Explore the world of equestrianism

Beth Bowlen Harbottle sits regally in the saddle atop a stately Oldenburg horse. Sunshine permeates the dust and green as Harbottle guides her stallion, Fab, gently to an open arena in Waimanalo’s Circle C Equestrian Center. With intensity in her eyes, Harbottle rides faster and faster around the ring, Fab turning trot to gallop in mere seconds.

Two bars in the middle of the ring are set 3 feet off the ground. Harbottle and Fab stare straight at the hurdle. Fab charges toward the obstacle following Harbottle’s tacit instructions. Horse and rider soar above the bar, an artful and athletic partnership accomplished – and an adrenaline rush written in Harbottle’s smile.

“It’s much more difficult than it looks,” she says between breaths. “It’s a sport!”

Harbottle is among Hawaii’s growing field of equestrians – riders on horseback for competition and leisure. While equestrianism entails various forms of riding, as well as intensive training and financial and physical upkeep, the hobby is fulfilling to those seeking an alternative to the typical “lux pet.”

“In Hawaii, there is a huge variety of horse owners, the majority of whom all have one thing in common,” says Pamela Jones, an avid rider. “They love their horses and often make sacrifices themselves to ensure their horses are cared for properly.”

The broad sport of equestrianism offers several niche categories of riding styles and purposes. Western style riding is your typical “cowboy” fare, including reining (guiding the horse through a set pattern of movements) and cutting (isolating individual cattle from a herd). More common in the refined realm of riding are English disciplines: Hunter-jumper riders train their horses to clear hurdle bar heights, while dressage entails a “horse ballet” of intricate movements.

Regardless of riding style, a good trainer is essential for anyone looking to explore equestrianism. Olga Anderson, a full-time riding instructor, offers such a service. A rider for more than 32 years and a trainer for 19, Anderson shares with her clients a wealth of experience and a sincere appreciation for the sport.

“It’s a partnership with an animal, different from any other,” she says.

Anderson currently trains 25 students who range in age from 5 to 68, and in ability from beginner to advanced. She trains dres-sage riders and hunter/jumpers, imparting her own expertise in each area. Her method of training stems from an acknowledgement of the rider’s and horse’s abilities, finding the strengths and working on the weaknesses of both.

“Some (riders show progress in) the first lesson; some weeks, months or years,” she says. “It depends on how much they ride, how much feel and focus they have, and fear. All this goes into riding. It’s a lot more than just sitting on a horse.”

Each session with Anderson runs $50-$60 for those with their own horses, and $70-$80 for those without. Anderson primarily holds lessons at Circle C Equestrian Center in Waimanalo, but can accommodate locations on a client’s request.

Beyond the time and patience necessary to perfect one’s riding skills, equestrianism requires a significant monetary investment in the selection and care of a horse. According to Anderson, the more experienced a horse is, the higher its charge – an A-rated show horse from the eastern U.S. can range in price from $100,000 to $300,000, while a B-rated animal averages $35,000. Equestrian equipment runs up just as high a bill. Harbottle says her “biggest investment” was in a customized saddle, which can range from $4,000 to $5,000 and is even offered by designer names like Hermes. Harbottle estimates having spent about $2,500 in riding attire – boots, riding pants, hats, etc. – as well.

“It’s a financial commitment,” Harbottle says. “But I’ve never been more fullfilled.”

The commitment to a horse also involves an investment of effort. Daily maintenance for most horses, according to Anderson, can add up to at least six hours, with feeding, medicating, grooming and stall-mucking all obligatory activities for a horse owner.

For Harbottle, two hours of post-riding care are added to that, after the rigorous jumping lesson Fab was put through on this given day. Harbottle must bathe Fab in Vetralin, ice his legs and then wrap them for overnight rest.

“Our horses are treated as well as we are,” Harbottle says, citing the $85 massages, $250 shoe fittings and medical procedures she’s given Fab over the years.

For all the training, financial and physical dedication involved in equestrianism, riders attest to the beneficial impact riding has made on their lives. Harbottle says it’s “a passion you’ll never get out of your system,” while Anderson sees it as a form of “therapy.”

“It’s kind of a grounding,” Anderson says. “After a tough day, when you get on a horse, there’s an inner peace. Everything goes away.”