Senior forges bond with horses at an early age

Senior forges bond with horses at an early age

With a kick force of over 10,000 newtons, an average gallop speed at 30 mph, and weighing around half a ton, horses can be fearful creatures. 

For some, riding on or even being near a half-ton animal is terrifying and unnatural, but for senior Landon Smith it’s a hobby. Smith says the secret to getting a horse to cooperate, especially for equestrian riding, is forming a strong partner bond with the animal.

“I’ve ridden horses ever since I was a baby,” Smith said. “I think the first time I was ever put on a horse was when I was literally six months old, but I didn’t start competing until six years ago.”

On Thursday, November 10th, Smith spent the day with his dad and his riding instructor, Sally Lobb. Their goal was to take video clips of Smith’s riding to create the submission video for a scholarship. The scholarship is through Otterbein University, and according to Smith, it is an invite only scholarship.

“It’s a scholarship that [Otterbein University] awards to people who rode horses and competed throughout high school,” Smith said, “or people who are interested in joining their riding team at the University.” 

Smith said friends were surprised to hear about the scholarship, and some didn’t even know equestrian scholarships were available. Smith doesn’t mind the obscurity of the sport, but he wishes there was more acknowledgement of the hard work that goes into it

“I think more people should really understand just how hard of a sport it is,” Smith said. “It’s an immense physical activity, you have to be physically fit and conditioned for it because not only are you having to control your own body, but you also have to control the body of a half ton animal.”

Along with being a difficult sport, Smith said the scoring guidelines are complicated as well. Much more goes into the scoring than the ability to complete a skill.

“There are different categories of riding; it’s a beauty contest and it’s a skill contest, too,” Smith said. “It’s expected to be a performance, so it can’t be choppy. You just have to look like you and your horse get along and can work as a team.”

According to Smith, the scoring categories for both rider and horse are very different and specific. Smith said the judges are always looking for the little details, Smith said posture and foot placement in the saddle are some of the most important aspects that judges look for besides skill level and execution.

“For the rider, it’s all about the body, and how professional you look, how good you look. For the horse, it’s more about movement,” Smith said. “They want to see your horse tucking their front legs up as they go over a jump and that their head is nice and low, so that their neck and their back are level.”

But minute details aren’t the only thing judges are looking for. Smith said that money, along with appearances, is also an important factor in the world of equestrian riding.

“It’s partly a money competition because, naturally, if you have more money than everyone else, you’re gonna have the best horse,” Smith said.

Smith’s past horses have been, according to him, considered lower class horses. Smith believes that such horses are easier and more exciting to work with.

“I worked better with those horses, though, because of their temperament,” Smith said. “I’m naturally high energy and so are the horses that I work with.”

Money isn’t the only behind the scenes struggle Smith has faced in his years of riding. Smith said the sport is still femininely focused, and the boys in the sport often have difficulties with sexism.

“It is rough being a boy in the sport,” Smith said, “Because trainers always want boys on their teams. Boys in the sport, to the trainers, are high worth. But then at shows and in the competition world, we usually don’t get picked. But I want to win.”

Despite the odds, Smith has competed in A-rated shows through the United States Equestrian Federation and has won grand champion in 2’9” Hunter Over Fences, 2’9” Equitation, 2’9” Hunter On-the-Flat, and more. Smith believes the feeling of winning is worth the wait and hardships.

“The satisfaction of winning at shows is like whenever you win a game, or something you’ve been really working hard on,” Smith said. “When you’re riding, you have to work even harder to win, because in the end, it’s about the balance between you and the horse.”