Beware of Blind Devotion

Get out of your bubble and explore the equine world

©Tamarack Hill Farm

There must be something buried in the human psyche that craves an object of blind devotion. Why else would there be fans of anything? Think about it. Somewhere there’s a 10-year-old who worships the New York Yankees. Now this kid never has, and probably never will, meet an actual Yankee, or even live within a day’s drive of the Bronx. But if you want to start an argument that has no end say something demeaning about the team and you will hear a litany of reasons why these this team is transcendently superior to all others.

Political parties, religions, nationalities, hobbies, brands of cars, all have their champions and detractors, and often there isn’t much logic, analytical thinking or empirical evidence upon which those obsessions have been based.

It’s no different in the large world of horses. Try telling a devotee of some particular breed that some other breed is better, and you are right there arguing with that 10-year-old about the relative merits of the Yankees versus the Red Sox with no hope of either party convincing the other in a million years. You may be an obsessed dressage rider, but you’ll be highly unlikely to ever convince a barrel racer to switch saddles.


Most of the horse breeds and disciplines have entire sub cultures surrounding them, with associations, publications, websites, registries and competitive venues in interlocking webs of support. Once you have decided to become (pick one): a show jumper, an eventer, a trail rider, riding a (pick one): Thoroughbred, Morgan, QH, there is an entire network created and designed to make you feel comfortable and part of something special that’s larger and more important than yourself.

There are enormous gulfs separating these segments of the equestrian world. Arabian lovers will not be found at an Appaloosa show, nor reiners at the Grand Prix of Aachen. Drivers drive, jockeys gallop, western riders ride in saddles with saddle horns, racehorse people live at the racetrack, and on and on it goes. There are a few areas of commonality, like the quest for veterinary advances, or the need for good hay, or trailers, but basically there’s little to bind the disparate elements together.

The main problem with blind devotion to anything is that it’s blind; it tends to rule out all kinds of opportunities that are available to those with vision.

Here’s just one example…

Take an eager, young event rider. Let her spend a few years developing her eventing base. Then let her spend a year in Germany working at a real dressage training center. Then let her gallop timber horses for an entire year for Jonathan Sheppard. Then she should spend a year with Valarie Kanavy riding endurance horses. The next year she’s back in Europe with a Grand Prix jumper yard.

Now send her back into eventing, and if she isn’t wildly more proficient than when she left four years earlier, she must have spent those opportunities in a drug induced coma.

Now, nobody I know has done that “total immersion” thing to the extent of my hypothetical, but there are pieces of that puzzle available to those who are enterprising enough to seek them out. Basically, it’s a big, diverse world out there, and if you allow your fandom mindset to limit you, you can bet you’ll be surpassed by those more open minded. Hey, we know you’re basically whacked, just as most of us can admit that we are similarly “out there”. Don’t worry. You can crawl back to the secure little nest of the Yankees and live there happily ever after, but maybe just try some other brands of ice cream before you eat just maple walnut for the rest of your life.


About the Author

Named “One of the 50 most influential horsemen of the Twentieth Century” byThe Chronicle of the Horse, Denny Emerson was elected to the USEA Hall of Fame in 2005. He is the only rider to have ever won both a gold medal in eventing and a Tevis Buckle in endurance. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and author of How Good Riders Get Good, and continues to ride and train from his Tamarack Hill Farm in Vermont and Southern Pines, NC.

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