Building life skills through horseback riding

This week’s guest blogger is Jen Dresdow, Camp Runoia’s Equestrian Director.  Horseback riding is a huge part of Jen’s life.   When she is not managing Camp Runoia’s riding program she is a team coach for IEA.

Jen Dresdow coaching one of her students.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

~ Theodore Roosevelt

Runoia riders after a show

This past weekend I both coached my team at and organized the Zone 5 Region 7 Finals for the Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA). IEA is a program for 6-12 grade students that allows them to compete in the equestrian sport without owning a horse. Riders draw horses provided by the hosting barn and are judged on their riding skills, called equitation, alone. This is my fifth year coaching a team and my daughter, Natalie, is in her fourth year of showing IEA.

Regional Finals is a show for the riders who earned 18 points or more during the regular season. The top riders and team from regionals will compete at Zone Finals in three weeks for a shot at making it to the National Finals in April.

Choosing to compete in any sport takes courage and hard work. Dr. Brené Brown describes vulnerability as the willingness to be “all in” even when you know it can mean failing and hurting.  Being judged on your equitation, which while there are standards, is subjective to the judge’s personal taste. While ribbons and trophies are fun, and riders learn the value of working hard towards a goal, I feel the most important lessons learned in the IEA ring are that it’s okay to take chances and learning how to process both success and failure.

We participate in horse shows at camp, both our own Blue/White show, and at other camps. Our campers set a personal goal before a show. Maybe it’s getting their diagonals, picking up the correct leads, or finding all the right distances to the jumps. We don’t dwell on how they placed in the class, but did they work on achieving their goal. We also celebrate their courage in trying.

My IEA team riders transform when they put on their show clothes. They go from silly teenagers to poised young adult. They climb aboard a 1200 pound animal with a mind of its’ own and pilot it over jumps, all while maintaining the correct body position knowing a person they’ve never met is judging their every move. I am always in awe of their audacity and I’m reminded of Dr. Brown’s saying, “Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.” I am incredibly lucky to be surrounding by young women both in the IEA and at camp who “dare greatly”.