The idea of a horse show is a pretty simple concept, right? Find a horse, ride a horse, go to a show, pick a division out of the 50 normally offered at a show, hand over your check, run around a ring, get a prize, go home. We have made the ART of showing horses on the A Circuit much more complicated than that, but that former idea is the baseline. We all deserve to be here showing horses, right? Sign up the various membership fees, register your horse for points, junior and amateurs find a trainer that works for them and we all carry on, do our thing, celebrate horse showing.
Over the years, when encouraging people to come from local showing to rated showing, there has been a typical response of ‘Oh no, I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve to be here’. Call me illogical, but I am pretty sure anyone with a check that isn’t going to bounce deserves to be at a horse show.
So, of course, I have to explore WHY this is a reaction.
I have always considered Clinics a gateway into showing on the A Circuit. When I was teaching at Garrison, this was super fun, and we took it very seriously. We chose good clinicians, that challenged our riders, made it fun, and inspired the kids. We chose carefully. Why? Because they were kids, and still in their most impressionable years (society has dictated you are not an adult until the age of 18 for a damn good reason) and if we had adults attending, we felt they really needed to have a good experience, so, God willing, would happily come back in the future. Simple. Logical.
Long before I started teaching at Garrison, and long before I learned what the A Circuit was, there was another organization that used clinics as a valuable teaching tool. Pony Club.
In Great Britain, some genius around 1928 recognized the need for club riding for YOUNG local riding enthusiasts, without enormous bank accounts, and got a whole bunch of families on board, and developed a formula that worked really fucking well. Four manuals were written covering EVERY aspect of horse and rider. Each manual was about 400 pages long, and the Pony Club kept score of who was reading those manuals by making you achieve a rating, A, B, C, or D. These kids were monitored by family members, took lessons from various trainers in the neighborhood as a group, had to do everything for themselves, and competed in various levels of competition, rallies, and events.
The US caught onto this concept around 1954 (probably after the AHSA raised its membership dues again) and Louise Bedford and Alexander Mackay-Smith officially formed the Pony Club of America. Members had an initiation fee of 50 cents, and annual fee of 50 cents, and your club had to pay a $25.00 registration fee. Those same four manuals were used, clinicians were brought in to teach the groups of kids and better their education with horses. There are many, many Olympians in other disciplines that have had Pony Club in their backgrounds and have credited the organization with their achievements. PM me I will tell you who they are.
My favorite quote of a Pony Club President came from Larry Byers, he was prez during the difficult time of 9-11. “I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you all that we are Pony Club. We come together to share our common interests and to enjoy each other’s company, to share in the accomplishments and to share in the disappointments. Please, let’s be tolerant and respectful of each other. Let’s not measure our success by equestrian accomplishments alone; let’s measure our success by SMILES, friendships, happy and well cared for horses, and relationships that endure through the years”
In this current day and age, on the A circuit, we have the USEF and USHJA to provide us with clinicians, and stables throughout the country invite members and NON-MEMBERS to participate. The Gateway.
The logical concept would be for a clinician from the A Circuit to attract anyone remotely considering showing in recognized competition, to jump on board, right? Close that gap, so to speak, have them feeling like omg I totally want to join that organization, I learned so much this weekend, this was AMAZING, there are soo many benefits to horse showing, great finals, yada, yada, yada.
So what happens when you get the wrong clinician?
What happens when that wrong clinician does not give a shit whether you have silent ambitions to show on the A Circuit, and you are here, because your friends told you it was a good idea, because the clinician is a celebrity, and you are now being fat-shamed, you aren’t wearing the right belt on your non Tailored Sportsmans, your boots aren’t shiny enough, and your hair is unacceptable? Ummmm, call me crazy, but I am gonna go with “GOODBYE”.
You don’t have to look very far to understand why we cannot close the gaps in the USHJA so called grass roots programs and upper-level competition. In ourselves we have applauded, supported, and thought it was funny when watching the insults fly around.
USEF and USHJA Clinicians have an enormous responsibility to the organizations to constantly recruit non-members into members. If they can’t figure out this simple concept, there is probably a huge underlying problem. Personally, I would rather stab my eye out with a fork rather than hire a clinician that I thought would throw out just one insult, let alone a hundred, because this is certainly not a tool to “toughen someone up for the big time”. What a load of crap. You feel you need to give people a thicker, tougher mentality to survive in this business? The solution is simple, send them to a horse rescue. People involved in horse rescue are tougher than nails, and I have no time for you if you can’t figure out why.
Never EVER let someone else feel like you do not deserve to be at a horse show, this is a ludicrous response that I would love to see disappear.
The address of the USEF? 4047 Iron Works Parkway, Lexington, Kentucky.
The address of the U.S. Pony Club? 4041 Iron Works Parkway, Lexington, Kentucky.
Time to rethink everything….
My preference for a good clinician? Frank Madden.
Need a horse rescue to toughen up your kid?