The Equestrian Lifestyle

July 15, 2022

Hi, I'm Paige, half of the duo behind Fairway Stables™

This website is the one I've been searching for, for years; a compilation of knowledge on all things horsemanship, including practical advice on how to start an equestrian business.

No matter your experience level with horses or homesteading, I hope this is a place you can get lost in, and learn something along the way - we welcome everyone from vets, to lifelong ranchers, trainer, to nonprofits contributing.


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Regardless of background or discipline, all equestrians are known to have a “love of the lifestyle.” From the horses to the riding to being out in nature, the entirety of the experience is the appeal for a true equestrian.

But what is the equestrian lifestyle, really? More than a hobby, pastime, or sport, the equestrian lifestyle brings together horses, nature, passion, and discipline.

Table of Contents

The Equestrian Lifestyle: Defined

An equestrian is a person who participates in equestrianism, or horseback riding. This broad description includes all the disciplines of riding, as well as the traditional use of horses for practical working purposes, transportation, recreation, competition, or cultural exercises.

Naturally, this is a broad term. Horses are trained and ridden for everything from police work to ranch work to competitive sport all over the world.

Thus, an “equestrian lifestyle” is difficult to define. A lifestyle is defined as a way of life, which implies that an equestrian lifestyle is a way of life that includes or is influenced by the love and care of horses. It speaks to the partnership of horse and rider, whether mounted or unmounted.

Blending Sport and Lifestyle

Equestrian includes all disciplines and activities that take place while mounted on a horse, along with unmounted activities.

The mounted equestrian disciplines are divided into English and Western disciplines, commonly. Generally, this distinction refers to the type of tack – saddle, bridle – that’s on the horse.

Plenty of other disciplines don’t fall into the categories of English and Western riding, such as driving, handwork, and vaulting.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the equestrian disciplines:

  • Barrel racing (Western): A rodeo event in which a horse and rider run around barrels in a cloverleaf pattern with the fastest time.
  • Cutting (Western): A rodeo event that requires the horse and rider separate a calf from a cattle herd, which is used practically in ranch work.
  • Dressage (English): Typically an English discipline, dressage is a French term for “training.” Once used to train horses for war, dressage is now primarily a sport that showcases harmony, balance, suppleness, flexibility, and the communication between horse and rider. To a layman, it looks like the horse is dancing.
  • Driving: Driving is one of the world’s oldest equestrian sports and encompasses several sub-disciplines that involve a horse being driven with a carriage or cart. This may include a single horse, a pair, or a team of multiple horses.
  • Endurance (English): Endurance is an event in which a horse-and-rider team compete over a marked trail within an allowed time. Horses are evaluated throughout the event to test their fitness and safety, which demonstrates the riders understanding of pace and efficiency.
  • Eventing (English): Eventing is a “triathlon” of equestrian sports that encompasses three diverse tests that take place over a period of time – typically three days. The competition includes dressage, cross-country (a series of solid jump obstacles made of natural materials), and show jumping (a test of precision and technique with a time constraint).
  • Hunter (English): Hunter is a jumping discipline that’s judged subjectively according to the horse’s look, movement, technique, style, and pacing. Derived from foxhunting, hunter competitions are divided into jumping classes and flat classes.
  • Pole-Bending (Western): A timed Western event with a horse and rider maneuvering around poles arranged in a line.
  • Polo (English): A mounted team sport that requires riders and horses score goals against an opposing team with long-handled mallets and a ball – comparable to soccer or lacrosse.
  • Reining (Western): An event designed to show the athleticism, poise, and obedience of a Western horse and its rider using patterns like circles, roll backs, spins, and sliding stops.
  • Roping (Western): A rodeo event with a mounted rider attempting to rope a calf with a lasso, dismount, run to the calf, and restrain it within a time frame.
  • Saddle Seat (English): A specialized, performative discipline that shows off a specific gait of a horse breed, the Saddlebred.
  • Show Jumping (English): One of the three Olympic equestrian sports, show jumping tests the horse and rider’s ability to navigate difficult jump courses with obstacles designed to fall easily. The team is tested on time and faults, which occur if a pole is brushed or knocked while the horse jumps.
  • Team Penning (Western): Similar to cutting, team penning includes a team of three mounted team members collecting three head of cattle with a specific number from a herd. These cattle are then separated and driven into a pen at the opposite end of the arena in the fastest time.
  • Trail Riding: Whether competitive or recreational, English or Western, trail riding is an activity in which a horse and rider or small group travel through natural areas, In a competitive environment, riders and horses are tested on their ability to navigate obstacles commonly found on trails, such as opening and closing gates, crossing low streams, and more.
  • Vaulting: A performative discipline with gymnastic and dance-like movements set to music on a horse.
  • Pleasure: Both English and Western riders may engage in pleasure competitions, which test horses on manners and obedience. The overall pace is slow and calm.

