While Equestrian Sport is a 50-50 Partnership Between the Horse and Rider, the Scales of Care are Imbalanced
Riders deserve the health care afforded other athletes. They are a special group of athletes whom I greatly admire due to the unusual and grueling demands placed on them. The complexities of being a rider /athlete, extend far beyond the challenges of other athletes.
I’ve seen riders drive 10-12 hours to a competition or clinic, skimp or skip breakfast, eat a bag of Doritos, a banana, and drink a diet coke after they stop for gas. Drinking enough water is rare. Dinner is usually eaten quite late into the evening or night, because once they reach their destination, acting alone, or with the help of a groom, they have to unload, set up the stalls, feed, water, muck, ride and do all the jobs required to care for their equine partner.
By the time all of this work is accomplished, it may be 8pm, and their first ride may be scheduled at 8am the next day. However, they have to be back to the barn by 6am to feed, muck, braid, water, walk a course, and ride the horse to warm up before the competition.
The above scenario is all too common. The demands the sport places on the equestrian athlete are greater than other sports, simply by the nature of partnering with a horse. Interestingly, riders have solid standards of care for their horses. For example, grooms or riders receive prizes for their horse being the best groomed or conditioned. Yet, in comparison, the groom or rider presenting the horse is usually not in the same top condition as the horse they are presenting!
Not long ago a trainer asked me to work on some of her horses. She also asked if I could work on her as well. When I arrived at the barn, the trainer had a minor incident and was wearing a soft cast on her hand. She said she knew I had a time constraint and told me unconvincingly, “I will be all right, the horses are more important than the people”.
The culture of the equestrian sport accepts and allows for this grueling life of an equine athlete. However, individuals create and change cultures. I propose that a new culture evolve that supports the health care of every individual rider whereby all dimensions of a rider’s life is addressed so they remain healthy and competitive long term. If I had one wish, I would hope for rider’s to take care of themselves better, such as getting more rest, eating balanced meals, and to be easier and softer on themselves in any way possible. That goes for me as well. As Jack Meagher used to say, “ Athletes should not have to wait to be injured to be treated.”
Borrowed from my article Who Cares About The Rider, by JoAnn Wilson, The Chronicle of the Horse. January 9, 2009.