There I go again...putting "fun" in quotations. Hey, for those of you that ride, you KNOW why that is! LOL For those of you that don't, riding is fun in the same way that a serious visit to the local gym is fun. It is hard work. Even when you aren't riding, horses are work; you clean the stall and paddock, you maintain the barn area, you groom the horse, you carry feed and hay and tack, etc.--it is physical (well, except for those of us that pay to have all that done for them). But even those of us that pay for all the extraneous physical work, there is no getting around the physical aspect of the riding itself. And all of you who don't ride, who are thinking "what do you mean, physical....the horse does all the work; you just sit there", I laugh hysterically, and then say, "let me give you a lesson sometime". (Seriously, I would love to....call me) But I digress.
In spite of the work, riding is exhilerating. It allows you to run faster, jump higher, and be more graceful than you ever thought possible. It allows you to dance, and allows for an unspoken yet deeply personal partnership with another species. It allows more than a communication--it is a connection and understanding that is more profound than anything else I have experienced.
If I sound like I am waxing poetic, well, so be it. It is the truth.
But this relationship does not come easily. It is like a marriage, in that it requires commitment, empathy, patience, forgiveness, flexibility, persistence, focus, firmness, gentleness, and understanding. And no one thing is more important than the other. They are all absolutely imperative. Some say that it is too bad that horses can't talk, but I am thinking it is a good thing. Not only are the 911 lines not overburdened with complaints of abuse because Silver didn't get his dinner at 5pm sharp, but seriously, it forces us to find a way to make ourselves understood on a deeper level than merely speaking louder and louder at our partner.
This is riding, whether you compete or not.
In my opinion, there is no such thing as "competition riding", but that phrase is a covert insult (and well-deserved) to people who take any means or trick necessary to get an "appearance" for the show-ring. This rarely works at all, and never works for long. Head-sets are a perfect example. There is no principle of good training/riding involved in repeatedly yanking on a bit or applying artificial devices (think drawreins, chambons, gogues, tie-downs, etc.) to get a horse to lower its head and neck and "tuck his nose". This doesn't address (and, in effect, detrimentally affects) the rest of the body. That is only one example. There is a very long list of others.
I believe the reason for the existence of horse shows is to exhibit correct training. It is not a place to find out how much you think you know, or to overface your horse to gauge how much you are lacking. It is a place to show off what you and your horse absolutely know and have talent for compared to an ideal standard. It is the recital....you have prepared your horse and yourself; you know the routine and the qualities behind it and the reasons for it so that will get you the best outcome possible that day. You are compared against the preparedness and talent of other horses/riders, so set yourself up for success.
Get the best instruction available to you, prepare your horse and yourself AT HOME, get it right consistently and solidly beforehand, and then go show what you know! That is when it is the most fun--notwithstanding all the additional work it is. LOL
Competition isn't for everyone, but I do believe it is important. It will develop goal-setting, sportsmanship, teamwork, organization, timing, scheduling, and time-management, in addition to the qualitites mentioned above in the fourth paragraph (about the relationship with your horse). This is important in life in general. If parents knew what life-skills could be learned from horses, they would be pushing their kids into quality lessons from the second that "I want a pony" is first uttered.
I am a better person for having horses in my life. I am more well-rounded, more worldly, more empathetic, more accepting, more confident, more fit, communicate better, and am more of a leader than I think I ever would have been without them. I am also a better learner, and a better teacher because of them. And I know how to love.
So, no matter what your age or circumstance, take a chance. Get out and learn to ride from a quality instructor, include competition at some point, and keep learning. Riding is a lifetime commitment, but it is a commitment I couldn't live without.