Chelsea Alexander gets that question–a lot–from student’s parents who are having a hard time fathoming what riding is all about. This is her response.
Through this summer I’ve taught various children how to ride. The stable I work at receives a lot of first-time riders, and for many of the kids who come to us, it’s their first and only lesson. It’s a birthday present or a Christmas gift or a special treat from a grandparent, but I treat all of the kids as if it’s the first of many, regardless. We don’t do pony rides, we do lessons, and even in these one-off situations, it’s often a matter of trying out this expensive sport before deciding whether or not to commit to regular lessons. Inevitably at some point during the lesson, the parents will ask me about the sport.
“So what do you do with this, anyway?” I know they aren’t asking me what I personally do in the horse industry, because that’s fairly obvious. They want to know what their kid can get out of it.
“Well, this is a sport. We go to competitions,” I’ll say. I’ll also point out the jumps in the ring and explain a little bit of what we do and how it’s judged, but the parents usually don’t get it.
“Oh,” they’ll say. Just oh. I can see in their heads the same thoughts that ran through my mother’s mind, things she repeated to me quite often. But what’s the point? My mother often asked me. Why spend all this money? Why go compete? What’s the point of all of this?
They usually don’t ask me this directly. So I can’t give them a direct answer, but if I could, I would. I’d tell them that their kid can earn a confidence boost that comes naturally with learning to control an animal ten or more times your weight. I’d tell them that their kid can learn valuable communication skills, from having to learn how to communicate not only with an animal, but with their trainer, and with any of the other kids in their lesson. I’d tell them that teamwork takes on a whole new meaning. I’d tell them that a horse can provide more therapy and more of a release of tension than anything in the world. I’d tell them that the barn becomes a sanctuary, that trainers become an adult that kids can feel comfortable talking to about problems in their lives. I’d tell them that we compete for the same reasons a soccer team competes—because it’s healthy to see your goals realized, or to get a proper critique, or to obtain motivation to work even harder. I’d tell them that there’s nothing like being able to teach a horse something yourself. I’d tell them that a horse can provide something to look forward to every week or every day.
They don’t ask me, but sometimes I tell them anyway. Because you can’t get all of that from a soccer team.
Chelsea is a twenty year old student attending Queen Mary, University of London. She has been riding on and off since the age of eleven, and spent this past summer teaching camp and young riders with her long-time trainer. She has never owned her own horse but hopes to one day.