Do you remember that girl in middle school that was the horse crazy one? Yeah, that was me.

While for most people, it is just a phase of watching Saddle Club on repeat, that wasn’t the case for me. Much to my parent’s dismay, I was the second grader that bugged her parents for horseback riding lessons. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Since then, I’ve been blessed to learn and develop skills throughout high school. Sophomore year of college, my hard work finally paid off when I joined the Penn State Equestrian Team. I’ve had the opportunity to sit on a number of incredible horses who have taught me many different lessons about the sport and more importantly, life.


beer, pizza
Erin O'Neill

Physically, it’s tough. No, we don’t just sit there. Most of the time we just hang on for dear life - just kidding. All joking aside, unfortunately, you can’t have a spoken conversation with a horse, so we communicate through our muscles. From muscles in our legs, to the smallest twitches in our hand movement or direction of our eye, physical position on our horse plays the ultimate role in communication.

As my high school trainer/hero, Erin, once wrote – “She is strong and fit. She doesn’t just ride, she runs, bikes, swims. Riding or showing one horse per day is nothing to an athlete. One horse a day is easy”.

Gratitude and love

Erin O'Neill

Gratitude is a beautiful thing. Not many people can say they take horseback riding lessons, have competed in a handful of rated shows and most importantly, have had an incredible support system. Somehow I've got all 3. 

Horses also show unconditional love. Having a bad day? They don’t care if you failed that calculus exam or if you bombed the job interview. It may be hard to believe, but they are even better listeners than they are jumpers. And that’s pretty awesome.


grass, water, beer
Erin O'Neill

Here’s the thing about this sport – it’s more humbling than anything. It knocks you in the dirt and shoves sand down your pants. It hands you a purple ribbon when you thought you had a blue-ribbon trip. And, it always makes you put an 1,500lb. animal before yourself.


pizza, wine, tea, coffee, beer
Erin O'Neill

Horses are just like people. They have a mind of their own, can have bad days, good days or just be plain stubborn. They are athletes themselves and rely on us for their own growth and well being. 

I’ve had broken wrists, concussions and bruised ribs, but it never stopped me from getting back on and trying again. Heck, I fell off during my first lesson on my college team (thanks, Harry). 

All the hardships make me crave more. It all comes back to the true love of the animal and the reward from accomplishing an exercise or course. Ultimately, every fall, bump and bruise leads to strengthening trust between your closest teammate - your horse.


wine, beer
Erin O'Neill

Nothing has taught me more about faith than this sport has. Somehow being on a horse has showed me that God has this beautiful plan far greater than what we could ever imagine. I look back on my time in high school and currently in college, and am overwhelmed with the amount of grace I encountered, through the people I befriended in the sport and the experiences I've had.

No riding lesson or mastered maneuver means more to me than the faith I have gained. Riding has given me an unfailing faith to believe that everything happens for a reason.

water, grass
Erin O'Neill

I could go on and on about the lessons this sport has taught me, but there are only so many words that can fit in an article, apparently.

From my incredible barn family at home, to finding new passions through the sport (hello photography), it seems to be the sport that just keeps giving back. 

Maybe horseback riding isn’t your sport. Maybe you reached the end of this article and still don’t understand what an equestrian is. Each of our own experiences teach us lessons that help us stand back up when life knocks us down, mine just involves a 4-legged mammal that really enjoys apples.