European Youth Portal
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Fancy a ride? Yes? Here’s your horse

© Astrid van Wesenbeeck photography -
A brief history of the human-horse relationship, rivalry, hippotherapy, horse doping, and a talking horse loved by millions, or a few words about horse riding (and more)

Back in the day

While dog is the oldest friend of humans, it was the horse that has played a significant role in the history – the horse was often a decisive factor in winning the battle (an army without heavy cavalry was usually the losing army), and helped Europeans conquest “new worlds”. And even in ancient times, horses were ridden or harnessed for sport. Harness racing was the highlight of the Greek Olympics, and also equestrian vaulting was known in ancient Rome (though the name itself is much more recent), where one of the competitions at the Olympics were stunts on a galloping horse. Equestrian disciplines have developed dynamically over the last century, but horse racing has, of course, been popular for several centuries. Did you know that doping was first time detected in... horses? In the eighteenth century, in England. Obviously, the horses themselves did not cheat. The very severe punishment was given to four jockeys... they ended up in the gallows.

Eventing at the Olympics

Eventing is an Olympic equestrian discipline. It is composed of the following trials: dressage, cross-country, and show jumping – thus, it is a combination of three disciplines. You can compete from the age of 12, in the younger junior category. From the age of 16, you are a junior, from the age of 19 – a youth, and from the age of 21 – a senior. Dressage (from the French word dressage which means “training”) is an independent Olympic discipline. It is elegant and includes the performance of certain movements in the arena. It is almost like dancing, and requires not only many years of training, but also understanding and harmony between the rider and the horse. The same applies to show jumping (this is also an Olympic discipline). Vaulting is artistic gymnastics on a horseback, often associated with circus performances. In 1920, in Antwerp, this competition was played at the Olympics – for the first and last time.

Fast hooves, cash, and riding as far as you can

The most dangerous discipline is the steeplechase as it sometimes leads to serious injury or even death of the horse (or the rider). Flat racing, i.e. without any obstacles, is very popular in Poland, with tournaments held in Wrocław, Warsaw, and Sopot. An integral part of the race is... gambling. Betting has accompanied racing for a long time. A very young discipline is endurance riding – its origins date back to the middle of the last century, and since 1990, Polish championships have been organized. During the event, like in the F1, service men play an important role. During breaks, horses are hydrated, fed, cleaned, and re-saddled. The route (from 40 to 160 km) consists of loops. After each loop, the horse must pass a veterinary check: if its heart rate is too high, it is too dehydrated, etc., the rider may not continue the competition.

Horsing About…

You think to yourself – me, at an equestrian event? Cannot I simply go horse riding? Yes, you can. Throughout Poland, there is a lot riding clubs and stud farms. The best riders also started from recreational rides. You might think it is an expensive pastime. It depends on several factors – but you will find out more on this topic from Maciek, Ania, and Ula from the Tabun Centre for Equestrian Recreation and Rehabilitation in an interview published on our portal. The word “recreation” is not accidental. Horseback riding is supposed to be, in the first place, a pleasure. Talking about the pleasures... No one can talk to a horse of course... It is part of the opening theme of a cult TV series, Mr. Ed. A horse of the same name was a very intelligent and funny conversationalist (you can find several episodes of the show on YouTube). In real life, horses do not talk, but the very contact with those animals is used in rehabilitation – mainly of mental and physical disabilities. Such treatment by horseback riding and contact with the horse is known as hippotherapy. Sometimes, hippotherapy is also used by people who are unable to cope with traumatic experiences. In this method, the animal is a “co-therapist”. In a word – horses are quite human...

Project: Hucul pony

Horse riding has a long tradition in various European countries. A few years ago in Kraków, during a project co-financed by the Youth in Action EU program, riding fans from several countries met up. Dressage, horsemanship, archery, and learning about the Hucul area – an old land in the eastern Carpathians... More information about this initiative can be found in an article devoted to the Hucul pony project (coming soon).


Łukasz Smogorowski