Incorporating Riding Into School Athletics

We all know the many benefits horseback riding can provide on a lifelong basis — Devin Morrissey makes a compelling case for why horseback riding should be incorporated into school athletic programs.


Football, basketball and baseball make up the meat of most school sports programs throughout the country, but unfortunately there are fewer offerings for young equestrians.

However, an increasing number of schools are starting to incorporate horseback riding into their extracurricular activities. This is especially important for those who want to continue riding in college or pursue a career working with horses.

“Throughout the country various high school riding associations have developed to promote equestrian riding teams and clubs to junior, middle and high schools,” explains US Equestrian. “The Interscholastic Equestrian Association is one such organization that provides an avenue for middle and high school students to compete in multiple disciplines on a national level.”

All sports give kids an opportunity to learn new physical skills while learning about the importance of teamwork, communication and overcoming adversity. An equestrian team as part of a school’s athletic program is yet another avenue for growing and learning.

Diversity Is Good

Some kids want to run track; others want to play badminton; while others want to pursue horseback riding. Students with unique interests and abilities need to be given the opportunity to follow their dreams from an early age. It’s their chance to get involved in a sport they will carry with them for a lifetime.

Non-core sports aren’t as popular or as well funded as the more mainstream sports that are typically offered at schools, but they offer invaluable enrichment and variety to schools and communities. It’s largely up to dedicated athletic departments to support diverse, non-core sports programs.

You can enjoy a sport without having any direct ties to it. “You don’t have to have participated in a particular activity to appreciate it,” explains Hannah Keyser in Deadspin. “I lasted less than a full season in Little League—but having dedicated so many hours to being on and around horses is undeniably tied to my overall respect for the sport.”

Exposing people to various sports and activities makes us more tolerant and respectful of other ways of life. It’s important to be as inclusive as possible when it comes to sports.

Riding Is Therapeutic

Horses can read human emotional cues, so riding a horse requires you to leave your problems at the door. If you aren’t focused, you’ll soon find that your horse isn’t either. But a good cure for a bad day is saddling up and riding.

For children with attention problems or anger issues, riding a horse is a great activity because it requires emotional control. For educators well versed in autism, it’s common to employ equine therapy into the overall care plan because autistic children get to experience physical interactions with the horses rather than verbal.

In her 2005 book Animals in Translation, Temple Grandin argued that “animals and autistic savants share cognitive similarities,” and they both “sense and respond to stimuli that non-autistic humans usually overlook,” according to an article in Medical News Today. Grandin says that animals store their memories in the form of sounds, pictures and other sensory feedback. As someone with autism, she says her memories and thoughts are similar, and not word-based. Horses can serve as emotional support animals for those who have difficulty communicating and handling social situations.

The psychological interaction between human and animal is something that doesn’t occur in most other sports experiences. It doesn’t matter whether you have developmental problems or simply love the feeling of riding a horse.

The School Horse Is a Teacher

Horses have personality: Some will let you ride them without giving you a bunch of trouble. Others know just what to do to buck you off. Some demand that you are precise. The list goes on. School horses have something to teach you. You have to adjust your game if need be, depending on what kind of horse you’re on.

What can school horses teach students? They can teach them to adjust to setbacks, to keep their cool, and to be flexible, patient, and determined. The life lessons are endless. A good school horse can help make kids better riders and develop skills they need to succeed in life.

Here’s a solid sports analogy:

“You can’t become a marathon runner in two days if you’ve never ran farther than a few miles before,” writes Brittany Belisle for Odyssey. “Similarly, a horse doesn’t become a top competitor over night. It takes weeks, months, and even years to train a horse and see successful results. Horseback riders understand this need for patience. You can’t get frustrated right off the bat or you’ll never get anywhere. It takes time. And lots of it.”

Sports in general have the power to teach many life lessons. The added element of a horse makes it all the more powerful. A 1,200-pound animal has a tendency to do that. More horseback riding programs will continue to find their way into public schools even without the mass media appeal that more traditional athletic offerings. Here is some more information from the Interscholastic Equestrian Association that serves kids in grades 6-12.

Devin Morrissey dreams of writing abroad, but he’s settling for writing on the road.  You can find him on Twitter or across the Pacific Northwest, but tweeting him is probably easier. ​

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