I wonder if enough people in the horse show industry set goals for themselves. If they are, are the goals being set revolving primarily around qualifying for something? Pony finals, EQ finals, League finals, Devon, Junior Hunter finals, Derby finals, Regional finals, Harrisburg, WIHS, the National, etc., horse show careers are wildly based around forming a certain resumé for a person or animal. The better the resumé, the better the end product, right? Sure…
Trainers, I assume, set goals in order to stay in business and get that overhead paid. They post a schedule of horse shows expecting the clients to sign up, make arrangements and carry on through the year from show to show. They work like mad to make sure the clients achieve those goals, sit on the right mounts, win those ribbons and get those points.
I wonder how many trainers are expecting to grow next year? Or, downsize and concentrate on different aspects of their businesses? Perhaps discard a client or five and concentrate on developing a young horse or two? Maybe take some time to consider options?
Everyone has their own opinion on point chasing, whether it is a broad spectrum of wanting to qualify for EVERYTHING, or maybe just one class somewhere during the show year. Hopefully people are smart enough to make time for the actual education when it comes to horsemanship and riding by finding the balance between learning and achieving these goals.
No, wait, that doesn’t matter. There is a program for riders, right? A horsemanship quiz or something that asks all the right questions, right? Everything you need to know on one piece of paper! Sigh.
Since the cost of overhead is enormous for most show stables, it is rarely possible for the entire stable to take a month or two off to focus solely on education and learning. And each year it seems the attention spans of students grows smaller. What happens when you are qualified for all your finals by April? Are you doing the bare minimum it takes to get a Medal and Maclay on your resumé just so you can relax and coast for the rest of the summer then scramble to take a whole bunch of last minute lessons right before you walk in the ring in the fall? Do you ever seek out more knowledge? Do you have ambition? Is your manicure a higher priority?
Big operations have big bills. The people behind the scenes tend to come from the outside rather than the inside. Very few working students exist anymore compared to 30 years ago. Small operations are certainly not exempt either, and balancing the budget takes an enormous amount of energy. Costs go up every year, and let’s face it, nothing will ever flatline—there is no more rent control. Trainers do favors to keep clients in the game, sometimes at tremendous cost to themselves. Other trainers don’t find any value in longevity with clients and work hard to make as much money off them as possible in the shortest amount of time. Neither is healthy, of course, and everyone suffers.
Last year brought the sudden announcement that Karen Healey was shutting down her seemingly successful California operation. Maybe to some of us it was surprising, almost shocking, but not incomprehensible. As Karen mentioned, the overhead was staggering, and keeping the standards high enough for her satisfaction was simply no longer possible.
Why not? How high were those standards? Were the clients’ expectations of their own resumés and treatment spiraling too far upwards? How many people needed to be employed for that amount of horses? What exactly was considered appropriate involvement of a rider/client to her horse or horses? Who tacks up the horse and who wraps it at night? How did we get here? The questions roll on in my head…
My first experience in California was showing up as a complete stranger on the doorstep of Hap Hansen Stables 25 years ago, a few weeks before heading to the winter circuit in Indio and trying to wrap my head around the reality of taking more than 60 horses to a horse show. HOW WAS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?? I still have no idea how we did it, but we all survived, and immediately I knew I had learned more in one month working for him than the past year back in Maryland.
It was hard, but I loved the few years I was there. However, I do remember fully catering to every junior/amateur that walked through the barn aisle, down to offering to polish their boots for them. Looking back, there wasn’t much encouragement for me to mingle with clients outside of the show. I did anyway, for a while, before realizing I didn’t have much to contribute to any conversation that didn’t involve a horse. (My enthusiastic diatribes on poultices from around the world sort of flopped at any dinner table.)
Luckily for us, we have not lost Karen Healey altogether, but instead gained what she feels is more important in her life right now. She is teaching the hell out of American riders who want to be taught. She is one of the best instructors this country has to offer and I hope all 44,000 USHJA members can benefit from her in some capacity.
As we set our goals for the future, what are we considering? How much emphasis is being put into actual horsemanship and education so the future of our industry is better prepared when the number of horses suddenly grows in the successful show stable down the road? As a junior rider are you actually willing to spend more than the month of November without stirrups (like the rest of the world), or are you content to end it there? “Don’t worry, to be successful you only need one month without stirrups!” Are you kidding me right now?! How did we get to one month? The bare minimum…
Your resumé as a junior rider will not affect your career as a professional as much as the location of your barn and your ability to be nice to people. It is lovely to have the background for your future students, but it absolutely does not make you a better person to have a slew of trophies on your shelf. Knowing how to make someone else’s experience better than your own is invaluable, so as you are going through the motions think about what improvements to make for the future riders.
Do pony riders make goals for themselves, or are those goals coming from someone else? Parents, maybe? How realistic are you as a parent when it comes to your expectations in the show ring? Short term? Long term? Fanciest bows? Best outfit? Are you seeking the best education for your child, or the best pony? Do you care either way? Are you hoping to be out of horses altogether by the time your child is 18?
This thinking is what is creating a big gap. Piano lessons and riding lessons are not the same thing. Dabbling in the sport of horses because you are bored is not really helping the industry as a whole. I can’t say don’t do it, but I encourage you to find more depth.
Pony Club created four manuals on horsemanship—buy the first one for your child this holiday and make a difference. Help us all out. Amazon has free delivery.
Everyone in this industry is responsible for making it better. The shift does not go to one organization or another, or one individual over another, and when you do not educate yourselves properly you are most likely the one who winds up complaining about something trivial at the in-gate. So make a goal you would normally make for yourself—your student, client or your child—and make one or two more that will help the industry, no matter how small. And for pete’s sake, read a book about horsemanship. Let’s learn more about riding every kind of horse, developing the young ones, improving the older ones, caring for, feeding, shoeing, bandaging—BASIC attention your horse’s needs—and move further away from the politics of the sport; the so-called popularity contests and the designer outfits by celebrating long term goals, not short term achievements. Let’s see ONE kid at Junior Hunter Finals know how to take a temperature of a horse and not be grossed out.
It’s not like we aren’t capable. We have everything we need right in front of us.
Originally published at deloiseinamerica.com
About the Author
Deloise Noble-Strong runs Noble Stables in Upperco, Maryland. Following several generations of horse enthusiasts, Deloise has a lifetime of accomplishments in the show ring and has been importing high quality show hunters for over two decades. She shares her opinions on all things equine at deloiseinamerica.com.