Remember Your Why

EN intern Taleen Hanna is a junior at Cambridge High School in Milton, Georgia, and an avid follower of the sport. In her latest column, she reflects on the “why” of eventing relative to other sports.

Taleen and Ash. Photo by GRC Photo at Stable View Horse Trials in January.

Recently I was at the barn, having a conversation with my friends about how our horses were sometimes the only thing we lived for. Yes, this sounds a little depressing, but it’s true. We agreed that they largely helped us get through the stress of school, being a teenager, and just life in general.

This piqued my interest in learning more about how horses affect us and our mental health. I can say for sure that going to the barn is vital to my sanity. I wanted to learn more about how other riders are affected by their horses.

On my Instagram, I interviewed 25 riders in total, 21 of whom said riding and their horses provided them with an outlet or a stress reliever. Four of them said that riding has impacted them in positive as well as negative ways. The competitive aspect seemed to bring about mixed feelings on whether or not it helped or harmed their riding. Ava Vojnovic said that “It showed me the competitive side of things; made me work harder. But then it also kind of brought me down because some people are really mean.” While showing can be motivating and fun, it brings the
difficulties of peer pressure and jealousy.

On the other hand, most of the riders I talked to found competing more motivating than anything. Most of us feed off of goal setting especially with our placings or levels we event. We work hard to accomplish our goals. Why? For the ribbons? To impress everyone else? Or for the horse?

I then contacted a sports psychologist to talk to. Janet Sasson Edgette completed her doctorate in clinical psychology and decided to get back into riding and competing. After doing this, she realized the importance of a rider’s mental attitude, so she began working with riders to help them with the demands of the sport. Edgette says that “rather than setting up the rider’s anxiety as this thing to be ‘beaten’ or abolished, I help the rider identify the specific ways in which her anxiety compromises her riding.”

I never thought of looking at it that way, but when you think about it, it makes sense. When you realize what makes you anxious, you have already made a huge step towards improving. This outlook on riding can definitely help to minimize or even just recognize show nerves, which is a big aspect to our riding.

Then, I wondered if other sports have the same effect on people. So, I interviewed some friends who play other sports. Katie, who dances, said that she would be more stressed if she was not dancing, since she would have more time to stress about schoolwork. Sarabeth, who plays lacrosse, said that she would be less stressed if she was not playing lacrosse because she would have more time for her academics. Caroline, who rows, feels that rowing is an outlet for her to push herself, but it is also physically and mentally draining. Lauren, a softball player, said that it affected her mental health in a negative way because when she does not do well, it takes a toll on her self esteem. She also said that “Even though the sport itself can take a mental toll on you, your teammates are always there to back you up and that is what I consider my outlet, not the sport itself.”

As equestrians, we have double the teammates. We have our horse, but we also have our fellow riders. Comparing riding to other sports, it seems like they both have the motivation factor, but the other sports lack the horse. The horse plays a crucial role in our sport.

Not just in the competing aspect, since we obviously need them for that, but they are a part of a partnership that is different than any other. The fact that we can communicate with a large animal with just our body language is incredible. We forget that sometimes. I think I can speak for most of us when I say that riding can be an outlet, but it can also be a stress inducer. Sometimes, it becomes a chore of having to ride in order to prepare for the next event. This isn’t even touching on the fact that horses are unpredictable and can injure themselves, altering our competition plans. Not being able to ride, especially due to injuries or weather, can take a huge toll on our mental health. We have our minds so set on a schedule to accomplish a certain list of goals that we are easily distraught by the bumps along the way.

After gathering this information, I realized that no matter what sport we are involved in, we push ourselves to be the best for our teammates. We do this because they are there for us; whether that be our horse or the riders we surround ourselves with. I ask you to never lose sight of why you do this.

Go Eventing.