Making the Switch: Why I Chose to Dive into Sport Horse


By Brianna York


As Featured in the 2024 Winter issue of Arabian Horse World


Riding is a sport that changes who we are in so many ways. It teaches us responsibility, makes us physically strong, and teaches us to have emotional fortitude. It’s no secret that horses are a passion for most of us, and showing is the extension of that passion made public.


For most of my life, I showed in the “main ring” at Arabian shows. I loved the hunter pleasure division and made this my focus, but also showed country, show hack, and western pleasure. I was lucky enough to enjoy a lot of success with my horses, and my family and I made memories to last a  lifetime during my youth career and the early years of my time as an amateur rider.


My parents always intended to support me in turning pro and making horses my job. However, when I finally gave up my amateur status, I had the worst timing possible. A recession undermined the local horse market over a few short months. My dad’s job changed significantly, and my parents had to start thinking about moving to another state. My other half came home from overseas and started his career from scratch.


I finally had to hang my head in defeat and give up showing and training. I quit riding for a period of a few years, as well. It was a tough time in my life, but, like the effect that the horses had on my physical and emotional strength, the challenges of life without horses forced me to grow and mature in new ways.

At first, I didn’t even miss riding. I was so burned out and crushed with defeat that I simply dragged myself to my boring new desk job each day and played video games at night. After a couple of years, I made a slow return to the show pen, getting to catch ride some very nice horses and remember what it was that made me fall in love with riding and showing in the first place. I will be forever grateful to the people who offered me the chance to come back to the show ring, as I might never have returned without being given this little push.


When I was finally financially ready to come back to showing, I, of course, decided to jump back into showing main ring. But the thing was, it was different. The kinds of horses winning were not the same as when I last set foot in the showpen about six years  before. My local connections were gone, and the cost of showing had risen so much that I struggled to even enter one horse show a year on my  budget.


There were lots of new classes, but most of them were tailored for those new to showing, or they required that I be able to bring more than one horse to a show. Gone were the days of showing the same horse in a couple of related divisions at each show. I also discovered that my older horses were no longer competitive as trends had shifted that they could never be competitive in the amateur classes again.


I was about to give up and continue to just exhibit my horses at open shows when my parents sold the property where we had raised and cared for all of my horses since I was a teen. We were lucky enough to move the horses to Madrigal Farms in Lenanon, Oregon to live with long-term friends who also breed lovely sport horses. This pivotal moment led me back to my roots and to exhibiting horses exclusively in the sport horse arena.

National Winning Half-Arabian Country English Pleasure mare, Deelish LOA+ .
Deelish LOA + turned Multi-National Champion Dressage and Sport Horse.

Back to My Roots


You see, I grew up jumping and riding dressage horses. Most of my showing and riding until I was a tween was done in the hunter/jumper pen or the dressage court. I had shown an  Arabian during my youth and early amateur years in dressage, but I had mostly forgotten about this time in my life as I pursued other main ring goals.


The group from Madrigal Farms wanted to attend the final Sport Horse Nationals hosted in Idaho in 2020, and I eagerly joined their plans. I found I could show both of my horses in several classes at Sport Horse Nationals, and I could afford the trip to exhibit them at this fantastic location. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I could justify the cost of going to a big horse show.


That show was a turning point for me, and was the first time I considered making sport horse my focus. Sport horse had been such a small division when I showed in it all those years ago. Now, however, I found myself at a horseshow with huge classes, tons of beautiful horses, and all of the prestige and pomp of main ring competition. Not only could I afford to attend a national show, but I could also compete with my older horses, who had lost their value in the main ring due to age. I could also learn new skills and work my way up the levels in the dressage ring. I felt a new spark of life breathed into my riding career, and I set off without looking back.


Sport Horse Values are Amateur-Centric


Sport horse has answered the same need for so many
amateurs over the last ten years. As the cost of having horses and attending shows goes up every year, the cost of showing horses at a high level has become exorbitant. Many of us can no longer compete at these shows, and even if we could, most of us cannot afford to be away from work for a couple of weeks at a time. In addition, as the necessity of having your horse in full training has become so native to the main ring experience, there is not much room for the self-made amateur at main ring shows these days, meaning that most of us who used to do a lot of the work on our own can’t compete any longer. I could still afford to show locally but was disappointed by being unable to compete beyond shows in my state.


The sport horse mentality, however, is very amateur-centric. Dressage and jumping competitors are encouraged to train their own horses with the guidance of an experienced coach. The shows are still expensive, but you can show in many more classes than at a main ring show. Dressage, in particular, fosters a cohesive and well-laid-out training protocol that helps to encourage good horsemanship, care for the well-being of the horse, and a sense of fairness when competing.


Returning to the dressage ring was like coming home for me. The change to showing with a focus on sport horse revitalized my love and passion for the sport that I didn’t realize I had been missing for many years. It is so exciting to see the sport horse division expanding, growing, and evolving, and I love seeing other amateurs at least dipping their toes into sport horse waters. There is so much value in falling in love with your horse, showing, and the equine community.


While I can appreciate so many things about main ring and all that it has to offer, I am happy that I switched to showing exclusively in the sport horse ring. I have felt welcomed, I have forged new bonds with new friends, and I have been able to learn new skills as I work up through the  dressage training scale. I continue to be grateful for all of the amazing experiences and learning opportunities that being affiliated with the Arabian horse has offered me.


This new adventure has made me feel whole again, and it has allowed me to become an even better horseman and spokesman for the Arabian breed. Arabians are genuinely the most special of all horses, and they shine and excel both in main ring competition and the sport horse divisions. All of us who own, show, or care for these amazing animals are blessed to be in their presence.


There is a Bedouin legend that says, “The air of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears.” Every day we get to share with our horses is a blessing, our own little slice of heaven. Whether we enjoy being mounted on the back of a western horse, jumping over fences, or doing pirouettes in the dressage ring, all of us are part of a broader community that stands for and behind this most special breed of horse.