Mom? Dad? Can I pet the pony? Please?
For most of us horse people, it all starts here. The first “yes,” and then we experience it. The shining eyes, the feel of soft hair, the scent of warm horse, the slow breeze of warm breath. We are children, and sometimes older than children. We are caught on the hook of the drug that has no rehab, a love from which there is no escape.
Can I ride your horse? Yes.
Whether a generous friend or lesson barn, there still needs to be a yes so the journey can start. The lifelong journey of learning about these creatures that teach us as much about ourselves as themselves. Often we learn more about ourselves, and the yes comes as much from the horse as anyone. Until we own our own horse, the yes must continue or the journey comes to an end.
Can I buy your horse? Yes.
And the partnership starts, one closer than between most people. An often wordless communication of glance and feel, pressure and release, weight and lightness. We talk to them constantly, but they only hear what we truly mean when we don’t even know it ourselves.
Horse sport is founded on “yes.” Every discipline depends on the evaluation of the quality and enthusiasm of the yes. Will you jump this? Yes. Will you meet this challenge? Yes. Can you perform this move at this gait? Yes. Can you move in unison with your horse? Yes. Anything you can do, I can do better. My horse and I say yes better than you. That’s the essence of horse sport, and we rejoice in it. There is nothing better than the high of the simultaneous “yes.” People in horse sports chase that high endlessly trying to repeat or exceed it.
But horses and the sport don’t come cheap, and as a result, we’ve watched many disciplines shrink for years. But not so long ago, even in little old Nova Scotia, far from the hubs of equestrian sport, I remember the days where eventers competed to preliminary, the 4′ hunters had a dozen entries, the 3′ hunters had 30-plus competitors, the large pony classes were 20-plus. Even flat classes were 25-plus in the ring and only split to hand gallop. Those got exciting in the spring, wow. Even school horses jumped and competed in the 3′ and 3’6″ divisions.
The infiltration of “no.”
No, you can’t jump higher than 2′ on a school horse; you have to lease or buy something.
No, you can’t compete without this helmet, this saddle, this bridle, this brand.
No, your equipment is the wrong color.
No, your horse is the wrong color.
No, you can’t ride outside of the ring. It’s DANGEROUS.
No, you can’t jump higher or move up a level without a new horse.
No, the horse you came with isn’t “good enough.”
No, you can’t ride with this equipment that works for your injury, wear and tear, damage after a lifetime given to the sport.
With every “no” we eat away at the heart of the sport and erode the base on which it is founded. With every “no,” people vote with their feet. They leave disciplines. They leave horse sport. They even leave horses behind entirely. We can cry tradition, and liability, and safety, and, “What about the children?” all we want, but at the end of the day? Horse sport is a shrinking sport with an aging sport community. Every dispirited adult is one more person who doesn’t bring their friend, their child, their friend’s child into the sport. We’ve been fighting a losing battle for decades, and the only way I’ve ever seen to turn the tide? Restore the culture of “yes.”
Yes, you can join.
Yes, you can wear your funny-colored breeches.
Yes, you can use that old saddle.
Yes, you can ride your old beloved horse, and I will still teach you.
Yes, we will interpret the rules in the least restrictive way possible.
Yes, we will find a way to let you ride with the equipment you need for your injuries.
Yes, you can sit with us.
Yes, we support you.
Just say yes.
Owner and trainer at T3 Equestrian in Windsor, Nova Scotia, Erica Saunders is a 40ish-year-old lifelong rider and researching fool who loves odd details and horses. After fooling her parents into riding lessons many moons ago she has continued her quest for balancing life and farm with a motley crew of furry critters, an easy-going partner, and some very dumb guinea fowl. The whole bunch can be followed at https://www.facebook.com/T3Equestrian.