I Didn't Care for Equitation. Now I Do. Here's What Changed. November 14 2014

My wife, Lindsay, has been riding since she was nine. I've always made an effort to be involved, and to take an interest in all things equestrian, but I really didn't get it. What were the judges actually looking at? How can they tell who's doing well and who's doing poorly? And what's with the dinky organ music?

Well, this year I had a pretty unique opportunity, in helping Lindsay organize the NHS "Good Hands" Finals at the Mid-America Mane Event horse show. And now I think I'm starting to get it. This time, here's what I saw:

Spending a few days filming this event, and then spending a few more watching the footage as I edited it, I was really struck by three things I'd never noticed before.

1. The Precision of Equitation

Watching the eventual champion, Aleia, walk her pattern with Erin before anyone had entered the arena, I was surprised to see how much attention they paid to every detail. Every turn was thoroughly thought through, and every pause was careful and deliberate. Seeing the competitors perform their patterns, I couldn't help but appreciate how precise that attention to detail made every movement, for both horse and rider.

2. The Intensity of the Competition

As Allison Lambert says in the video, "the girls work so hard." What's more, they care so much about how they do. Walking individual patterns in front of a panel of judges and a crowd of onlookers takes incredible competitive spirit. One interesting thing that Jessie Wuesthoffen said, which we couldn't quite fit into the video, was that she found herself naturally distancing herself from the other riders last year, even though they were (and are) her friends. But this complicated intensity has an equally empathetic upside (that hug!) and feeling of mutual respect.

3. The Horsies

Horses are cool. Everyone gets that. But this was an absolutely amazing group of horses. I mean that first shot - look at that face! But it's also amazing when you begin to see how attuned they are to the feelings of their riders. They get just as nervous, and just as excited. And they show it, especially when compared to the restraint of an equitation rider.

So I think it's fair to say that I'm starting to get it. Except, maybe, the organ music.