Institutional Memory

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The biggest sporting event in the world, the Olympic Games, has to face a huge problem every four years: the lack of institutional memory. THere's a new organizing committee each time around, with little opportunity to learn from past mistakes except to observe their immediate predecessor. But that doesn't do them much good with each Olympics in a different country and climate and thus a different set of priorities and expectations from their own citizenry.

The FEI keeps certain standards consistent for the equestrian events, but those don't address many logistical concerns. When you been to several Olympics, as I have, you keep asking why they can't get the (fill in the blank with such things as transportation, food, cover over the press section) right for once.

The USEF sets standards for horse shows in this country, and how attentive a show is to the federation?s rules is certainly important to the competitors. But competitors don't really notice whether shows are USEF-compliant unless a big mistake occurs. What they do notice are competitor-friendly matters such as the quality of the stabling and footing, the efficiency of the office staff, judge selection, and the overall attitude of those connected with the show. Is the show?s management welcoming and able to address legitimate concerns, or is it surly'

Show supervision has evolved over the years from volunteers to pros. Often it's a combination of both, with professionals in such key positions as manager and secretary, while a sponsoring organization staffs the other positions with volunteers. One key here is continuity. Are there new people every year running things, or is there relatively little turnover so attention can be focused on doing things better rather than reinventing the wheel'

When a new show is added to the calendar, competitors have to decide if they?ll take a chance on it. If they do and find that too many things are slipshod, they may be willing to give the show another try the next year if management seems unwilling to learn from its mistakes. If there are major problems a couple years in a row, they won?t be back.

While footing and stabling are huge concerns, they often aren?t under the control of show management, but rather the rented facility. And weather is under no one?s control, so show management has to be prepared for contingencies. If the show takes on the added task of attracting spectators, they have to put on a show as well as a horse show, particularly if they charge admission and attract spectators from the community at large.

Institutional memory is a valuable resource to handle these matters. At this time of year, people who accept the responsibility to run shows have time to reflect on whether they're effective at serving their constituency. They need to evaluate what they do particularly well and what they can ? and must ? do better. When competitors have a limited showing budget and need to pick and choose where to send entries, they will choose the shows that continue to prove their value.

Margaret Freeman
Associate Editor