Horseback riders form deep connections with animals

Andrea Hefferan | Online Editor

Horseback riding is more than just an enjoyable pasttime for sophomores Brooke Harris and Sarah King.

The girls each have their own horse with whom they have formed a special connection through training for countless hours. For Harris, horseback riding allows her to take a break from everything going on in her life. She goes riding at least twice a week and she said it always helps her to relax.

“I like having a place away from the rest of the world,” Harris said. “My family knows that when I’m at the barn, I’m in my little zone. I like having a place to get away and be focused on something that doesn’t stress me out.”

King started taking horseback riding lessons when she was five years old. After settling on her own horse, Polly, King said she learned to work with the animal to reach her goals. 

“When I used to do lessons, you’re on a different horse every time and I didn’t get to learn or know them,” King said. “But when I finally got Polly and we developed a bond, you could really feel that we take care of each other. If one of us is out of it that day, the other one will pick up the slack and they’ll carry us through it.”

Sophomore Sarah King has developed a bond with her horse, Polly, which helps in their success.

King was initially doubtful about getting Polly, as female horses, called mares, have a reputation for being difficult when collaborating.

“In the horse world, a lot of people don’t buy girl horses because they’re ten times more stubborn,” King said. “When we first got her, we were scared of that because that’s all we heard. She is really stubborn sometimes and it’s frustrating, but the moment you get it right, it’s all worth it.”

When looking for a horse, Harris said the rider needs to ensure their personalities are compatible. In Harris’s case, her horse, Ace, prefers someone laid-back and accepting.

“I think Ace wants a quiet rider and someone that’s a little bit more patient with him,” Harris said. “He gets nervous and he needs someone to be there to calm him down. For every horse I’m around, I try to be very calm and have confidence for them and myself.”

While Ace is the horse Harris is used to riding, he has been injured for about six months and unable to train. As a result, Harris has been riding another horse, Happy, while Ace recovers. Harris does not have the same attachment with Happy as she does with Ace, however, Harris said their bond strengthens every day.

“Happy is the first mare horse that I’ve ever actually liked,” Harris said. “I’m still working on connecting with her, but her owner, Jane, has given me time with her to get to know her. When Jane goes out of town, I take care of Happy, and I find the time I have her to myself is really helpful for me to get to know her and get her routine down.”

When King first got Polly, her foot got caught in the trailer, which ripped out part of her hoof. The long wait for her to recover was frustrating for King, but she said the time allowed them to connect before they even began training.

“In the moment, we had been searching forever and ever, and our goal was to be able to ride a horse,” King said. “So when we got her and we realized that it was going to be months of medical bills and just work to keep the hoof clean and healthy, we were really put down. We thought maybe we should just start over and just send her back, but I think being persistent and feeling a bond from the start really helped.”

Sophomore Sarah King has formed a connection with her horse, Polly, during their time training.

Riding is a collaborative effort between human and horse, according to King. She said communication between them is key in order to do well.

“People say riding isn’t a sport or that the horse does all of the work,” King said. “I think what people don’t understand is if the horse did all the work and the human didn’t do anything, then the horse would just stand there or walk away and start eating grass somewhere. I think that people don’t really get how how much work you have to do when you’re riding and how much you have to communicate with an animal that doesn’t understand words.”

Despite the connections humans may have with household pets like a cat or a dog, the bond one has with a horse is vastly different, according to King. 

“I have dogs and I love them, but I don’t put my life in their hands like I do with a horse,” King said. “Every second you get on a horse you risk your life; it’s one of the most dangerous sports. You have a bond with your dog, but it’s pretty much you caring for the dog. There’s never a point where the dog is caring for you unless it’s an extreme situation. You really have more of a bond with a horse because it’s you working together at something that you’re both trying to accomplish.”

King sees Polly as her teammate, but the inability to speak to her adds a level of difficulty to the sport of horseback riding. The stronger the bond between the two, the easier it is for them to work together and succeed.

“For a football team or volleyball team or swim team, if the match doesn’t go like you wanted, afterwards you can have a team meeting and talk about it,” King said. “In horseback riding, you can’t talk to the horse, so you really have to have a connection. You need a bond that’s out of this world.”

Photos contributed by Sarah King.