Not Grass Roots, part II of the 2019 US Equestrian Meeting

it is not grass roots, it is fundamental.

There was a session at the 2019 US Equestrian meeting which I felt warranted an article of its own.

It is the Fundamental group of competing horse owners across this country who are being pushed out of sanctioned horse showing based on the rising costs of an interfering Federation with predatory characteristics and strict (some say over) regulation. This is the simple explanation of an evolution of hunter jumper horse showing across the nation, in my eyes.

In many places across the country you have actually already left, gone, vamoose, and you are not looking back….

Where are you going?

Many of you are re-discovering the Thoroughbred. The wildly successful TB circuits are filling the gap at an accelerated pace simply by offering affordable showing costs, limited divisions and rules, and little to no overhead. I hear it everywhere, I am asked lately (well, more and more) to find my clients Thoroughbreds, a request I never thought my business would ever in a million years hear or experience again. Horse trading Thoroughbreds is still far from easy (because Americans are trying to recollect how to actually ride a thoroughbred), but the challenge has been accepted, and wow, a lot of you are in the game again. I experienced personally the mania last year in TIP shows, witnessed the Take2 TB classes, saw the checks rolling out to year end award recipients, and watched in awe almost the entire Retired Racehorse Project. It is all beyond impressive. The RRP grew so fast, in fact, the organization was forced to increase the application fee to accommodate the growing interest and also added a whole new day to the schedule to better serve exhibitors. What a great problem to have for Thoroughbreds…

You weighed in on your experience and left sanctioned showing behind and your wallet is heavier because of it.

 

Version 2

If you are a fundamental rider who still has a warmblood, you also have made a financial decision to limit the amount of showing on the A circuit to accommodate an actual budget. So maybe you spend 3 weeks of showing in Florida for the experience, but that prevents you from showing for the next three months after February. Which is fine! You get to show in Florida!! …..in the sunshine!!! Yay you!! Go you!!

I think I have point in here somewhere…..

I guess I am watching both the USHJA and USEF evolve as well, but in oddly opposite directions. And in their own evolution, they are putting some heavy focus on recruiting new members, and one way to find them is through the affiliate organizations. The need for money coming into the organizations is exceptionally high right now, so these fundamental competitors are tasked with financing all of the other levels which cost a gross amount of funding. Exorbitant amounts of bonuses are paid to riders and horses at the very top of the USEF pyramid, for example. Ironically, these are often the wealthiest of the riders we have in America. What do they need the bonuses for? More fancy equipment? I am pretty sure the top 1% already has a support system to buy whatever they need, so the thought of the Federation writing a check to top tier riders because they were chosen to represent our team sorta makes me cringe. That money can be used better, in my naive and and cynical mind.

What else are you doing?

Choosing your schedule differently? Choosing your horse purchases differently? What has more meaning to you? A year end award/class or championship? Or convenience of showing close to home? Zone 3 has a healthy and robust non-sanctioned show circuit which I have repeatedly asked other Zones or states to follow, study and see if it is a formula which might work in their own area. The burgeoning unrecognized shows are not shrinking away in areas with intelligent, motivated people who have figured out how to run a mildly decent horse show. Some are better than others. Some you may have to bring your own food or contribute to a potluck lunch table. Some you have to pack your horse’s water. (you should do this anyway, but, oddly enough along the way, many people forgot this basic necessity)

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From a typical East Coast Fundamental mom :

Our Goals with showing

  • Gaining Experience
  • Cultivating a Love of Horses 
  • Developing Horsemanship
  • Having Fun
  • With Some Luck, a ribbon.
  • Local End of Year Awards (if we get super lucky)
  • Give a Young Horse some positive mileage

My son, 8 years old, is in his 6th year of showing at unrecognized shows, with the exception of Devon (once- won lead line in 2015), Upperville and Warrenton (again Lead line).  He is a member of VHSA and the Battlefield Horse Show Association.  

Right now, we solely do unrecognized shows in Short Stirrup and Pony Pleasure.  We can do 3 divisions for $135 total.  Up to this point, he has been uncompetitive in SS because he doesn’t know his diagonals and he is a laid back boy who is a loose goose in the saddle.  My goal for him is just to gain experience and gain a love of the sport.  As much as I love showing at the bigger shows, there is no need for me to spend the money when he is not competitive yet.  I also have a non-horsey husband.  He likes the shows, but if we were constantly gone for multiple days and spending lots of money, he may balk.  I’m trying to ease him into things!  

myers 1

I had a young horse prospect 2 years ago that I started showing locally and she gained some useful mileage before being sold as a pre-green horse.