Along with these disciplines, equestrian sports may include activities like traditional fox hunting, flat racing – like the Kentucky Derby – and steeplechasing, or racing over a course with solid obstacles in a natural environment.

What Are the Benefits of the Equestrian Lifestyle?

People who have never ridden a horse – or merely sat on a trail horse – may debate the “sport” involved in equestrian sports. But horseback riding offers numerous benefits, both physical and mental.

Physical

First foremost, riding horses is physically demanding. No matter the discipline or experience level, riding a horse targets muscles that we don’t use in day-to-day life. Even seasoned athletes experience muscle soreness from activating muscles they don’t normally.

Here are the fitness benefits of riding horses:

Improved Balance and Coordination

Horseback riding requires sitting in perfect balance while in motion. The rider must be balanced in order for the horse to maintain balance, especially as the riding gets more advanced, and even a slight shift could affect the way the horse responds to commands.

It also requires coordination. Riding requires various movements that occur simultaneously to guide the horse and apply aids, or “ask” the horse to do something. Coordination, or the ability to use different parts of the body at the same time, improves as a result.

Better Reflexes

Even the quietest of horses can be unpredictable at times. They’re flight animals, after all. When a horse reacts, you have a split second to respond accordingly (or end up in the dirt). Over time, riders develop stronger and stronger reflexes and instincts to adapt to riding a horse and responding to its behaviors.

Improved Posture

The upright position of a rider isn’t meant to be haughty – it’s a necessary part of keeping the position correct in the saddle and communicating effectively with the horse. Poor posture places strain on the neck and upper back, as well as negatively impacting the horse.

As a natural result of riding consistently, riders develop the strength and muscle memory to maintain good posture, even when they’re not in the saddle.

Better Strength and Endurance

Horseback riding activates different muscle groups, such as the core muscles to stay in balance and the pelvis, thighs, and calves to stay centered in the saddle. All of these muscles engage while riding. These muscles are also essential for communicating with the horse, urging it to move forward, or asking for advanced movements.

Some horses are more challenging than others, but virtually all types of riding improve cardiovascular endurance. Just the effort to stay centered requires cardiovascular effort, and that endurance builds over time.

Mental

Teamwork

Though regarded as an individual sport, riding a horse is a team effort. Both the horse and rider need to be in harmony. Conflicts arise, and how the rider and horse adapt and move forward begin to forge the bond.

In addition, riding often takes place at equestrian facilities with other people. In competitions, these facilities compete as a “team,” officially or unofficially, working together and supporting one another. Each win is a win for the stable as much as the individual.

Companionship

Few things build a bond and sense of companionship like influencing an animal that’s 10 times your size, especially without the benefit of verbal communication. Like any relationship, building a connection with a horse takes time and a sense of mutual trust and respect, you could be bonded for life.

Discipline

Especially for young riders, the discipline that comes with equestrian sports is an excellent tool for teaching life lessons. Like all sports, horseback riding teaches obedience and abiding by a code of conduct, sportsmanship, and dedication.

In competitions, riders have to deal with stress and nerves while trying to compete and reach their goals. No one wins every time, and dealing with the losses builds strong character. With team sports, the loss is carried collectively. With riding, the only one at fault is yourself, and you must accept that things don’t always go the way you want.

Sense of Responsibility

Whether you own your own horse, lease, or just take riding lessons on occasion, caring for a horse requires maturity and responsibility. You’re in charge of the wellbeing of a living thing and responsible for anything that happens during that time. This experience is valuable not only for children and adolescents, but adults as well.

Overcoming Fear

Fear is common in equestrian sports. Even the best and most experienced are afraid sometimes, because horses are large, unpredictable, and potentially dangerous animals. There’s truth to the adage “if you fall off a horse, you have to get back on.” Otherwise, the fear sets in.

Once an accident occurs, you have to confront the fear and push past it to continue riding. This is challenging for many people, but once it happens, it builds confidence to confront other fears and forge ahead.

Improved Mood

Riding a horse is connected with positive effects on mood. While riding, people experience a release of the mood-enhancing hormone serotonin, which contributes to feelings of happiness and wellbeing.

It’s not just horses. People can experience the release of serotonin when spending time with any animal they enjoy.

Embrace the Equestrian Lifestyle

No matter the discipline, however, true equestrianism entails “horsemanship from the ground up.” Being an equestrian isn’t getting on a tacked up horse, riding, and handing the horse off to a groom. It’s about all aspects of horsemanship and horse ownership – grooming, cleaning and oiling tack, feeding and watering horses, and mucking stalls.

The true bond between horse and rider, and the essence of the “love and care of horses,” includes all the work – not just the sport.

That means early mornings cracking ice out of frozen buckets, late nights braiding manes before the show, and treasuring quiet days with the perfect ride, even if you’re the only two souls who know about it.

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