I recently had a conversation with another trainer about this issue. Why isn’t our sport more popular? When she asked me this question, I thought back to an article I read earlier this year that didn’t make much sense to me. It keyed on things like keeping your horses’ names one word. Really? If we really change our horses names to simple words that will be a game changer? Troy Polamalu did alright.
When I am at horse shows, I attempt to watch what is going on around me, and here is what I see; Bored parents that don’t understand why it is taking so long and why they are spending so much money.
You have to admit even if you love horses and are an avid fan, watching 2’6″ round after round can be extremely painful, not to mention teach you every bad habit there is if you watch too long. So how have things changed? When I was growing up you didn’t go to an A rated horse show if you couldn’t jump 3’6″ period. Mileage to get to this level was done through lessons and some local horse shows. (Please note this article is not a discussion about whether or not someone should show 3’6″ but a discussion on ideas on how to make it less expensive and more interesting for the ‘non-horseperson.)
An argument I hear with this is many parents can’t afford to buy a 3’6″ horse. I don’t buy it. If you can afford to go to an A rated horse show, and go in class after class that offers no prize money, you can afford a 3’6″ horse that has a chance of winning some prize money. My first 3’6″ horse was a cow horse and pole bending horse we bought at the sale barn for $600.00. We later traded that horse for my first Hermes saddle. My first two grand prix horses cost $750.00 (He Can Run aka Caddyshack) and $900.00 (Captain Kidd). Caddy shack and I also won the AQHA World Championships in showjumping and did hunter classes. The problem is riders don’t ride well enough and trainers don’t train well enough to show most horses at 3’6″. In our barn unless it is ancient or crippled it shows 3’6″. Hunter’s first pony was bought from a school horse program. She was a large, but we couldn’t be picky on size, with our budget. I paid for her to do one or two shows at short stirrup and told Hunter if she wanted to show at A shows she had to do the rated division, as I could not pay entries for a short stirrup horse. The next horse show she showed in the large ponies and earned a little prize money. Same thing for Hunter’s first horse, she did a couple classes in the childrens hunters and moved right up to the juniors because prize money was a must to make this sport doable for our family. We still operate that way. Our horses have to earn their keep. If we don’t do well, we cannot go to the next horse show. Bottom line, if a rider wants to show 3’6″, they can, if they put the effort and time into it. They learn so much more than running around trying to make the step at 2’6″ and cutting their corners. It is my opinion, to save the future of the sport, smaller classes do not belong at A shows. Just as you don’t pack a stadium for flag football, same goes for smaller jumping classes. We need to get the parents back if we want to get the next generation of riders. Below is a victory gallop picture of Hunter winning the ASPCA Maclay at Indoors. Look how few spectators for this prestigious class;
We need to get our audience back. Unfortunately horse shows are expensive because we have no spectators. If we had people that wanted to watch the horse show, they would make exhibitors costs go down and parents would pony up for more horse shows and more horses, if they were having fun and not spending their life savings for their kid to show. Let’s face it, a normal six figure income will not allow most kids to show on any type of regular basis. Not only is that wrong, but you extremely decrease your market, making life hard on everyone.
How can we make horse shows more interesting? Here is my list;
- Classes that are exciting , interesting to watch
- Show at the time you say you are going to show
- Shorter hours
Let’s take a note from Europe. They preload. That greatly cuts down time. In Europe, someone is always jumping, someone is in and hacking waiting for their turn, and the one that finished usually hasn’t left the ring yet. WE need to buck up and get used to it. It works. That would lessen the hours and make it more interesting.
Twenty years ago most horse shows were put on by a group of people that weren’t interested in making a profit. That isn’t the case now, so where do we go from here? If they adapted guidelines such as preloading, maybe everyone wouldn’t be too tired to put back on more interesting events in the afternoon and get spectators involved. If we are taking a note from baseball, we need to figure out how to draw a paying audience. Classes would have to start at the time they say and then you are done. Parents get to go relax, riders get to relax, grooms get some down time. Life is good. This year at indoors we were riding from 3 am in the ring until after midnight. The course walk was at 5 am the next day. I had one groom that didn’t sleep for almost 48 hours. That isn’t right. Let’s learn from popular sports in our country and show jumping in Europe.
If we want to make a change I know these things are a must. Every sport that is popular you must have spectators and you must have an accurate schedule. Now what do we do? Where do we start? If we want this sport to be successful and not lose some of our best riders to Europe or quitting because they can’t afford it, we need to make a change.WE NEED TO PUT THE EXCITEMENT BACK IN THE SPORT!