By Kai Ohata
Even if you are completely unfamiliar with equestrian, you do not need any kind of background information to be amazed by the beauty and the excellence of the sport; just one glance at the horse and rider working together will take your breath away. Their sophisticated movements in dressage, or brave jumps over high obstacles are something that shows not only the great athletic ability of the horse and rider but also their mutual trust in one another.
To introduce some of the various disciplines of equestrian sports, there are three well-known ones that you can watch in the Olympics: dressage, show jumping and eventing. In dressage, the horse and rider perform some predetermined patterns of movement. This is like figure skating on horseback, and when performed well, it is very visually appealing. In show jumping, they sometimes jump over 160cm-high obstacles. Eventing is a complex discipline combining elements of dressage, jumping and cross-country. Some disciplines take a lot of courage while others need sensitivity to graceful movements, but what they all require is something above physical capability: trust in each other, confidence in ones ability.
I am charmed by this beautiful sport. When I visited the equestrian club of the university as a freshman, the first time I saw club members jumping on horseback immediately I made my mind up to join the club. Since then, I have practiced riding horses and have been taking care of them almost every day. Every time I see the horses I always feel like I am able to learn from them.
If perhaps you were thinking riding a horse is something similar to riding a motorcycle, you are completely wrong. When you ride a horse you do not manipulate or operate them, nor even order them, for that matter. Indeed, like when driving a motorcycle, we usually use our hands (that are connected with metal mouthpieces through reins) and legs and some other parts of our body to let them know what we want from them. But we call these means an aid. This is symbolic because we think we are helping, rather than ordering, horses to move voluntarily and in synchronization with the rider.
The horses are far stronger than humans, and if they want to go against us we have no way to stop them. The horse is not only strong but also a sensitive animal and this makes it much more difficult for us to help them to move as we wish. (It takes years of practice just to move horses smoothly.) However it is the very same features that make riding a horse a great pleasure as well as attractive sport. Above all, what will strike you about the horses is that they are kind and patient enough to let us know the pleasure and joy of cooperating with them and of doing something special that could not be done without cooperation.
Kai Ohata is a second-year student at the University of Tokyo.