Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I Am The Same, If Not Better

Sports can be an amazing part of life for those who choose to participate in them. Some are into soccer, others wrestling and other dance or cheerleading, football, track, cross country, lacross, baseball or softball. As for me, I am different. Sure I enjoy dance and I have been taken in by a family of wrestlers, however my sport is not associated with any of these. I am an equestrienne. My sport is English showing and hunter jumper activities. This is a competitive sport in which I race my opponents like a jockey, but it is not a flat track; I must perfectly jump a series of fences and gates while keeping off the competition.

I did not fit in with the other sports people. They didn't see what I do as a sport. They said I am not an athlete so I can't train with them, or even just hang out with them. Just because I don't compete within the schools does not by any means imply I am not an athlete. The wrestlers accept me because I have become more than friends with the best wrestler in the state of New Mexico in the 140 pounds weight class. I have seen them train and I train just as hard. To be able to stay on a walking horse, one needs a great sense of balance. To race and jump a horse one must have incredible leg strength, especially to keep the horse cantering and to hold on for dear life. One must have good arm strength to control the reins to keep the horse from going off the predetermined path. Lastly, one must have good posture to jump the horse and land correctly, not fall off and not get a fault, or penalty.

At school, I used to be told by my friends "that is so weird. Where would you go to do that anyway?" My response was always "this is New Mexico, there are a lot of places to ride. I ride in Lamy." What is the difference between riding horses and playing football? Isn't football just running or kicking a ball and knocking down the other players? Is it not that simple? Of course it has its set of rules, just like riding horses. I try to finish a set course faster than the other people. I don't see myself as being that different.

My trainer would tell me "okay Ariana now we are going to raise the fence higher, just hold onto the mane and she will know what to do. Her dam is a pony and her sire is a draft horse, she is the stupidest thing and I have never seen anyone handle her like you." Just like getting fatigued in cross country I got foggy after a while, and just like getting pinned by an opponent in wrestling I fell off and hit my back in the wood jumping fence. I ended up with bruises from shoulder to shoulder. When the people at school saw them, I would be asked "ouch how the hell did that happen?" I would tell my story, "I made a mistake and didn't keep my leg on. My horse, Lilly went to her hind legs and i fell flat on my back as she jumped." At that point no one would say anything. They just sat and looked at me like i was crazy. I would just assure them that it is no more dangerous than the sports they do. Just the same as getting concussions and broken legs in football, being dropped by the cheerleaders or being in a chokehold for too long in wrestling, danger comes with the territory. Riding a 2,000 pound horse is just the same as wrestling about 14 guys in the 140 pound weight class all at once. It takes just as much skill and precision as the wrestlers, cheerleaders, dancers, and football players.

Working at the barn I have realized something, riding horses can be rather therapeutic when one is not trying to compete on them. Only one of my friends understood this. She worked at the barn also. Mentally ill people or people with brain damage usually find help when it is used for therapy. Even the wrestlers will jump on a horse to correct their posture and make their back ache subside. I have learned more about life at the barn than I will anywhere else. I have learned the struggles of competition and living with disabilities. My favorite memory is when i had the opportunity to teach a little boy of the age of 7, who among a myriad of issues had Golder Hare Syndrome and brain damage. Working with him made me a better rider and person because I had to figure out how to get him to understand how to ride a horse and what a horse feels when he pulled on the reins and kicked her at the same time. It also taught me to have incredible patience. The next competition I entered, I earned the blue ribbon.

Getting a blue ribbon in one show does not mean anything about the next show however. In the warm up laps, a gust of wind blew and Lilly got spooked. She took off bucking and kicking with me still on her. I almost had her tamed but then found myself in the soft dirt of the arena. As I lay there, I felt a sharp pain shooting through the top of my arm and my fingers going into my hand. She had kicked me on the top of my shoulder and stepped on my hand. Amazingly enough, it wasn't shattered. One broken bone in my hand and some permanent skin discoloration was all she had done to me. I was shaking and a little bit afraid to get back up but I knew if I didn't, I probably never would. She was calmed and I got on her and walked her around for a while. After this incident I watched races for a while and didn't, well couldn't compete.

Down in El Paso, Texas and Las Vegas, Nevada, you run as hard as you can and it's still just good enough to compete but not good enough to win. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, you are expected to win. When you don't they assume the horse has bit sores or the rider just can't get it done plain and simple. I can get it done. Just like taking the state championship in wrestling or football or track, it is a pride no one can ever take away from you.
When I could get back up and start to practice again, I noticed all the coaching differences. The football coach says run four miles, and they obey. The wrestling coach says do fifty reps of a certain weight exercise, they do it. If I don't feel comfortable doing something, I don't have to do so. I have a lot more freedom in my sport because I am riding a 2,000 pound animal. If I do something wrong she may spook and I can lose control and end up dead. If I am uncomfortable doing an activity, I slowly work up to it. Part of it is skill, part courage. I would like to see the football players try to jump a four foot gate and water pond, which is easy for me.

Shows are not about the prize, they are not about winning. They are about being that much better than everyone around you. When you have found how fast you can run and how high you can jump, you have completed one of the first goals in riding. Then the task is going higher and faster. That is one way to get better. Having an eye for how fast and how high is not something that can be taught. One must have the fire inside them to have success. The higher the jump the harder the fall, the harder the fall, the more you want to get back up and prove yourself.


  1. I agree that it is a sport just like any other. Just because your not on a team or the people tell you it's not a sport. Doesn't mean that there right. I think you have to be brave to ride a horse over fences. I have been bucked off a horse and it wasn't nice. So as long as you like it and it's something you enjoy. Then keep doing it. Theres's nothing wrong with being different.

  2. Great read, ariana!

    I have no trouble seeing the conflict between the equestrienne and "other sports besides wrestling" discourse communities. But I don't see where genre enters into it. That's kind of an important component of this assignment.

    Still, it's a good essay.