The Big Picture

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The AHSA and USET have been involved in an ongoing dispute for many months over which will become the National Governing Body of international equestrian sport in the United States. Previously, the responsibility was split between the two, but the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) determined this is no longer an option.

The dispute is a microcosm of a problem that affects all U.S. equestrian pursuits: Too many horsemen focus on their own small picture and ignore the bigger consequences.

Olympic gold medalist David O’Connor wrote in U.S. Event Horse that the outcome of the dispute “will affect all riders at all levels of the equestrian community,” because “those of us in the sport are not very good at promoting the image of the horse to the non-horse world.”

Then O’Connor asked the key question: “What would happen if we joined together and marketed ourselves as horse people and not sport specific'”

Unfortunately, horse people usually focus on their own bailiwick. They then perpetuate the public perception that horse sports are elitist. When public sympathy, political action, or fundraising are needed to support a horse activity — from funding a 4-H club to zoning for small-acreage breeders to fielding an international team — that support can be hard to find.

The success of our international riders is one sure way to bring needed attention to equestrian activities on a more local level. But the people who administer the top levels of U.S. horse sports haven’t figured out how to connect emotionally and financially with the broader base of equestrians. Only a small percentage of U.S. horsemen actually donate to the USET.

At the same time, those in the broad base don’t relate to the problems of fielding an international team or often even the efforts of their neighbors who may show Arabs or foxhunt instead of eventing or racing.

The AHSA/USET dispute remains basically unresolved as we go to press, but we believe it will face additional court battles at a huge financial cost to the members before it’s over. The AHSA has proposed a merger of the two organizations, while the USET insists on one body just for international sports to satisify the USOC and another for national sports.

One organization makes more sense because it can connect to the pulse of all horse people — from the few at the top to the many closer to the base. Horse people are already too exclusionary in the way they think and act, even when they don’t intend to be. We exclude each other, and therefore we don’t work together for the mutual good.

’Til Next Month,

-Margaret Freeman