We ride with a number of other kids who solely do unrecognized shows.  Their goal, in addition to improving their riding and horses, is to show at the VHSA Assoc. Finals in Nov.  To show at that show, one must do 5 VHSA Associate Shows.  From what I see, their parents are not horse people but support their kids in achieving this goal.  But, I did hear complaints about the long days when we showed at the VHSA Assoc Show this year.  They are not used to the long days or lack of scheduling (ie. hurry up and wait)

I really feel that people doing the one day shows are not looking to get USEF/USHJA points.  Instead, the VHSA Associate Show proves that people want to have a “bigger” show experience (there were 60 Short Stirrup rides, and over 100 14&U Eq on the Flat riders!)  Doing well at these bigger shows means more than the end of the year awards.  

I preface this by saying I am not really familiar with the Stirrup Cup or the Outreach Shows.  (Maybe these are what I am suggesting)  Perhaps the USEF could cultivate the “middle” tier of riders by setting a goal that is not point driven.  Chasing points does nothing to encourage these folks to show.  Why not require AA show management to have a ring dedicated to opportunity classes or make Sunday a day for opportunity classes. That way trainers could bring all of their people to the same show, and other trainers may introduce their riders to shows that otherwise they would not know about.  People could also watch the rated divisions and perhaps develop new goals.  I live in Culpeper and many of the kids we ride with have never stepped foot on the HITS show grounds. Additionally, the fees should be lower/non-existent and this should pertain to show management/office/grounds fees. (I’m amazed how my stall at VHSA Finals was half of what it is at a AA show) The “opportunity divisions”  fit this bill but are RARELY offered.

That’s all for now.  In summary– we want a good show experience but are not looking for year end awards or points.  We know that we need to step up for that level.

Courtney Frankhouser Myers

myers 2

Isn’t interesting she didn’t even know about the Outreach Program?

Why does everyone always assume people don’t go to horse shows unless they are qualifying for some unknown variable? I can’t wrap my head around this logic. There are loads of people showing who don’t give a crap about receiving an award, but our institutions REFUSE to listen to that piece of it, so we create and create and create, only to wonder why no one is signing up for our creations. It is so dumb. Not everyone wins at the RRP or a TIP show, but the experience of competing at the Kentucky Horse Park is amazing!!

There are two kinds of people out there, people who like to show when they can show and people who show with a goal of a championship on their minds. The advantage comes from knowing how to please both people.

It used to be people could stomach signing up for a Federation and Affiliate membership in order to show at just one competition, because the fun of showing at a fancy show one time was just alluring enough to justify the extra expense. Those days are long gone! You try to convince someone these days? You are met with a look of jest followed by a litany of ‘over my dead body’ remarks. Why? Because the options are out there. Hunt Clubs solved this problem ages ago by offering varying types of memberships depending on how often you hunted. Hunt less than 6 times? No problem! Here’s a membership plan for you…. Got the bug now?? okey dokey, full membership for you!….Currently, we don’t have that option, but it would be nice if we did, and for once it would be nice if a Federation stayed current on the needs of the majority of members.

licensed officials struggling to find work

At the USHJA meeting I ran into a few people frustrated with the lack of available work for newly licensed judges with a small ‘r’. Managers tend to re-hire the same judges year after year, and breaking into that old world club is met with an insane level of difficulty and closed doors until those judges decide to retire. In the past the ‘r’ judge gained a tremendous amount of experience through one day horse shows which eventually led to bigger and better paying judging jobs down the road. However, with the sudden extinction of these B and C (or Regional I and II) shows in some areas, they simply cannot be hired because the work is no longer there. Many ‘r’ judges are amateurs who actually have other full time jobs. Some are not amateurs and have spent a great deal of time and money to become licensed, but lack the initial network to help them get started.

Is there a solution?

