Journalist and Blogger | Bournemouth University

Category: Features

Equestrianism and why it’s more than just horsing around

It’s one of the most dangerous sports on the planet. Yet many horse riders are frequently told, their passion, hobby and lifestyle, is anything but a sport. It’s time to settle the argument.

According to the British Horse Society, an estimated 2.7 million of us in the UK ride horses. Yet much to our disgust, we’re often told ‘horse riding is not a sport’ and ‘the horse does all of the work’. Words, which make every equestrians blood run cold. For we know otherwise and quite frankly have had enough of being told by people who have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about, that we just sit there and look pretty.

 In the Oxford English Dictionary, sport is defined as ‘An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.’ And evidently horse riding, involving both physical activity, skill, and competition, falls directly into this category. Notwithstanding its heavy appearance in the world’s most internationally recognised sports event, The Olympic Games. So without further ado, let’s look at how it fits this definition.

It’s Physical

Jumping not only requires a certain level of skill but is also a full body workout.

Would you fancy being put in control of two-tonne beast that weighs more than your Kia 500? Perhaps not. And contrary to popular belief, the horse isn’t the only one working up a sweat while being ridden. In fact, horse riding requires just as much strength and burns as many calories as swimming or jogging, not to mention being great for the core and leg muscles. One must only glance at the thighs of an equestrian to realise that it’ll build your muscles just as much as a regular leg day down at the gym.

“Have you seen how much I eat?” laughs Sacha, 15, “If the work was only down to the horse I’d be obese by now!” As a member of The British Riding Club, Sacha has been riding since she was just four, and was left baffled by the idea that people could think it’s not a sport.

Anyone who reckons horse riding is not a sport is welcome to ride my mare and attempt to put her over a metre fence without falling off.

Even after a short ride, those who haven’t ridden or are just a little out of practice will notice muscle soreness. And while you don’t quite have to have the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger to take on a horse, you’ll need a certain amount of strength.

It requires skill and commitment

 

Many people devote their lives to horse riding from a very young age.

Alike any sport, it requires physique, skill, and dedication, not to mention a commitment to ever exhausting early mornings where a 7 am rise for a morning lesson soon becomes a 4 am wake for a competition.

“It’s 12 hours a day, 365 days a year.” Successful trainer and international event rider Vicki Hancox tells us, “If you speak to any top athlete, they’ll say they train every day, whether it’s Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve, people put their whole lives on hold so they can compete.”

Vicki spends much of her time training and competing horses for clients, and when she’s not riding, helps to run the family livery stables, and teaches riders of all abilities.

“To learn to ride properly, it takes forever. You never stop learning, even top riders will all say they have lessons every week and still feel like they don’t ride properly all of the time.”

It’s Competitive

Horse riding provides plenty of opportunity for competition. Whether it’s in teams between different branches of The Pony Club, representing your country in the prestigious Horse of the Year Show, or you’re just dying to beat the girl whose daddy has just bought her a new £20,000 pony after the other one put a hoof out of line (we know the sort).  When entering the arena, its make or break, literally. You can either clear a course of show jumps or fall face first into them.

So why is it that some people continue to argue against equestrianism as a sport? The only possible explanation that springs to mind is its subjectivity. In dressage, for instance, the judge has the final say on whether your transitions are smooth enough, or whether that half circle you’d been aiming for was really a circle at all.

But then again, one could argue the same with football, yes, the ball went into the goal, but did the team really deserve the penalty?

So it seems that the components involved in horse riding precisely define what a sport is. And to those who are still yet to be convinced, take a riding lesson. After about fifteen minutes on horseback with aching legs and sore shoulders, you might just agree that horse riding does indeed, fulfil the meaning of sport.

 

 

 

Inspiration or inspiring illness

Social media – a place to share, inspire and befriend. But put ‘thin’ in inspire and you’ve got a whole new ballgame.  

