How to Explain Your Discipline to Confused Onlookers

Admittedly, it’s not always easy.

Say you’re walking through the grocery store in your riding boots. You know the moment is coming. Possibly at the checkout counter, maybe in the produce section–at some point, someone is going to say, “Hey! You race horses?”

You sigh. How in the world are you supposed to explain your preferred corner of horseydom to the unwashed masses? We’ve got you covered.

Foxhunting: “The horses chase the hounds that are chasing the fox that is running around in circles laughing at us.” –Leslie Wylie


Flickr: Steffi/ CC

Show hunters: Despite the fact that everyone looks nearly identical, each rider is trying to make their horse stand out to the judge on the flat and over a course (loosely) inspired by hunting obstacles. The judge pins the class based on a number of subjective mystery factors that no one really understands, such as the overall picture the pair presents, how well the horse and/or rider makes up for the other’s mistakes, and which horses seem like they were imported from Europe.

Equitation: Pretty similar to hunter classes, except judged on the rider’s performance more than the horse. Possibly even more subjective mystery factors are involved, such as which type of Charles Owen helmet you have and whether the pink lining of your show jacket would make George Morris cry or not.


Flickr: carterse/ CC

Dressage:  Where horse dancing meets body-building.

Reining: Like cowboy dressage, only faster and with fewer top hats.

Reined cowhorse: Like cowboy dressage, only faster and with cows.

Showjumping: Jumping everything as fast as possible while trying to leave all the rails up and avoid dying.


Flickr: carterse/ CC

Eventing: Eventing includes dressage, showjumping, and jumping cross-country. To make it through all three phases, riders need a bizarre mix of OCD obsession with detail and a tendency toward inadvisable risk-taking. There is no cure for the affliction…except more eventing.

Driving: Though driving encompasses all kinds of obscure disciplines, such as “unicorn hitch” classes, the basic premise is simple. Horse+cart+human=an attempt to drive around without crashing.

Sidesaddle: Once the only way women could ride and preserve their propriety, now sidesaddle-riding women (and some men) enjoy spending thousands on getting antique sidesaddles fit to their horses and riding that way for the sheer fun/silliness/fanciness factor.

Vaulting: Riding isn’t challenging enough, so we added splits, leaps, and flyers.

Jousting: Riders take up silly assumed names like Good Carla, Fair Lady of the Lake, and charge their horses down a track trying to spear little rings with a lance. Bonus street cred for medieval costume.

 Barrel racing: Running as fast as possible around a bunch of barrels for the heck of it.

Western Pleasure: Whoever has the most bling and the slowest horse wins.

Saddle Seat: Whoever trots the biggest wins.

Share how you explain your discipline to non-horsey folks in the comments below!

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