I have found that convincing a show manager to run a single day recognized horse show is met with much resistance. The costs to the Federations alone are staggering and it is nearly to impossible to run a single day show at profit. The risk is too great.  I think incentives are needed for those one day shows, and the cost to the Federation needs to be greatly reduced, or some sort of short term (two year) incentive plan put into place. Say you have a viable facility and an ambitious show manager, could you not offer a package, say offering a series of 4-6 shows through the calendar year but you get to run a bonus show with no costs to the Federation? Or only pay the Federation if the show runs at a profit? Single day horse shows cannot run at a loss, period. You don’t need a business degree to see how that will not work with a show manager. I guess we have to take in the solution of the Outreach Program and hope it spreads fast enough across the country to keep the door open to riders and trainers showing primarily on a local circuit. Many show managers feel the Outreach classes are what is saving their horses shows all together, otherwise they would be running completely in the red. https://www.ushja.org/competition/outreach

What else?

Do you think offering an equal balance of points for any division up to the 3’6” height is fair? Or did we screw up by slashing points when you didn’t show at a premiere or national show even though the competition is basically the same. An adult amateur is an adult amateur is an adult amateur. So why should you get more points just because you prefer to write bigger checks and show at fancier places? Personally, I don’t see why any adult or children’s hunter should be on a different point scale when you all are the same level riding ability but maybe that is just me. Someone along the way (probably a show manager) saw more logic in awarding more points for higher rated shows, despite the competitors being the same competitors. I don’t know. I think maybe the point scale should be the same across the board, no matter how big or how little you write a check for your entry fees. Maybe this is why I found the Child/Adult Hunter Championships so fun, because all levels of adult amateurs and children’s hunter riders were represented and enjoyed the experience.

Breeders.

Bringing back hunter breeding to one day shows…Actually, I got nothing here. I am sympathetic to the hunter breeding competitors, but even if any of us has a good idea how to breathe life into that division, we would be met with resistance. Just because. If you all want to show at one day shows speak up. And keep speaking up. In my eyes I see it easier to bring babies to a one day horse show, and having a little hunter breeding chaos at the end of the day would be fun I think. Do you want the Hunter Breeding to be on a Zone level or National level? Do you want to see hunter breeding at Zone Finals?

Land….

Preserving the land and whose shoulders would that fall on? Rapidly disappearing land is no secret in some parts of the country and someone brought up the fact that maybe the USEF should start helping preserve land our venues sit on, rather than milk the venues to fill up their pocketbook. This is actually a really good idea, and would be a nice gesture to a Federation who acts like Godzilla half the time. After all, what is the point of sanctioned horse shows, if there are no venues to show out of? Smaller show organizations cannot fight the land loss alone, so if USEF did a little ‘outreach’ of its own, it would restore a little faith in the members.

I think it is funny to watch the organizations chase their tails so much. The entire country shifts and changes and moves away from what those organizations set up and it takes years to cycle back. No one wants to stay ahead of the curve, and the slow process to implement legislation doesn’t help either. It is a shame, there was so much potential to roll with the tide, but we somehow lacked the foresight to actually ride the biggest wave to shore….

Someone told me this week during the annual meeting we might need a few more people really willing to fight for the programs we love within the USHJA. I agree, you need to really fight for what you want. At least for the time being. The two organizations go hand in hand, but membership involvement is clearly not as welcome in USEF as it is in USHJA.

I’ll continue to share the heck out of the USHJA programs, I’ll get behind the ones I like, and insist on changing the ones I don’t like, and I’ll explain to YOU what makes them good programs so when YOU are ready, they are there for you.  I am going be an activist in my own way, not in a control freak kind of way. I am not going to collect any more data, I already pay close attention to the markets, and I already see what is happening out there, but I do want to hear about how people prioritize their competition lifestyles.

I don’t think either the USHJA or USEF will ever get ahead of the competition world and as we watch other turmoils start to unfold in front of us, I wonder if they will eventually end up paying the ultimate price. I hope not, our livelihoods do depend on their success.

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2 thoughts on “Not Grass Roots, part II of the 2019 US Equestrian Meeting

  1. Also – one day divisions. I realize that many people enjoy competing for 2 days, good for if you can afford it. Do a schooling division on day 1 and your division on day 2. For the rest of us, paying 1 day of training fees, 1 night of hotel fees, 1 day of braiding, makes all the difference in the world. My favorite show used to be Maryland because the Amateurs showed on Friday. 3 over fences classes and a hack, and you went home. It cut my costs dramatically.

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