Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Horse Show Numbers are (gasp!) Declining

There are a couple articles swirling around "the socials" right now about the decline in participation at USEF horse shows.

The mind, she is boggled!

Or like.

Not.
#baller
One of the posts I saw was written by a thoughtful local pro who I have a lot of respect for, so I wrote the following:

"It’s been years since I’ve taken a horse in the show ring and if I get back to it, I don’t see myself joining organizations and showing rated. The cost is so high and the competitor experience is not great. Why would I spend hundreds of dollars to wear white spandex for a couple minutes and sweat my ass off only to be told that my safe, appropriate horse isn’t as fancy as a much fancier horse?

I find my competitive outlets other places and while I enjoy my horse, I have no interest in getting back to showing."

There was a lot of discussion, but another person came back with two things:

  1. Amateurs are too fixated on winning
  2. Amateurs who aren't winning blame their non-fancy horse instead of their own poor riding
I'd like to discuss these responses just a little. 



1. Winning fixation-as the other poster illustrated, people run 5ks with no expectation of ever winning. Why should they expect to win at dressage? 

Let's talk about this a little. 

Running is a sport with a very low barrier of entry financially. You can do it with things you already have around the house. You can spend a lot or you can spend a little. For the sake of discussion, let's focus on the full-time worker who runs nights and weekends for fun and does 5-10 5ks a year. 

They pay $30-100 to run a race. At that race, they can wear anything they feel like running in (barefoot in shorts and a sports bra? fine. designer shoes, olympic branded gear, heart rate monitor? equally fine.) They get a tech fabric shirt, a finisher medal, post-race snacks, and frequently a meal or beverage. There's a start time and every participant can set objective time goals and work towards them. 

If their friends or family want to come watch, there is a start time and a published route. Cheering and participation is encouraged. If they have plans after, the whole day is typically ahead of them. If the family wants to participate, hey, they can.
  • This person will literally never win a 5k unless they are over 70 years old. 
  • This person will never appear on the "national running scene".
  • This person will have the full running experience, probably including a couple of irritating injuries that will result in a few days away from work over their career
they may get a wild hair and run a half marathon too
And how does horse showing stack up? 

Riding is a sport with a very high barrier of entry. Whether you own or lease, you need a horse. The horse needs to live somewhere. You need appropriate tack and gear for the horse, a way to get the horse to and from competitions, and a bevy of memberships to be allowed at the competitions.

And this is for the nights and weekends rider who wants to do 5-10 shows a year. 

We're going to talk about recognized/rated horse shows since these are the ones squealing about diminished participation. Participants pay $150-500/day in show fees just to the show (not including coaching/stabling/hauling/grooming/schooling/etc). The participant (and the horse) have to wear approved outfits and the person in charge can literally wave around a color wheel and kick a rider out out for being a shade off. If the person wins the horse show, they get a $2-$5 ribbon with no cash value. Maybe a wine glass. If they don't win, hopefully there was a peppermint in the competitor pack that they can suck on. They can try to set individual score goals, but since judging is ultimately subjective and influenced by trends and the class around them, they may or may not meet the goals. (You ride Backyard Betty after Hopfenschnerflgard the Import? -5 for looking worse in comparison. Whoops. Too bad your ride had to be scheduled around multiple trips in the ring for the ammy with 3 imports who's competing in multiple divisions and worth way more money to the show organization than you ever will be!)  

If your friends or family want to come watch, they will have to show up to a multi-hour event that is nearly always behind schedule. They will be subjected to a complicated set of expectations for the horse show spectator and ignored at best, or (likely) mocked, hushed, and glared at for not following the intricate social mores of a rarefied upper class club. If they have plans after, too bad. The event will go all day. If they still want to participate after all that, the barrier of entry is just as high as it was for the first person.
  • This person might win a class here and there because hey, participation is declining and sometimes your competition gets the flu!
  • This person will never appear on the "national riding scene".
  • This person will always know that they aren't a "true equestrian" because their middle class life requires they have a real job and health insurance, which precludes long hours at the barn. 
  • This person runs the chance of a catastrophic injury from being around horses which could result in weeks or months away from that all-important job. 
oh hai decently fancy ribbon
TL:DR USEF shows come with very high costs and little to no reward. Running 5ks is much more competitor and spectator friendly. 

2. Non-winning amateurs on affordable horses who ride on nights and weekends and take a weekly lesson should blame their own riding instead of the fact that they got beat by a purpose-bred sport horse that cost more than their house ridden by an-equally motivated amateur who trains 5-7 days a week with the best trainer money can pay for in a sport that literally takes a lifetime to understand.

If you say there isn't a divide here, I don't know what to tell you. It's a money sport. The people who can afford top of the line horses, get more show ring experience, and ride with better pros are not less motivated than you are and yup, they're going to beat you every out. 

And they should. They literally paid for the privilege.

They're better than you (at this sport). A lot of them are great humans and they work hard at it and that's nothing to be ashamed of. 
i'm being a dik dik again
There's not a whoooooole lot of point in paying money to go get your subjectively-judged ass handed to you to the tune of your mortgage payment per weekend when you literally don't have a chance. (Unless you're short on wine glasses? Even then I feel like amazon prime might be a better shot if you want a matched set.) 

So yeah. If you want to be blamed for not having enough money to compete in a moneysport that's literally populated by the Eve Jobs, Jennifer Gates, and Georgina Bloombergs of the world, I mean, there's always USEF shows! 
Sound off, internet. Why am I wrong?

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Changes

 Once upon a time, I was a super good equestrian with goals and metrics and measurables and I took all the lessons and went all the places and lived and breathed horses. 
can you even with how cute she is
I am not that right now.

Last year, I really struggled with horses and riding because I cannot sink that kind of time and energy into so I cannot ride at the level that I am accustom. Which means. Riding isn't competitive. It's supposed to be fun. Fun is great I guess but there are a lot of cheaper ways to have fun.

Plus like.

If you've ever been pretty good at something and then you're not so good at it and when you're doing it, you know the problem is you and you can't fix it?

It's hard to want to keep doing it. 
even at her shaggy moose-i-est
But see.

I've had a lot of horses and been around a lot more.

And I know that she's the sort of horse you only meet once or maaaaaybe twice in a lifetime, if you're very lucky.
trot 2 circles. jump like whoa. toodle bareback.
Sinking the time and money into shows and clinics right now sounds completely asinine to me. 

Developing a well-mannered, confident and happy all-around horse is always in good taste though. 

And do you know how I develop an all around horse? 

I do all the things.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

This Was Unexpected

You guys. The weirdest thing happened. 

I wanted to ride my horse. 

Not in like the sort of abstract "I miss the way it used to feel when I was competent" that is pretty normal, but in like a concentrated "I'm going to put my pants on and go mess with my horse in the cold tonight" sort of way. 
baseline. zero fitness, 100% yak hair.
With everything going on in life, I have not felt that way in a while. One of the biggest life skills I've been focusing on is just letting things be and not constantly trying to fix everything. Since I haven't felt like riding, I haven't ridden. 

We did take really cute Christmas pictures. I've been out to toodle around bareback and pet her nose and drop off checks. She's been good, don't get me wrong, but I was definitely starting to see the little things that meant she needed more. A little rude on the ground, a little sluggish on her back. Plus, every time I saw her, I was kind of rushed and going through the motions.

Gee, correlation much? 
I'm getting that familiar itch to ride and train and (haha) shop for pony things again. We're starting slow with some much needed ground work and team building time.

I'm excited to see where we go. 
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