Promoting Young Horses Requires More Than A Championship

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The dual issues of whether and how to hold national championships in almost any discipline and how to foster the development and sales of young horses have plagued us for years, without resolution. they're issues I've followed as a journalist and been affected by as a horseman for nearly 30 years. In a recent issue of The Chronicle of the Horse, my friend Bill Moroney, the president of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association, suggests putting these two issues together. Bill has suggested holding a young horse national championship at the Kentucky Horse Park. But he suggests that it should be much more than just a competition in the three Olympic disciplines and others. He suggests that it should be a major event, a sort of festival of young horses, with an auction of young horses and special presentations and attractions to lure people. Certainly if there is any place in this country to have an event like this, it is the Kentucky Horse Park. Bill correctly notes that there is no other location so perfectly suited to such an affair?as last year?s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games showed?but I'm going to argue that our weakness when it comes to producing and selling young horses is not going to be fully addressed by such an extravaganza. Why do I say that' I'll give you three reasons: 1) The sheer size of this country, 2) the cost of gasoline and fuel, 3) the malaise of our economy and the dim prospect that it will markedly improve in the near future. The history of national championships in this country is dismal because of those reasons. they're why it's just not worth it?and often not possible?for the vast majority of American horse owners to ship their horses across the country to win a title. Americans only bring their horses to these if it's a reasonably convenient trip, if it's necessary for their own riding career, or if they have the money to burn. I'm very interested in anything we can do to promote the development and sales of young horses in this country, because that's what we do, or at least try to do. But it's very hard to do, because all to few American riders understand or appreciate that the well-trained and experienced horses they like to ride have to be made that way and that doing that costs someone money and time that they need to be compensated for. You can't make a profit on selling a 3- or 4-year-old you?ve bred for less than $10,000, but rarely will people pay that price for a horse that age. What I'd like to see, more than a big, shiny new competition is a more comprehensive program. We need to do something that educates American riders about the thousands of lovely young horses we breed and produce in this country, so they don't think that Europe is the only place to find a horse. A series of regional competitions and auctions would be more helpful than a national championship, although I'm not convinced that a competition/auction would be all that popular with potential buyers. I fear most wouldn?t see the reason to go. Could we take advantage of the user-friendliness of social media to educate and market' Could the USEF, or another organization, put together a sort of clearing house of young horses' I'd also suggest that the leaders of our national organizations should shift their horizon about the kinds of young horses they promote. For instance, the U.S. Eventing Association?s Young Event Horse Series is a very good idea, but the judging standard is written to evaluate horses as candidates to be four-star horses, the highest level of competition. that's a level achieved by the tiniest percent of horses who event, and you'll starve to death as a breeder if that's the focus of your breeding program, because the odds are so long and because so few people will buy that horse. Your market has to be the 90-plus percent of the membership competing at beginner novice, novice and training level. But if that's the kind of horse you're producing, your horses will never get noticed in the USEA?s program. I'll admit that, rather like the Republican presidential candidates, who do nothing but bash President Obama?s various efforts, I don't have any kind of detailed alternative to offer to Bill Moroney?s proposal. I just think that we need more than just a flashy event that we'll hardly notice out here on the West Coast.