Hoseback Riding and How it Empowers Young Women

by Ben A.

Everybody knows that sports are often dominated by hegemonic male ideals and that women often have a hard time enjoying these sports because of those ideals. Horseback riding encompasses “male concepts, such as hierarchy, orderliness and discipline” (Forsberg & Teblius, 2011).  In a woman’s teenage years, it is essential that they can feel empowered by sport, and horseback riding is just that. For me, it is an interesting idea that this activity, which was previously looked at as a male dominated activity can empower young women and give them freedom from socially constructed ideals of what a woman is supposed to be. It is understood that young women in their teenage years want to engage in leisure activities where they can feel safe (Forsberg & Teblius).

For young girls, there are many societal pressures to adhere what a woman is socially constructed supposed to be. In the article “The riding school as a site for gender identity construction among Swedish teenage girls”, riding offers a place for young women to be free of all societal pressures to conform. The young women who were interviewed mention that their riding friends consider themselves a “non-bothering gang”. They were not afraid to let their hair down and wear old clothes to the stable because they knew that they would not be judged. It is amazing to see a sport where women feel free to be who they are and not feel pressures to conform.

When I was younger, I participated competitively in track and field. On the outside, track may seem like a sport where there cannot be many pressures to conform of what it is meant to be a “track star”. That assumption would be wrong. There usually was always a new pair of shoes on the market that all of the good athletes would have and you just felt like to be included you had to have the same. The same went for clothing; many of the ‘good’ athletes would wear the most outlandish clothing and there was a pressure there to conform. I think this can relate back to the culture of horseback riding for young women as the adverse; in the stable there is only one goal, and that is to get the work done, and to do this it does not matter what you look like. The girls do not have to conform to the stereotypical body norms to be a rider.

In an ideal world sport would be a place where all genders can be free. Sport could be a place where your ability was not judged by the clothes you wore. I believe we are moving in the right direction as we see more and more accomplished women in sport being publicized in the media. It is great to see young girls being empowered by horseback riding which many years ago was dominated by men. Hopefully one day in sports, ability will only be judged by who somebody is as a person and not their gender, sex, age, or material holdings.

Forsberg, L., & Tebelius, U. (2011). The riding school as a site for gender identity construction among Swedish teenage girls. World Leisure Journal, 53(1), 42-56.
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4 responses

  1. Interesting perspective Ben; I agree that it is crucial to create sporting opportunities where young women feel confident and competent in their physical activity skills and abilities. It is promising that there is research being done that addresses the barriers this minority faces in the sport and recreation field. Horseback riding is sometimes viewed as an nonviable option for sport and recreation due to its stigma of being inaccessible for the low-income population. However, as the research explained in your referenced paper, horseback riding’s ability to empower young women to feel positively in their sporting participation is valuable. As educated ambassadors for sport and recreation, we can extract the attributes that worked in this example and apply them to the more popular sport and recreation activities such as basketball, volleyball, and physical education classes, to facilitate female athlete empowerment. I think it is fair to say that by fostering positive sporting environments for girls and women, the likelihood of lifelong participation can only increase.

    From a more personal perspective; I grew up around horses, and my younger sister was involved in the back-country riding community. From what I have witnessed, I can confidently say that horseback riding always appeared to be a welcoming and gender equal activity from my viewpoint. After consulting with my younger sister on the topic, she also agreed on this and commented “Neither males or females dominated in my horseback riding experiences, rather the focus was on community and having fun” (T. Forbes, personal communication, January 31, 2017).

    Tamsin, F.

  2. From my own experiences with horseback riding there is definitely an element of just getting things done, horses have needs that need to be met and barn chores have to be done. But there was still an element of looking good especially for some of the teen girls, I knew many people who would go out of the way to find matching items like saddle pads, polos, fly bonnets and then match it to their outfit; and as the previous comment mentioned it is expensive and it did leave a few people feeling left out when they couldn’t afford to buy some of their own gear.

    But we did have an overall accepting atmosphere, we had helmets people could borrow and my coach kept boots for kids and would trade pairs with parents who couldn’t afford to buy new boots everytime their kids outgrew their shoes. People would help each other out if someone was running late and it was a really caring and supportive environment that was about having fun, learning, and enjoyme the was more important than competition.

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