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Equestrian enthusiasts take their talents to new levels

By Manasa Sriraj and Pavana Upadhyaya Mar. 17, 2021

While the focus of many traditional sports involves developing collaboration skills with fellow teammates, horse riding is a unique activity that involves a different kind of teamwork between rider and animal. Two such athletes, Madison Scott ‘22 and Alyvia McIntyre ‘21 are taking their talents in this less mainstream sport to a further extent, expanding their hobby to professional heights.

Each horse-rider pair needs to follow a certain pattern of actions based on certain items in the setup...

Scott is a competitive horse rider who developed her passion for horse riding at a young age. After encountering horses at the age of three, Scott promptly began horseback riding lessons. One of her first instructors was a competitive horse rider, and Scott accompanied her to many tournaments throughout her childhood. Watching her instructor piqued Scott’s interest, and she entered her first competition in sixth grade. Now, she participates in an event called gymkhana, where riders guide their horses through an obstacle course-like setup. Each horse-rider pair needs to follow a certain pattern of actions based on certain items in the setup—for example, a task in the pattern might be to walk around a barrel three times before moving on. Scott participates in monthly competitions, often in county divisions. Scott finds that competing is both an invigorating and relaxing activity—when she is riding, she is able to focus on the moment and destress.

Madison Scott '22 trains for her monthly gymkhana competitions.

Courtesy of Madison Scott

“There is no way to exactly describe the fun of horse riding with words. When I ride, I forget my worries and obligations. I am only aware of what is around me right then, right there, which is very refreshing,” Scott said.

When it comes to training and preparing for competitions, Scott practices gymkhana routines with her horse and experiments with and develops techniques for progressing through these patterns faster while maintaining precise movements. A key aspect of preparation involves taking care of the horse itself—making sure it is in shape and emotionally well. Scott’s normal routine is to practice with her horse at least four times a week, but due to distance learning, she can practice much more often. Scott is passionate about horse riding, and would like to continue the activity as much as possible, but she is not sure if she can keep it up when she goes off to college.

“Not only is horseback riding time consuming, but it is also expensive. I do not know how much time and money I will have to spend on horse riding in college, so I cannot make any plans right now,” Scott said.

“Riders strengthen important muscle groups and develop alertness and compassion.”

Competitions, however, are not the only way that students are involved in the equestrian world. McIntyre is pursuing a career in equine therapy or hippotherapy, in which people with special needs receive treatment through horse riding. Starting college at Husson University this fall, McIntyre plans to earn a doctorate in Physical Therapy and establish her own hippotherapy center. McIntyre’s passion was also sparked at a very young age—her mom, also a horse rider, would often ride with McIntyre on her lap. She explains that horses were a key part of her childhood, so she naturally developed a love for connecting with and riding them.

Alyvia McIntyre '21 pets her companion.

Courtesy of Alyvia McIntrye

McIntyre’s mom is also a certified master level therapeutic riding instructor, and her work gave McIntyre a firsthand look at the benefits of equine therapy. By working with horses, riders strengthen important muscle groups and develop alertness and compassion. McIntyre adds that horses’ movement patterns resemble those of humans, so people who struggle with mobility can exercise the same muscles involved in walking by riding a horse. Horses are also very supportive, altering their behavior and gait to make their rider feel as comfortable as possible.

“I once worked with a boy with low-functioning autism. At first, he was non-verbal and very uncomfortable with being touched. During his weekly riding lessons, the horse helped calm his nerves, so he was much more engaged in conversation while riding. Eventually, he became much more relaxed and confident. I even saw him tell his mother ‘I love you’ for the first time, right after a lesson,” McIntyre said.

McIntyre explained that she is passionate about horses as well as helping people, and equine therapy is a career that involves both. She does not plan to participate in competitions, because she is more interested in establishing good relationships and having fun with horses rather than showcasing their abilities together. The pandemic has not had any drastic impacts on McIntyre’s routines—she continues her riding practices and lessons as usual, just with measures like social distancing.

Alyvia McIntyre ‘21 poses with a horse she works with at equine therapy.

Courtesy of Alyvia McIntrye

Whether Scott and McIntyre’s passion will become a part of their career or not, both students agree that working with horses has been an important learning experience. McIntyre says that she has learned how to handle serious injuries and medications, while Scott explains that horse riding has taught her focus and patience. For these two students, horse riding has been an invaluable opportunity to care for and work with animals.


About the Contributors

Manasa Sriraj

Staff Writer

Manasa Sriraj is a freshman at Leland High School and a staff writer. She is a STEM, puzzle, and geography freak and loves torturing her friends by spamming and "Rickrolling" on group chats. Her hobbies include listening to music, playing basketball and the guitar, experimenting with snack recipes (which usually result in messes), and building Rube Goldberg machines and gadgets out of Legos and other regular household objects.

Pavana Upadhyaya

Staff Writer

Pavana Upadhyaya is a sophomore at Leland High School and is a staff writer. She likes to read nonfiction in her free time.

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