Due to quite a lot of competing and traveling, it hasn't been often lately that I could sit and write. However, don’t lose faith! I promise I'm still thinking, and I’m as hungry as ever to help the sport where I can. I'm planning to attend both the U.S. Eventing Association and U.S. Equestrian Federation conventions, but for the first time, I intend to speak up when the time comes. I encourage those who wish things to be different to do the same. Now is the time when your voice is needed!
After my last blog, I got several questions, the crux of which were: “Good point. Where do we start?” I think Gandhi said it best that we must “be the change we wish to see in the world.” This is applicable to all of us, but it specifically leads to three pledges that I will make for the New Year:
1) I will exhaustively search North American horse breeders and producers before my clients or I buy another gelding from overseas.
2) I will involve myself in a major event so that I might be able to help create the type of event that spectators will want to watch
3) I will involve myself in a USEF or USEA committee. From this, I hope to better understand the process and build the contacts necessary to improve collegiate equestrianism in the way I have proposed.
You will soon see that these pledges proposed are not completely altruistic. As a true stakeholder in North American equestrian development, I see these pledges as necessary, and ultimately in my own self-interest. And guess what—I’m completely OK with that! And why not? As discovered by John Forbes Nash, Jr., and made popular in the book and movie A Beautiful Mind, the best result is achieved when working in the best interest of both yourself and the group.
As a competitor and breeder, I'm completely fed up with the cost of importation. It is a huge tax we levy on our owners or ourselves and lowers the chance of either of us being pleased with the result. Additionally, we're funding other countries' breeding programs that are all too happy to continue beating us. I'm not suggesting we stop importing bloodlines, but we must stop importing geldings.
There are plenty enough good horses here to not need to buy them from overseas. Yes, it might be faster or easier, but that really doesn’t make it better, and to be honest, the horses I've bought here have been equally as good as those I’ve imported. For one thing, I actually know these horses. I've seen them compete, often for some time. I know the trainers, both the good and the bad.
Second, and more worrying, I don’t know the European horses. Given that we no longer pay more than the Europeans can pay themselves, do you really think when you go to Europe you're seeing the best? Can you tell enough in an hour about a horse to feel ready to buy it? Would you do the same thing here when looking at American horses? If you answered no to any of these questions then join my revolution!
While it may be good for you, it will also be good for North American trainers and breeders. The more of a market we create here, the better the standard of breeding will be, so everybody wins.
Make It Pay
The second of my pledges is also self-serving on many levels. I must digress for a moment before I tell you why. Here is a news flash: Our sport can be a money pit that I often have a hard time justifying to my family and myself. Lots of money seems to be changing hands, but nobody seems to be holding onto any of it. While this neither makes me love it less, nor changes my love for the horse, nor dampens my desire to strive, it IS a cold hard truth for many. If this dynamic doesn’t improve, the sport in this country will continue to struggle.
So what is the answer? Make it popular and make it pay. Though I know many people get gun-shy about prize money in the sport because of its effect on horsemanship, I say this: There are good and bad horsemen. There always have been and always will be. Over time, the good horsemen win more and understand that sometimes the best show is the one you don’t start. As unfortunate as pot hunting at the expense of the horse is, I really don’t think more money makes it that much more prevalent. If anything, preserving a good horse so that it has a long career is the most effective way of maximizing its earning potential.
Now we have tried (through the Professional Riders Organization and USEA) to provide prize money at shows, and while we appreciate those efforts, I don’t think they have been wholly successful. Why? Because they miss the point. What makes an event successful (like any other business), is paying customers (in our case, spectators).
The Rolex Kentucky CCI****, for example, can offer large prize money because it garners a large spectator base and therefore has the ability to attract big sponsors. Unfortunately, this model won't work for other events around the country because the majority of Rolex's spectators are eventing enthusiasts, and they're likely to make only one big pilgrimage per year.