Riders and Writers


What I’m reading: Gnome on the Range by Jennifer Zane       http://tinyurl.com/c4yztwh

While watching a video of an Olympic equestrian contest, I nearly fell out of my chair at a commentator’s remark to the effect that “the riders weren’t really athletes.” After regaining my equilibrium, I came to the conclusion the guy must never have ridden at a competitive level. What was even more jaw-dropping was he made the comment about a rider in Three-Day Eventing—the equestrian equivalent of the triathlon.

As the name implies, a three-day consists of three separate competitions whose scores are combined to determine the winner. The first day is a dressage test, the second is a cross-country race against time over jumps, and the third is jumping in an arena.

On the first day, the horses are well aware of what is coming and most will be eagerly anticipating the exciting cross-country. But in a dressage test, the horse and rider must execute a series of precise movements at specific points within a small arena. Even the slightest error adds to your overall score. (Eventing is scored sort of like golf. Lowest number of errors wins.) So you have to get your horse into a quiet, relaxed mode where it is listening to you and concentrating on the dressage moves. This can be quite a challenge and at times the riders look like they are mounted on powder kegs ready to explode. To achieve the calm focus, you must be still and quiet, and communicate with subtle, precise cues, which require superb muscle control.

Day two, the horses and riders gallop plus or minus four miles at top speed over varied terrain while jumping 40-45 solid and challenging obstacles. The horses have to be extremely fit, amazingly courageous and highly motivated. To ride an equestrian athlete of this level, you have to be equally fit, courageous and motivated. Among other things, you ride most of the course in what is called a two-point position, where you are partially standing in the stirrups with your seat out of the saddle while maintaining your balance over hills, drops, water, or whatever else the designers throw at you. And this is not counting the jumps themselves. Can you say wet noodle legs by the end?

Since every movement of your body affects the horse’s balance and ability to perform, you need tremendous core strength to keep still and not interfere. You also need strong legs, as I mentioned earlier, and strong arms to control and sometimes contain an overly excited, 1200 pound animal that has a mind of its own. As a result, most competitive riders do extensive aerobic and strength training, cross-train in another sport, and spend hours each day on a variety of horses, perfecting their skills.

The last day is the show jumping phase, where the horses must negotiate a demanding, intricate jump course within a specified time. Knocking down a rail or refusing to jump affects your score. These jumps are much higher and closer together than those of the previous day, which add to their difficulty. Again, balance and control are imperative.

To make it even more demanding, many of the top riders compete more than one horse at a time. This means double the physical effort and double the mental stress of having to get the best out of distinctly different equine personalities. Don’t tell me these riders aren’t athletes!

Of course, most casual riders, like most weekend skiers or tennis players, aren’t superbly fit athletes. And lots of people have taken horse rides where they’ve just been passengers, so they tend to think that’s all there is to riding. They couldn’t be more wrong. To compete in any sport, including equestrian events, it takes dedication and skill and athletic prowess.

This attitude reminds me of the mindset writers often encounter when talking to non-writers. Most people have no concept of the effort, dedication and hair-pulling mental agony writers go through for their art. The off-hand dismissive, “anyone can do that” attitude is infuriating to say the least.

Have you experienced this kind of put-down? What has been the most objectionable or ignorant comment that you’ve had to deal with?

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “Riders and Writers

  1. Great post, Kate! I have certainly heard “riding is not really exercise” from doctors who suggested I should stick to aerobics. Yeah, like I was going to spend my time indoors when I had a horse to ride!
    And as a writer…OMG a ROMANCE writer…the subtle or not so subtle put downs are amazing. In particular “I’m sure one day you will be a real writers, and your books will come out in hard cover.” And this from an artist, who should have been aware of the value of the creation, not the packaging.

    • Looks like I hit a nerve. 🙂
      I’ve gotten both of those types of comments too. If I mention I belong to RWA, I immediately have to justify it by talking about all the great classes and info they offer. Otherwise I get the superior smirk.

  2. marsharwest

    Interesting post, Kate. It reminds me there are so many “worlds” out there that most of us know little about. My “little” about English riding & competition comes from some years in middle and early high school when my dad was stationed in Puerto Rico. Several families on base had horses and they had competitions like you describe. Having lived in Texas most of my life, I thought the saddles looked really odd. LOL
    Another example inspired by the Olympics was when my now grown daughters were little and got involved in gymnastics, We sat glued to the TV watching Nadia and Olga and Mary Lou. I remember at one point diuring the girls’ competitions recognizing that a “world” had existed totally outside my sphere of knowledge–terminology, rules, point system. I guess that’s true of lots of activities.
    And the commentator you mention above, clearly didn’t know what he was talking about! The real guy must have been sick, and the network pulled in a poor substute,
    Thanks for an interesting post and a reminder not to speak about stuff if we don’t know much about it. Oh, if we could all just learn this lesson. LOL

  3. Nice post, Kate. And soooo true. I take a lesson each week on my 1,425-pound horse and NO ONE can tell me that I’m just sitting there, doing nothing. I’m not an athlete, for sure, but I’m more fit than I used to be because of the riding. As you said, controlling an animal of that size who is “ready to go” is a task that not everyone and most cannot do.
    Same with writing. I’m proud that I’ve written books that I think people will want to read. Can everyone do that? No. Everyone has a talent.

    • Patti, that’s so nice you are having fun with your guy. 1425 pounds? Wow!
      I’ve always been strong for a woman because of having horses most of my life. It does make a difference.

  4. It is fascinating to learn about all the “other worlds” out there, isn’t it? And the Olympics are a great source. I definitely agree about not commenting on stuff you really don’t know about. But everybody does it, of course. 🙂

  5. Laura

    I’ve been a horse rider most of my life, cowboy style! People who don’t ride don’t get it. But people who sit in an anchor chair should know better. People who sit in a desk chair think they know about writing, just ask them when they sit in their Easy Chair! A little research, will bring
    a little empathy!

    • So true, Laura. Unless you’ve actually done it, it’s really easy to have uninformed opinions. After all “the words are all in the dictionary. You just have to put them together.” 🙂

  6. KB Inglee

    The rider has to do all that while making it look like it’s effortless, which leads to dumb comments. The worst I ever heard was from a very well known anouncer who, when the horse was eliminated at a vet check, said, that’s not fair; why don’t they just get him another horse?

  7. The ignorance – let alone the pride in ignorance — about riding and how athletic it really is often astounds me. One thing I’ve noticed about this coverage of Olympic dressage is that some of the slo-mo replays include close-ups of the rider’s hands while subtle movements are made on the reins. I appreciate seeing that and that audiences get to see that and may even realize the riders aren’t simply passengers. These announcers and the TV producers should do more homework if they’re assigned an equestrian sport. But we all know THAT’s not going to happen. #sleepygrumpymorning

  8. That focus on the hands is interesting, Rhonda. Maybe it will increase understanding a little. I’m really enjoying the quality of the horses and riders this time. Quite lovely.

  9. I can’t believe that commentater. I hope he received lots of flak about his ignorant comment. Hopefullly, he’ll issue an apology.

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