What Riding Horses Has Taught Me Beyond the Ring


Catherine Souza '18, Contributing Writer

When I first put my foot in a stirrup at Carlie Cichocki’s ‘18 house when I was four years old, I knew that riding was all I wanted to do. Convincing my mom that I really did not want to play soccer, dance or do gymnastics was difficult, but it was the best thing I ever did. Horseback riding has taught me more than I could have ever imagined.

When I entered the High Rock Stables lesson program as a very little, but determined, five year old, I had no idea that this sport would change every aspect of my life for the better. I made countless sacrifices for my animals, but I do not regret a single one. I have now missed two Semis, a Field Day, and countless other parties among family and friends simply because riding comes first in my life. I have never participated in an extracurricular activity or played a sport because riding takes up ALL of my time.

Throughout my 11 years of riding, I have encountered many great triumphs and many defeats, but my love for the sport pushes me through difficult times. One of the most special, yet at many times exasperating, aspects of horseback riding is that one deals with a 10,000 pound flight animal with a mind of its own. This can result in some pretty frustrating days. There are days I feel defeated. There are days my whole body aches when I get off. There are days that I just give up and try again another day. There are days that make you want to quit. It is the challenge that makes riding horses so special.

Horses are very special animals who have unconditional love and seem to always know when you need them. During stressful weeks at school, many student athletes will cut back on their practices or even take the week off. That is not an option for equestrians: When I miss more than one day of riding a week, it affects my horse’s performance and behavior. For me, riding is my outlet; it allows me to relax. As soon as I put my foot in the stirrup, my focus dissipates any worries I had during the day.

During most of January and February, I was in Ocala, Florida, riding and training with my horses. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and I had memorable fun. I spent every day with the horses, building a better relationship with them, and most importantly, improving my riding.

While I was in Florida, I spent a lot of time at the ring helping, watching, and learning from the other girls with whom I train. It was a really great experience to be able to share what I love and give so much up for among others girls who do the same. I was able to watch some of the Saturday night classes which take place under the lights in the HITS Ocala Horse Properties Stadium. These classes were either Grand Prix or International Hunter Derbies. A grand prix is a two-round class with olympic-sized jumps (1.60M or 5ft 2in); it is only scored on the number of rails that fall or if you go over the allotted time. These classes usually happen on Saturday night.

The International Hunter Derby took place during Week 4; this is a hunter competition, judged on the horse’s style and form throughout the course. This was especially cool for me because these is the type of classes in which I compete. I had the opportunity to see in action the US all-time earnings leader in the  Hunter class, as well as the horse who won the the $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals last year.

On the plane ride home from my interim in Florida, I had time to reflect on the impact my horses have had on me and my life. Riding has taught me the importance of hard work, and I have been able to see my hard work pay off. Despite my horses taking me away from my friends and family, being an equestrian definitely keeps me off the couch and allows me to have a good workout everyday. Riding has taught me to never ever give up, even when I really want to. It has taught me that there really are no excuses, and I must own all my mistakes. It has helped me learn to be disciplined, neat, and organized. It has taught me to budget my time. It has taught me to work well with others and take criticism. Riding horses has taught me more than I could have ever imagined it could, and I cannot see myself without it.