It’s my senior year of high school – the perfect time to branch out and try new things.
One thing I always wished I had done in high school was play a school sport. I never did because riding always came first for me, and the only sports that ever really interested me were volleyball and track. But the practices for those sports were always right after school when I would ride, and they are fall and spring sports, which are my busiest riding seasons.
This year, I get out of school early every day around noon because I already have all of my required graduation credits. It has been amazing being able to go to the barn in the early afternoon instead of the late afternoon or evening when my brain is fried and all I want to do is sit down and take a nap!
I also have a decent amount of extra time now. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not sitting around twiddling my thumbs – but I have time to participate in more school activities without feeling like I’m going to mentally explode from having no free time.
So, with the perfect combination of my senior year and more free time, I decided to cross playing a sport off my bucket list – I joined the swim team!
Well, sort of. I signed up to manage the swim team.
I’m sure this sounds very random. But it all kind of just lined up – swim is a winter sport (which is when I’m the least busy with riding), I have friends on the team, I like the swim coach, and my sister already manages the swim team, so I could go with her.
At first I thought that managing would be a laid back job, and we wouldn’t really have to go to practices or meets, but I soon found out that we were truly considered to be a part of the team!
My first time at a swim meet was eye-opening. I had been to meets before, but only to watch for an hour or so. I had never sat through a swim meet in its entirety.
I couldn’t help but compare the swim meets I attended to how a horse show runs. The differences were pretty obvious, but I was actually surprised at how many similarities there are between the two. Here is my list of the main differences and similarities that I noticed.
The most obvious difference between swimming and riding is that school swim meets happen inside, in a humid pool area, whereas horse shows are usually outside, in a range of weather conditions from the sweltering heat to the bone chilling cold.
It’s quite different because the pool is always jam packed with spectators, competitors, and coaches with their screams echoing during the races. It gets LOUD. But at horse shows, everything is usually more spread out due to being outside. There might be the same number of people at a horse show and at a swim meet, but the meet is always going to appear to be more crowded because of the enclosed area.
While there is cheering at horse shows, it fades away in the wide open space. Not to mention, cheering is sometimes frowned upon due to the possibility of spooking a horse. I have to say, though, I would choose the outdoors over being stuck inside at the pool any day. (No offense to my swim teammates.)
As with most sports, there are different events within the sport itself. Not all equestrians excel at the same type of riding, and not all swimmers excel at the same strokes or events.
I think the divisions within riding are much more complicated than in swimming, but overall I found it to be the same concept.
Swim meets are divided into different “events,” just like horse shows are divided into different divisions. It took me a little while to remember what stroke was what, what an IM is (it’s an individual medley in case you were wondering), and how many laps a 500-meter race is. I wonder how long it would take a non-equestrian to figure out the different divisions at a horse show!
Attire (or lack thereof)
Another huge difference between horse shows and swim meets is the attire.
Honestly, I didn’t think much of this when I first started coming to practices and meets. It definitely caught me off guard at first, seeing people I have classes with and pass in the hallway everyday at school basically naked. It took me a few times to get used to that, but once you’re used to it, it feels kind of normal.
With riding, though, we wear such formal attire only to sweat buckets in, be rubbed on by our horse’s dirty face, get arena dust all over, or all of the above.
Obviously, there are reasons for the attire in any sport, based on performance expectations and safety, but it would be nice if riders could take a page out of a swimmer’s book and not necessarily wear less clothes (that would be weird and unsafe), but maybe make it more about functionality rather than tradition.
Pressure on Individuals
The main similarity I saw between the two sports competitions was the individual nature of them.
One nice thing about swimming is that you have your whole team right there with you, even if your events are individual and not part of a team relay.
Riding, on the other hand, is rarely team-based. Some people go to horse shows completely alone. But, in both sports, the pressure is solely on you (well, you and your horse in riding). I saw swimmers react the same way I react at horse shows – you can really only be upset at yourself if something goes wrong, or you didn’t have the performance you expected. There’s no one else to blame but yourself, and the individual nature of these sports causes athletes to put a lot of pressure on themselves.
Swimmers and Equestrians: The Commonalities
This was something I could relate to, and I found reassurance in knowing that I’m not alone, even though I feel like riding is something that none of my friends understand, to no fault of their own. But I now realize that many of my own friends struggle with the same pressure that I put on myself, and that, at the end of the day, as athletes we are really not all that different, regardless of sport.
I am so glad I got to have the experience of being on the swim team, even if I didn’t actually swim. It was so fun to be included on a team of people my age, and even if I don’t share the passion for their sport. They were all so welcoming and accommodating, teaching me the ropes of a sport that felt so foreign to me. I actually learned a lot, and it’s another memory to add to my senior year of high school. Not to mention, it confirmed that I would always rather be on a horse than in a pool!