Women in a “Gender-Neutral” Sport

I will be referring to this article in my post.  It’s not long, and it’s very grabbing!  This is a remarkably interesting topic for me, as I, a female, have competitively ridden horses for almost thirteen years.

I will be the first to admit that I worry about my appearance (I absolutely possess the inner heterosexual male gaze).  But when I ride a horse, I am genderless and I am the most confident, handsome person ever.  When I dismount from a horse, I know that I reek not only of sweat, but also of power.  Horseback riding allows me, as a woman, to be fearless in an generally male dominated athletic world.

As quoted in the article, Olympic medalist Carol Levell says it all too accurately:  “there’s no way my 130 pounds can make [her 1,895-pound Olympic mount] go anywhere he doesn’t want to go.”  This isn’t a sport about strength, and whether or not more or less testosterone plays into your abilities.  You could take the biggest strongest NFL player, but if he can’t ride a horse, even the best trained one at that, there’s no chance he can fair in the sport against my skills and my 5’5″ frame.  For this reason, I don’t think it’s right for anyone to be upset that men and women compete together in this sport, but I also don’t feel that it’s right to say women are “better” with horses, and it is here that I must oppose the article.

While I can try to believe that women are more empathetic toward horses, creating a stronger bond, I have not really seen this in my personal experience.  Just this past Saturday at a horse show:  the quickly-paced switching of horses doesn’t allow for much bonding, but I heard one male competitor say to his female opposer, “Just talk to [the horse], she’ll do what you ask,” while the female swiftly mounted the horse without so much as a greeting.  I myself have had just “bad” practices where I’ve caught myself rushing to groom my horse afterward and then I catch my brother scratching the horse’s neck.  And here again shows that my gender does not matter in this sport:  in a horse show, often times I have never met the horse until less than ten minutes prior to riding, while I might only ride him for about five minutes.  I have no time for bonding.  While I love myself a horse hug, my gender’s “tendencies” are not what will lead my horse and I to victory.

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One Response to Women in a “Gender-Neutral” Sport

  1. gabygos says:

    You are very lucky to be involved in a co-ed sport. It is certainly refreshing that both male and female equestrians can exceed on the same level. Incidences like this one where gender does not necessarily play a role help us look objectively without a gendered lens.

    However I think that equestrians also have the unique opportunity as participants in a co-ed sport to celebrate gender. Women do have a tendency to be more nurturing and as I woman I find that as something to be celebrated. In the same way the uniqueness of a woman’s body should be celebrated. One of the recurring questions I have faced in this class is how can we promote gender equality without dispelling the beauty of gendered qualities? The film “Miss Representation” claims that females have unique strengths and abilities to lead. How can we claim that female leadership is advantageous if we neglect to celebrate what makes us women?

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