In an era when Deliveroo is all the rage and Domino’s dish out free pizza to poverty-stricken students, why is it that some of us find ourselves turning down these offers? Not because it’s not gluten, dairy free or vegan. Often it stems a little deeper than that.

Some anorexia sufferers will eat as little as an apple a day to see results on the scale.

Poking lasagne around her plate and worrying that just inhaling the smell would cost calories, was a routine that Ella was only too familiar with. She was shackled down by anorexia. As her parents eyed her suspiciously from across the driftwood table, she couldn’t bare another bite, she’d already eaten an apple today. The constant grinding of her stomach inflicted the most terrible pain as it growled for her to eat while her brain craved skinny. And she’s not alone. According to BEAT, an astonishing estimated 1.6 million people in the UK are affected by eating disorders.

Defined as illnesses characterised by irregular eating habits and severe distress or concern about body weight or shape, eating disorders can severely damage our health. With the constant propaganda of the ‘ideal body’ and ‘perfect diet’ across social media, it’s no surprise they are on the rise.

Florida-based psychologist Dr Stacey Rosenfeld reveals that while social media isn’t the main cause of this growing problem, it certainly plays a part. “I’ve had patients seeking out hashtags such as #thinspo, and using accounts in disordered ways by following the diets of anorexia sufferers and ‘healthy’ eating obsessed bloggers and then using it as inspiration for their own diets.”

And it is these bloggers, who label themselves as certified ‘nutritionists’ after taking a short online course, who are fuelling the trend, sugar coating their obsession with kale, quinoa, and all things calorie dense, as a healthy lifestyle choice. When in fact, it is a disorder.

The issue is, we fall victim to their advice, which Huffington Post columnist, Carrie Armstrong knows too well.  After innocently scrolling through blogs in hope of picking up tips to boost her health following a battle with alcoholism, she became obsessed. In the space of 18 months, she’d cut out meat and all carbs and resorted to eating just organic watermelon.

I was told only eat fruit because everything else will poison you.

 

Living on a diet of just fruit caused Carrie’s body to begin shutting down.

Only when her hair and teeth began to fall out and she dropped to a staggering 6 ½ stone, did she recognise that she had a problem and accepted that just maybe, these bloggers whom she idolised, weren’t telling the whole truth.

“Most of the people who write these blogs do not spend their lives sipping green smoothies and eating salads as they claim to or they’d all be incredibly ill, I ate like them long term and I was in a wheelchair.”

What’s worse, is there is a darker side to social media where this behaviour is not accidental. Welcome to the world of ‘Pro Ana’, where behind the lens of her iPhone, lies a malnourished teen, arching her back to capture her protruding collarbones under the light as she twists her tiny legs inwards to get that thigh gap just that little bit wider. She’ll then post it on Instagram, and tell people how she became so thin and ‘beautiful’, encouraging them to be more like her.

Research has found that 20% of anorexia sufferers die from their illness, so you’re probably wondering why she’d do this. Sufferers often become so consumed by their illness they have no desire to get better and instead, want to thrive in a community where their behaviour is ‘normal’.

Chatting away to a Nordic girl on a ‘Pro-ED’ Kik

Eating disorders are more common than many of us realise

forum, it became clear. “If people want to get thinner I’ll help them, as I got help too, yes, I do feel guilty sometimes as I’m encouraging them to be iller, but it’s their own choice.”

 

However, in this turmoil, is the right to choose how we use social media, which can make all the difference to how we perceive the world and ourselves. But to those of us who haven’t quite figured ourselves out, or struggle from low self-esteem, social media acts as a breeding ground, triggering negative thoughts about body image. The only way to prevent this is to ban the content, rather than a single warning that pops up on your phone screen, which let’s be honest, none of us read.

A day in the life of an anorexia sufferer

This Snapchat story captures a typical day of an anorexia sufferer. It shows the struggles of an extremely low-calorie diet and some disordered habits, such as excessive exercising and anxiety in social situations involving food.

A pawesome way to meditate or barking mad?

