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Usually around this season, July, to be specific, there’s generally hype around a prestigious event that hosts the ‘creme dela crème’ of the country’s elite society and a majority of South African celebrities. Of course, this being one of the industries that are badly affected by the pandemic as it relies on the buzzing activities that fill up the city, with the famous tagline, ‘All Roads Lead to Durban’ shining the spotlight on it, perhaps we can take a little time off this year and get to know what the equestrian sport and lifestyle is really about.

If you’ve been thinking about venturing into horse riding, wondering if there are any benefits to the lifestyle itself, or are just curious about what it’s all really all about, then keep on reading as Busisiwe Sebiloane, Co-owner and Operations Director for Misty Meadows SA, an equestrian estate situated just outside Pretoria, brings us into the world of horse riding. 

But before we continue exploring the equestrian lifestyle, here’s a quick glossary, Busisiwe complied – words and phrases horse riders use that can be quite bizarre for beginners:

  • Equine – relating to horses, zebras, and asses, 
  • Gait – the way a horse walks/moves, 
  • Breed – a particular type of horse, 
  • Tack – horse gear (e.g., bridle, saddle), 
  • Groom – a person who takes care of horses, 
  • Saddle – a seat fastened on a back of an animal made of leather, 
  • Farrier – a horseshoe smith, specialist in hoof care, 
  • Dressage – the art of training a horse to exhibit obedience, balance, and discipline, 
  • Gallop – a horses fastest pace, 
  • Pony – a horse of a small breed (not a young horse!), 
  • Mane – the long hair growing on the neck (can be braided and decorated), 
  • Halter – the harness placed around the head used to lead, 
  • Stallion – an uncastrated adult male horse, 
  • Mare – adult female horse, 

What Exactly Is The Equestrian Lifestyle All About?

According to Sebiloane, it purely depends on what the word lifestyle means to you, “I’ll give you my take.

That phrase Equestrian Lifestyle is comprised of two words: Equestrian – a word derived from equine, which relates to horses and its cousins, zebras, and asses. Lifestyle – A way of life. So, the phrase loosely means living a life that is largely influenced by the love of horses”, she states.

Sport Or Lifestyle?

Sebiloane explains that there is a thin line between the two. “To be a good equestrian sport-person (whether casual or professional), you have to live the lifestyle. Lifestyle in the context of living your life with the horse and forging that relationship. That’s how you thrive in the sport. Just imagine a horse in a race with its jockey – during the race, they literally become one”, she explains.

Is It A Sport For The Elite?

“As much as high profile events like the Durban July, the Polo shows, and other prestigious equestrian events tend to focus on finer things in life, they most often have very little to do with the horse itself”, says Sebiloane. “Owning a horse does not come cheap. The cost is quite high, and this makes the equestrian lifestyle inaccessible to most people. Children who are fortunate enough to be in schools or communities that offer equestrian sport are forced to use horses that belong to riding schools or liveries. So yes, this lifestyle becomes synonymous to the elite solely because of affordability”, she highlights. 

What Are The Benefits of The Equestrian Lifestyle?

People take up horse riding for different reasons but adopting it as a lifestyle has its own benefits. 

Sebiloane shares the following benefits:

  • Companionship:

As much as horses need companions, they too are good companions. They are herd animals and are what we as humans call communal. They love company and love being company to others. It can be another horse, a dog, a goat, or a human. A horse is a true friend that is very sensitive to aura and feelings. A horse becomes your best friend, you can tell it everything and no one will ever know it (wink).

The relationship with a horse is built over time. You have to make plenty of time when it grazes, maintaining a calm yet stern demeanour around them because yes they can be naughty. Once this bond has been formed you have found yourself a true BFF.

  • Health Benefits:

This life keeps you physically active and we all know the benefits of an active lifestyle. The horse needs to be groomed by ensuring that it has a clean stable, it needs to be fed, you need to check for safety hazards where it grazes. Raking hay and pushing trolleys, wheelbarrows, and water buckets will definitely keep you moving. Riding helps with strengthening your core muscles, balance, and being alert. All of these combined, will keep you healthy. Even if you have all the money in the world nothing beats doing these now and then. 

  • Mental Health and Reduction of Stress:

You are bound to spend hours out in the open fields when you have a horse. The hustle and bustle of our lives are forced to slow down in this environment. You have ample time to discover yourself and process feelings and situations. You are calmer and less stressed. Who doesn’t want that? Yes, there are stressful times like when your horse is ill or injured but that comes with the territory.

Equestrian Sport Disciplines

There are several Equestrian sport disciplines, explains Sebiloane.

  • Dressage
  • Working Equitation
  • Jumping
  • Eventing
  • Vaulting
  • Rodeo
  • Horse Racing 

“Each discipline is different and requires specific training and skills. Let’s just look at one, Jumping – This is a competitive sport with semi disciplines but basically, you train your horse to overcome obstacles on the track. These obstacles can be high jumps, hunting for objects. The track will be built to test the horse and rider’s ability to overcome these obstacles with prowess and grace”, she explains. 

Sebiloane wraps up by indicating that there’s a need for the sport to be made accessible to more people. “There are plenty of challenges but it’s nothing that we cannot overcome if we bring resources, skills, and access to expose more black girls and boys. If this can be corrected, we could be singing a different tune in the next five-ten years. This is not only an active sporting participation but management and relevant associations.

For more information about Misty Meadows SA, visit www.mistymeadowssa.co.za or check them out on FB: Misty Meadows Equestrian, IG: @misty_meadowssa.