By Christina Schiavo, Corporate Relations Intern, Palio
Being that we’re here in Saratoga Springs, of course we’d have an avid horseback rider among the Palio team. Research Analyst Krystina Smith has been riding since the age of 12. She’s done everything from hunters and equitation to dressage and eventing. In fact, Smith was even a member of the equestrian team at Skidmore College during her undergraduate career.
Smith was initially inspired by her grandmother, who used to ride horses. On a family vacation, they took riding lessons together for a week and she was immediately hooked! Shortly after the vacation, Smith started taking lessons at a local barn. On account of her other hobby (soccer), she was only able to ride once a week and couldn’t show in competitions. “I did soccer league year-round,” said Smith. “It wasn’t until I had my ACL reconstructed that I played less soccer and began riding more, leasing horses, and showing.”
Smith began learning how to ride on the flat, which is just the ring without any jumps. Getting experience with hunters and equitation eventually opened doors for her with riding. Smith then began dressage, which means “training.” This form of competitive equestrian is often referred to as “horse ballet” with the horse and rider memorizing and performing a series of predetermined movements.
During Smith’s high school career, she progressively moved onto eventing. Eventing is a combination of dressage, jumping, and cross-country in one horseshow. At that age, this was something Smith not only worked hard for but greatly enjoyed doing. “I loved eventing,” said Smith. “It was fun, but after a few falls and injuries, I wanted to try something different. When it came time for college, Smith knew she wanted to attend a relatively small liberal arts school. Skidmore sparked her interest, but even more so when she found out they had an equestrian team. At Skidmore, Smith was able to compete in intercollegiate horse-showing. This is when the rider is judged entirely on presentation, as in posture and how you look when riding the horse. Each show you attend, a horse is selected for you at random and you aren’t given time to practice. This is a way of leveling the playing field in competitions. “This is an equalizer,” said Smith. “It becomes a test of the rider rather than the horse because you need to get on and make any necessary adjustments immediately.”
Intercollegiate riding is much different in that during typical horse shows, you have the same horse that you work with. As Smith explained, “You train with the same horse, learn about each other, and essentially become one.” With intercollegiate, you’re really being tested on your skill level as a rider and ability to adapt to any horse that is given to you.
Throughout her time at Skidmore, Smith leased a horse from the college named Jackson. There was even a summer he went home to Massachusetts with her. For Smith, Jackson has been more than just some horse to ride, he’s been a pet. “Jackson’s not only a partner in athletic adventures, but he’s also a pet,” said Smith. “He can sense when it’s me coming down the barn and when I call his name, his head perks up. That’s the beauty of riding, you form such a bond with such a magnificent animal.”
The perception is that riding isn’t a “real” sport. The fact of the matter is it’s just as much of a sport as tennis or even football is; it just takes a different skill set. “The real sport in riding is to look like you’re not doing anything,” said Smith. “When, in reality, you’re controlling a 1200-pound animal.”
What most can’t imagine is the physical strength this sport actually requires. When riding, you’re using so many different muscles and, as Smith said, “muscles I didn’t even know I had!” She then discussed how everyone is under the impression that riding is all about leg strength, which is not the case. “Your core and back muscles are just as, if not more, important than leg muscles,” said Smith. “Your core and back need to be strong to keep the horse steady. If you’re not steady, the horse will feel it, which isn’t good.”
Smith illustrated a great example of the muscle control you need in order to control and guide the horse when riding. “If your horse is using faster steps, naturally people think pulling back would slow the horse, but this only makes the horse go faster, resisting your pull.” Smith then indicated that the best way to handle this would be to slow your posting. “Posting is when you move up and down with each stride, rising for one beat and lowering for the second. With this, you can tell your horse to slow down.”
For Smith, riding is so much more than competitive ventures and physical activity: It’s a way to just relax and clear her head. “It’s what I love most about riding,” said Smith. “Yes, it’s a sport and it’s physical, but it’s also so calming and relaxing.” Smith enjoys riding just to ride. “Training can be stressful and physically taxing, but when I set out for a simple ride or trail ride, I find it’s a great outlet for stress relief,” said Smith.
Smith’s passion for horses and riding is clear. When talking to her about it, you can see the excitement and joy that’s written all over her face. Fortunately for Smith, we’re located in beautiful Saratoga Springs, where horses are the underlying theme. There’s the thoroughbred horse track, polo field, and Skidmore barn and equestrian team right at her fingertips. Smith’s surrounded by what she is most passionate about. What could be better than that?
Interested in riding lessons, sharpening up your riding skills, or joining an equestrian team? The Capital District has a handful of places that can help! Schauber Stables, LLC, located in Ballston Lake, offers a variety of horseback riding services such as lessons, trail rides, summer camp, family outings, and birthday parties. Another available barn is Olde Saratoga Farms, which promotes the passion of equestrian sports. Here you can also take lessons and classes, attend camp, host birthday parties, or go on family day-trips.
Saratoga Lake Equestrian is located only 15 minutes from Saratoga in Clifton Park and has over 55 acres of marked trails for riding. Offered here are lessons for all types of riding from Western to English and jumping to dressage. You can even take polo lessons at this barn! In Ballston Spa there is a barn called the Lazy Horse Equine Center, with available svices including boarding, training, clinics, private and group lessons, leasing, trail rides, and birthday parties. There are lessons for beginners and more advanced riders. Enjoy lessons in jumping, horsemanship, barrel racing, and gaming.
Here at Palio, health and wellness runs through everything we do – in the office and out. And our employees are involved from every angle! From running to yoga, and tennis to ironman – you name it, we’ve got folks who do it. Because health is such a big part of our lives and work, our Because We Can health initiatives series is designed to highlight the passions, commitments, accomplishments and goals of a few of the members of our team.
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