So, the new year is upon us and we're all in a mood for positive change, right? As a nation, we've been attacked and abused, but have come back with a stronger dose of Nationalism, a renewed sense of pride, and a collective vow to "do better." What finer opportunity, then, to consider a little positive remodel of our horse lives, as well?
I believe that on both a professional and personal level, 2002 will be prime-time for us all to become better horse parents and more responsible horse-world citizens. Let me explain:
From the professional side of the horse biz, we have consistently done a spectacularly poor job of promoting outside our industry, and that must change. When major governing bodies in our sport resort to suing each other instead of recruiting new fans to play, we are in essence suicide bombers, killing that which supports us. Unlike most legitimate sports, the horse industry has no single, impartial voice to advance our needs and benefits to the population at large. Our breed and sport associations market beautifully to themselves, but rarely step into the real spotlight of national news or mainstream advertising.
On a personal level, there's still a hint of snooty "landed gentry" thinking in most horse owners. When did you or I last offer to take a child for a pony ride? When did we last encourage an interested neighborhood kid to get involved with horses? When did we do something, anything, to reach beyond our smug little insider's world to introduce the magic of equus to someone else? Sure, we can blame insurance issues, lack of time, and our spirited pedigreed nags for keeping people away from our fun, but it's time to rethink that attitude. Someone gave us our first chance to touch a horse - have you returned that favor lately?
After the horror of September 11, Americans did a lot of soul searching, and what has emerged is a nation of proud, independent, and, well... American citizens. When threatened by recession or revolt, we go to our roots, and that includes travel, recreation, and study of American pursuits instead of imported entertainment. What's more all-American than the horse culture? Instead of taking a trip to Europe, I see families choosing a ranch vacation here; instead of buying a plushy German sedan, I see dollars spent for a rugged, US made truck or SUV. All this patriotism is an incredible windfall for the horse industry, if we bridle it wisely.
For myself, along with a lot of non-horsey New Year's resolutions, I will try to:
1: Encourage the kids in my neighborhood who hang around when I ride to pet, groom, and maybe take a spin on my gentlest horse. Sure, I hope their folks don't sue me, but I need to take the risk - one of them may turn into the rider who someday replaces me in the show ring and the feed store. I have a chance to change a youngster's life, as so many kind horse owners changed mine.
2: Be friendly when "on parade." Riding out in my crowded suburban landscape presents challenges (idiot teen drivers, glaring gardeners, ill-mannered dogs) but every ride is also a PR opportunity. I need to initiate conversation with those whose eyes express interest by saying hello, answering their questions, and letting them interact with my horse.
3: Learn something about dressage. I've jumped, pleasured, reined, driven, and clip-clopped up and down the trails, but know nothing about the Big D. I need to set aside my prejudices and educate myself about facets of the horse spectrum that I am in total ignorance of.
4: Become proactive in my clubs. I'm a member of several horse groups, but a silent partner at best. I need to tell the directors of my concerns for our insular existence, my hopes for an outreaching and cooperative effort with other clubs for the greater good, and a renewed focus on the various goals of these organizations- none of which has ever included litigation, manipulation, or ultimately, resignation.
Let's think about sharing, instead of hoarding, the joy of being involved with horses. Let's set aside some of our silly attitudes and try to be open-minded about all horse pursuits, not just the ones we enjoy. Let's spread the good news. Attributed to Winston Churchill, but applicable to us all, let's remember that, especially in troubled times, "The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man."
Happy New Year!
© 2002 Suzanne Drnec
Writing or riding, Suzanne Drnec enjoys horses and their people. Drnec is president of Hobby Horse Clothing Company, a show apparel manufacturer, and also the caretaker of an assortment of lawn ornaments including a Paint, a Quarter horse, and an antique Arabian.