No Horsing Around

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By: Mallory St. Claire <[email protected]>

Most teenagers ask for cars for their 16th birthdays. Most teenagers do not get a magnificent black Friesian stallion instead; but such was the case for sophomores Alison and Kristina Mulry.

The twins, who have been participating in sports with animals for 10 years, have a horse named George, who was born in Norway and measures eight-and-a-half feet tall. George is shared between the twins.

According to the American Youth Horse Council, 15 million people over the age of 12 ride horses. Animal sports are different from regular sports because contact with another living organism forms a bond between them.

“It’s so different because you are doing something with a partner, except you don’t always know what that partner wants you to do,” senior Rachel Hill, who rode horses up until her freshman year, said.

“The horse, in essence, is just like another person, but they know what they’re doing so much better than you. It takes a certain kind of personality to be able to work with them well. You can’t force him to do anything; you’re only asking him nicely and trusting to accept what you ask him and do it,” Hill said.

For the Mulry sisters, they said working with George is an enjoyable part of their lives.The sisters have participated in competitions such as the All American Classic and the Heartland Classic – even in shows hosted in the Fieldhouse.

“Horseback riding teaches you responsibility,” Kristina said. “We have to clean and maintain George. In the summer, after training, it takes an hour and a half just to towel him off.”

Alison and Kristina attend practice just like any other sport. At Laurelwood Stables, where the twins board George, they have 30- minute lessons with their trainer, Kathy Conflenti. During their sessions, they learn how to control the horse, taking him through walk, trot and canter positions. The girls have to brush and pick George out after every training session.

“Horseback riding is a good activity and you have something else to interact with,” Alison said. “When you’re bored, you have somebody to talk to. Like a pet.”

According to Conflenti, horseback riding imparts the ideal of teamwork, only in a different way. “It’s a team of communication,” Conflenti said. “The rider’s got to be reading what the horse is saying, and the horse has to respond. It’s the ultimate communication.”

Conflenti works with teens from all walks of life and said it is a good sport for people who don’t do well in traditional team sports. Like other team sports, horseback riding imparts self confidence and athleticism along with the additional bond gained by working with an animal, she said. “Horseback riding is more aerobic than people give it credit for,” Conflenti said.

“It’s a good core workout: stomach, thighs, backside. I have adults who are very athletic and who come to me saying how much they ache after a session.” Hill said. “Lots of people don’t realize it because they think that the horse does all the work. But actually when a horse walks, your legs are actually moving like they would if you were the one that was actually walking. It’s an amazing thigh builder too.”

Furthermore, Hill said she recalls the connection she had with horses from when she used to ride. Hill competed on a horse named Bobby who would bite anyone in the barn except for her. Hill said the two looked good together and won more competitions than any other horse she rode.

“I think the bond does enhance the sport,” Hill said. “You have to know the animal you’re riding. Horses are very different when they compete, so you have to know both sides to them. They know when it’s show time and they definitely show it off. The bond between the two of you is what’s going to show to the judges and get you the blue,” she said. Downsides of sports with animals include expensive upkeep, dirty chores and potential injuries.

“Horses are expensive,” Kristina said. “Monthly fees for boarding and training run to $800 per month. Shows have costs – suit, tack, entry fees, traveling. There are unforeseen vet problems. His shoes are $100 every six weeks.” Furthermore, Alison said, “You have to deal with the gross aspects, like picking his feet out.”

However, both Conflenti and Hill agree that the character building and experience overshadow the monetary cost and chores it takes to participate in animal sports. “Everyone should experience it,” Hill said. “The bond that it takes to do it, the lesson of hard work that it takes to practice and take care of your animal. It’s a huge life- changing experience and I think that it definitely teaches life lessons that you can’t learn anywhere else.”