It’s become a popular way of calming our minds and tightening our core . But yoga has now taken on a whole new art form using the nation’s favourite family pet.

As peace swallowed our troubles, “Surya Namaskar.” the instructor’s voice echoed across the studio amidst the melodic chords filling my body with the sweet bliss of relaxation as I eased my way into the downward dog. I could have been miles away. But in reality, I was at my weekly yoga class with the same four walls, performing the same moves, listening to the same playlist as last weekend. As boredom hit, I wondered, what if there’s more to yoga than meets the eye? And so turned to my good friend Google for answers.

Voilà, there it was. The nation’s favourite floppy-eared, waggy-tailed fluffy face, combined with the Hindu, spiritual art of yoga. I give you Doga. But it’s not Dog Yoga as founder and author of Dogamahny TM Mahny Djahanguiri was quick to correct me. “It is not dog yoga! It is doing yoga with your dog, it is yoga for both of you, but it’s mainly human focused.”

Dog meets yoga

Doga allows you to relax your mind and body and cuddle your dog. All at the same time.
Images courtesy of Sweats Studios (Milton Keynes)

Having discovered yoga back in 1999 at the Life Centre in Notting Hill, London, Mahny has since become a certified kids and adults yoga teacher. However, it was during a stroll along a beach in LA after a yoga class that she became inspired.

I saw people meditating on the beach while their dogs were running around them and thought this is it! I love yoga and I love dogs. So why not have both.

It does seem to make sense. Why leave your pooch at home locked away when you can take him along? Then again, how on earth would one possibly get a dog to sit quietly, bottom on mat performing sun salutations?

Well, that’s not quite how it works, as I discovered while chatting to Mahny. Classes begin with eager ‘dogis’ roaming around, sniffing about, while the ‘yogis’ settle into their mats and begin the journey to relaxation. “It’s a two-way system, it’s about yoga and the human, the dog is just present and may or may not take part. The dog benefits because you are relaxing. You lose the ‘ownership’ title the moment you enter the yoga room, it becomes a mutual relationship.”

Waggish tales

Among all its quirks, it’s not surprising to hear that Doga has its fair share of stories, from rescue dogs mending broken souls, taking the leap of faith mid-pose to Evie the Chihuahua, a regular attendee who despite her small frame, had an ego bigger than Miley’s and the sass of Regina George. Although in her defence, she seemed adorable. “Evie became protective of my dog.”, chuckles Mahny, whose Maltese pooch Robbie, practically runs the class. “She was like the class guru, barking and charging in warning whenever any dogs went near him. It was like she was yelling ‘don’t touch Robbie!’”

A catching trend

With over 40,000 uses of #dogyoga on Instagram, it appears Mahny is not the only Doga pundit out there. Sarah Hosmer, from Utah, US, recalls how she recently stumbled upon the rising trend via social media. “I love yoga, so I searched the hashtag #yogachallenge to look for new challenges to participate in. I spotted the dog challenge and I knew it would be fun to do with my dog, Zelda.”

@healthyhappysar (Sarah Hosmer) and her dog Zelda, trying out some moves.

Expressing her experiences of the practice, she describes it as “very slow and purposeful, kind of like dog training in a way. Having her sit and stay, building trust. Sometimes I’ll take a walk or play fetch before doing yoga so she is calmer and more receptive” So no, it’s not all about getting that perfect shot for Insta. Although she confesses, that can play a part.

 

Balancing on one leg, feet shuddering as you attempt to hold a line of gravity whilst your dog is propped gently on your shoulder, nibbling on your earlobe. One can only imagine the intensity while trying to angle your smartphone to get that perfect square shot.

Anyhow, alike real yoga, it seems everyone’s cranking their own style, from treats and cuddles in ‘dog yoga’ to the more holistic version of ‘Doga’. But will 2017 see us all go dogamania? Perhaps an appearance on Britain’s Got Talent will only confirm.

 

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