves. Even as that 10-year-old girl taking my first riding lessons, I experienced the exhilarating phenomenon when riding a cantering horse for the first time. I was soon swept away by the rolling motion of the horse and the thrill of travelling so swiftly and effortlessly across the ground.
The thrill was short lived when I finally realized that my instructor had been shouting instructions to me and I had heard nothing of what he said.
Most riders spoke of the compulsion to ride, not even knowing where it comes from but feeling at home on a horse and a strong desire to be in their company.
My answer lies, somewhere in the realm of not knowing why I love riding, but feeling as though the back of a horse is where I belong.
From my earliest memories, I wanted to ride horses. There was no defining moment or event, it was just always there. It became not just about my enjoyment but about helping the horse have a better ride. Finding ways to help a horse be more comfortable when ridden became my training objective. Another trainer expressed a similar sentiment, saying that working with a horse to overcome any anxiety and fear it has when being ridden, is the reward.
The answer to “Why do you ride?” isn’t the same for every rider but one thread is common and that is the feeling of having a connection with an animal that could very easily tell you to get lost, yet chooses to maintain a relationship; a relationship that can be very beneficial to both participants. Whether for leisure, competition or education, horseback riding has something to offer every personality, as long as you don’t mind having a hairy dance partner.