Both riders and non-riders alike accept the fact that horseback riding is a highly dangerous sport. After four years of riding, my lengthy soccer and sailing forays seem tame in comparison. Sailboats don’t throw you out of them, and soccer balls don’t kick you (on purpose, at least). In riding, one seems to tempt danger daily. Just walking behind any horse is a risk, and getting on a horse’s back is even more of a hazard. A horse has a mind of its own, and that has proved to be a perilous element in the course of horse riding history. Why, then, did people decide to do more with horses than just walk, trot, and canter? Whoever pointed their hack at a fence and decided to jump it must have been very reckless or very brave. However, the idea of jumping seemed to have caught on, for today show jumping is one of the most exciting and well known equestrian sports. The only thing more thrilling than watching horse and rider gallop and jump over open country is actually doing so. Any form of jumping is a stimulating and somewhat frightening experience, and some critics still question why riders often risk their lives to compete in such a sport. What, exactly, is the allure of jumping?
When everything goes right, a show jumping round can be magical to watch and even more amazing to ride. However, things rarely go perfectly. Horses buck, rear, generally misbehave, and of course, the rider is another story. We muddle distances, add or delete strides in lines, and often, totally forget the course. It’s clear that show jumping is a highly frustrating sport, as proved by going to any local schooling show, where beginners will often exit the arena in tears, having forgotten a course or fallen off their mounts. I myself did the impossible once and totally forgot a simple hunter course. My horse didn’t help by gnashing his teeth and bucking, but that is all part of the sport.
I suppose the horrible, embarrassing rounds that entail falls, chips, forgotten courses, and flying rails only make a rider more fervent for that perfect round. When I turn in a mediocre round, my next one is even better, both because I know what not to do and because I am even more determined to improve. However, that “perfect” ride is ever elusive, most likely due to the fact that two beings, horse and rider, must work in perfect harmony and both be at the top of their games to deliver a truly winning round. It is rare that both will be at their very best at the same moment, but when they are, the results are magnificent.
When horse and rider truly become one, the rest of the world seems to fall away. In that moment, a rider feels enmeshed with their horse, like their very souls overlap and create one united force. I cannot think of any other equestrian discipline that allows for such a union more than jumping. When jumping a horse, we control it to the base of the jump, then essentially hand our life over to the horse. It is a truly liberating experience to take flight and leave the confines of gravity, if only for a few seconds, on an animal so utterly earthbound. The feeling of raw power as a horse takes off, is suspended in flight, and then kicks out to clear a jump is a feeling without comparison.
Those who are able to turn in a winning round often feel they are capable of most anything; the ability to guide a half ton animal over a winding course of tricky jumps is something few people in the world can do, and even fewer people can do well. Therefore, riding that perfect, flowing round is a concrete goal that stands before every rider. The union between horse and rider that enables such rounds is the allure of any horse riding discipline. Bouncing through combinations, slicing over oxers, and soaring across water jumps, however, heightens that experience, and provides pure exhilaration and fulfillment. This common goal unites all riders, and creates a standard that all dream of reaching. Essentially, despite how dangerous the sport of jumping may be, riders will continue to soar over towering jumps in constant pursuit of that elusive unity between human and beast, a union with no comparison.