We all just want to talk about our horses.
I work in media and communications. I’m sure there will come a time when I can stand around and look as blase as my peers from all of the major publications who, if they’re still excited by seeing the riders of the highest echelons of a sport, manage to look like they’re simply waiting for the bus, idly watching the traffic go by.
But I’m not there yet. I stood in the mixed zone at the Kentucky Three-Day Event last week with my eyes wide open, watching how the best eventers in the world handled their dressage warm-ups, the ways that teams of grooms and support staff and riders worked together to get the horses cooled down after cross-country, the particular sets of exercises each combination did to ensure their horse was ready to jump.
I managed not to be completely star-struck, however, when I interviewed my select list of riders after their performances — I was working the event for another client, seeking out specifically the Thoroughbred riders — thanks to one simple observation that became readily apparent after a few conversations: no matter if they’re jumping around the local horse trial or preparing their upper-level mount for another go at the five-star level, all riders are still just horse lovers at heart, and they love to talk about their horses.
While the riders often had their answers already prepared for the usual questions — how did your ride go? How does your horse like the atmosphere? What do you think of the cross-country course? — I had a different set of questions seeking answers: what are the challenges of riding a full Thoroughbred in this setting? What advice would you give your fellow Thoroughbred riders? What’s your favorite thing about your horse?
My favorite part of the day was watching these riders smile — a genuine grin, the kind that turns the corners of your mouth up and brings out the laugh lines in your eyes when you’re reflexively happy and you can’t help but smile. There could be any number of reasons for this — they were laughing at this relatively inexperienced in-person interviewer, they were stalling for time so they could come up with an answer for this unanticipated question — but the responses, often tinged with real, authentic and obvious love for their horses, told me a different story. The love for their horses is real, and it showed in every word of their responses.
Between chats with riders ringside, I was down at the retail booth in the trade fair where we were selling Thoroughbred-themed apparel and gear for our organization, and over and over again, customers wandered in and casually mentioned their horses while we punched sales prices into the tablet and folded sweatshirts and jackets into bags. I always made a point to look up and ask them more about their horses (usually a Thoroughbred) and saw, once again, that same involuntarily but genuine smile, that little gleam of joy that someone was asking them about their horse.
There’s this commonly-held misconception among the general equestrian population, and I’m not sure exactly where it came from, that upper-level riders can’t possibly love their horses as much as those of us do who do all of our own work with a horse, from mucking the stall to putting up hay to repairing fence; it seems like some of us believe that if a rider has a team of grooms and a dedicated staff to help keep an upper-level horse functioning at those upper levels, they somehow care less.
I can tell you definitively that this is not true, and I was reminded of this fact over and over again as face after face lit up ringside as the riders told me their favorite things about their horses, called them their best friends, credited their horses for so much in their lives.
In the end, we’re all just horse-crazy people who love when someone takes a genuine interest in our horses. Pay it forward. Pass it on.