My Discourse Community Essay

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Embarking on the world of competitive horseback riding as a complete amateur is something that I didn’t expect to do ever in my life. Of course, there were the occasional trips to the barn when I was younger and riding up to meet some horses at a county fair, but I knew absolutely nothing when it came down to the lingo and the ways of competing. My respect for the equestrian community as a whole flipped 180 when I figured out the things that they go through daily. For example, trying not to get bucked, or thrown off, while riding, or even just brushing, feeding, and training a 1200-pound animal. Even though the hardships can be very rewarding, how is that blue, 1st place ribbon earned?

For my research, I knew I had to go to someone who knows the community very well. I conducted an interview over the phone with a very close friend of mine who happens to be a competitive horseback rider herself. My interviewee mentioned over the phone that “you have to have a real connection with your horse, with your reigns, with everything to win” (E. Rogers, personal communication, September 15, 2019). This one statement interested me so much that I then realized what I wanted to research. Why is a co-being relationship between the horse and rider so important for the overall success of the rider? Why is the bond needed when training and riding? Does the horse need to trust the rider as much as the rider needs to trust the horse? With these questions in mind, they further strengthened my knowledge of this community.

Hold Your Horses

Everyone knows that horses have been around a long time, and they did help us out when we needed an extra hand. Before the sport of equitation was created, “horses have carried us through war, they have transported our cargo (and us!) have been a status symbol for the wealthy and have entertained us along the way too” (admin_89, 2014). The entertainment side of horses didn’t start until later on in history. This discourse community truly represents what it means to get your hands dirty, and it takes a certain someone to not be scared by these creatures.

The Human-Horse Relationship

I’ve learned that horses have good days and bad days, just like people. Even the best rider gets frustrated or even bucked off. All horses have different kinds of personalities, so when a horse is having a bad day, it’s probably a good idea for the rider to lay off a bit. Trust is one thing that every horseback rider needs to have with their horse, but not a lot of people know that the horse needs to be able to trust its rider. The horse needs to be able to see that the rider is going to tell them when to jump or go faster. The trust in this co-being relationship is mutual. It’s all about balance. To be successful in the show ring, “harmonious communication and physical coordination between horse and humans relies on mutual trust and cooperation” (Foster, 2018). The partnership that is formed is truly tested every time someone gets on a horse. The rider has to be prepared for anything.

They always say that any animal you buy, they have to match your personality. Well, that’s the same with horses. My interviewee has her horse and she states, “he is my absolute best friend and in the show ring, he and I work together to get that blue, 1st place ribbon” (E. Rogers, personal communication, September 15, 2019). People who ride horses know that having “an increased understanding of the complexity of the horse and rider partnership…could facilitate enhanced performance, promote equine health and welfare, and create happy and successful horse-rider partnerships” (Tabor, Williams, 2017). A rider who has a great relationship with their horse is most likely going to succeed in the show ring.

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On occasion, I would go to my best friend’s barn with her, and while she got her horse ready to ride, I would stay back and watch her while petting the other horses that were around. I noticed how timid I was to pet them, while she was kissing their faces, and looked so comfortable. I noticed that when she is at the barn all the time, her relationship with the horses strengthens after being around them, and the horses get more and more used to the people who visit. Constantly being with them and getting used to them makes a difference while practicing and competing. In the show ring, the horse and the rider now become one unit and they have to be able to trust each other to make the right moves when they are needed and when it counts.

Following the Leader

In the world of competitive horseback riding, there are some ground rules made by the horse and rider. Having that respect and knowing the boundaries to not cross is something that is not taken lightly. Leadership is something that riders perfect in training and getting to know the horse helps with that as well. As I began to research the topic of leadership in the equestrian community, I found out that there are times when you need to let the horse lead or the rider take over. A 1200-pound animal would look more dominant, and they can be when they wants to, but the rider has the dominance and power because of the reigns controlling the horse head and the commands that are practiced in training such as “walk, trot, canter, and whoa” (Jones, 2017). With the use of these tools, the rider then has control of the horse while practicing and in competitions, “thus, horses’ responses to training are more likely a result of reinforcement during which correct responses were clearly and consistently rewarded rather than a result of humans attaining high social status and a leadership role” (Hartmann, Christensen, & McGreevy, 2017, p. 7). Understanding that leadership and dominance are only formed through practice and repetition as well as respectful habits is something that I did not know before research. When I was researching the leadership aspects of horseback riding, I would have never thought that you need to be able to give horses their space too. They work so hard and they deserve as much respect as we humans do.

A Bond That Can’t Be Broken

One of the main things that I knew before going into this research project was that horses are not animals to play around with. Many accidents have occurred while riding horses, and education and lessons are being taught every day to further strengthen the knowledge and safety when it comes to horses. The interactions that horses have with humans increase their trust in us as humans, so having that routine set for the horses is beneficial to them. Understanding that the routines or interactions are beneficial to the relationship between the horse and the rider “… may make them aware of the importance of good knowledge of basic learning rules to be able to…train the horse” (Hausberger, Rouche, Henry, & Visser, 2008, p. 18). The lessons that are being taught to the riders will help keep them safe, and the horse safe as well.

Eat, Sleep, Horses, Repeat

With the research that I have conducted, I can tell you that competitive horseback riding is a very expensive sport, and it should only be continued if it is a true passion that the rider has. Many professional horseback riders today started very young and have grown up in the sport. I found through research that they all have their eye on the 1st place prize, so they will work and work to get it. They are always finding ways to improve whether it’s buying a better-looking riding outfit or getting better equipment for their horse that makes it easier to ride. This discourse community is made up of so many different people from many different backgrounds, but they all have the same passion and drive to win. Also, they just love horses. Many riders have their coaches supervise them as they ride to help point out anything that they need to improve on. A lot of the time, the coach that is supervising is the owner of the barn. Either that, or they will have other coaches that they hire to supervise. These coaches are another reason for the riders’ success in the show ring. Without them and the connection the rider has with their horse, it can almost feel like the rider can be alone while competing. Riders are always wanting to improve and get better.

That’s All Foals

This journey of seeing what a competitive horseback rider goes through taught me so much. In the beginning, I barely knew anything, but now I know that getting your hands dirty is taken to a whole other level in this sport. I also had so many questions at first about what it takes to win in this sport. After much research and personal experiences of others, I now know. The bond between the horse and rider is so important for the overall success of the rider because the partnership and trust that is built through practice and hard work are shown in the show ring. I have learned so much about this discourse community within these short 5 months, and I will always have respect for the world of competitive horseback riding.

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