I'm a big fan of Bob Avila's article series in Horse & Rider magazine. As soon as I receive the magazine, sometimes even before I get out of the truck, I flip right to Bob's article. Bob is a straight shooter, and he's secure enough in his career that he can say in print what others just gripe about back at the barn. Kudos also go to H&R editor Juli Thorson, who has the guts to publish articles with sometimes-unpopular opinions about tough ethical issues our industry faces. The theme of Bob's October article is greed - short-sighted things we do that hurt ourselves, our horses and our industry.
Among other things, Bob points out that knowingly selling an unsuitable horse to a buyer is particularly short-sighted. He's absolutely right. Every week, I hear from several unhappy horse buyers who got ripped off on their first horse deal and are so disillusioned that they exit the horse industry forever. A good proportion of those buyers are parents who purchased horses for their kids, so one bad horse deal killed generations' interest in horses. The kids who have a bad first horse experience never come back to horses. Instead, they take up soccer, or video games, or skateboarding, and these are the interests they pass on to their children, not 4-H or Pony Club.
To expand on Bob's theme, questionable show ring preparation and presentation are also hurting our industry. When's the last time you went to a horse show and saw any spectators in the stands who weren't related to the participants? Only the industry's largest events seem to draw any sizable non-insider crowds. When those spectators come to our events, they see things that look ugly to them, such as horses with unnatural movement, dead tails and miserable looks on their faces. These are not the displays of equine majesty the spectator reasonably expected from our industry's most prestigious events.
When a spectator dares to ask why, the answer typically implies (rather strongly) that the spectator is an ignorant know-nothing. The spectator walks away insulted and shaking their head, never to return, and certainly never interested in participating in this type of abusive spectacle. If they're a horse person, they might post what they saw on various Internet chat boards, and other non-insiders will pile on with supportive posts. The result: A reputation that no one can succeed at top levels of competition without engaging in questionable practices or outright abuse.
Next week, I'll be attending the FEI Games in Kentucky with my parents (Apparently, marketers thought Americans are not sufficiently familiar with FEI, so the FEI Games were re-christened World Equestrian Games for their American debut). I'm really excited about attending the Games, but at the same time apprehensive. The tickets were ridiculously expensive (thanks, Mom and Dad, for sponsoring the trip for my 40th birthday!), and I hear that everything else at the Games is exorbitant as well - earning the event the nickname World Extortion Games. We're staying an hour away in Louisville, but I'm really glad after hearing rumors of a bedbug outbreak in Lexington hotels. Every horse world has-been and minor celebrity seems to be putting on some sort of exhibition at the Games - how embarrassing that our horse industry colleagues from around the world will leave the States thinking those folks are the best horsemen and horsewomen America has to offer. Every horse industry business with something to hawk seems to be an "official sponsor" of the FEI Games, further cheapening our industry's international image. I know I'm going to see some amazing international level show jumping. But I'm also going to see some things that I'll have to explain uncomfortably to my folks, and some things that make me worry about the future of our industry...
Stay tuned for updates live from the Games!