All We Need Is Love

We announced the final four in the 7th Annual EN Blogger Contest, and now we are bringing you their second round submissions. The prompt: "Eventing has been approved for inclusion in the Olympics through 2024 under an altered format, but the sport still faces uphill battles both in the U.S. and abroad. What can we do to make eventing more appetizing, engaging and understandable to the mainstream public? Share your ideas in an interesting, funny, informative and creative way." Take it away, Renee!

Spectators watch Lauren Keiffer gallop by. Photo by Rare Air Eventing Photography.

Eventing is clearly at something of a crossroads in its history. More than a decade after the twilight of the long format we still face a number of challenges looking towards the future of our beloved sport.

Horse and rider safety is being studied and addressed but still urgently needs further improvement. Events face financial strain; even the World Equestrian Games have been plagued by these woes as they were relocated from the original planned host city for 2018 after sufficient funds could not be secured. Additionally, drawing interest in the sport from the public has been a particular challenge. The very nature of the sport makes it fundamentally expensive to participate in and difficult to understand for those spectators not attuned to a scoring system quite a lot more complex than the largely recognized sports such as soccer and baseball.

Working on this query of how to better engage a broader fan base, I was continuously coming up with questions rather than answers. How can eventing be made more appealing to a mainstream audience? I initially wondered what changes in the sport itself would make it more entertaining and accessible to those outside of our own community. Changing our attire could help, but I’m hardly a fashion designer. In the real world I can honestly barely style myself beyond the trusty t-shirt and jeans combo. So that was a dead end for me. Making the scores easier to understand would be cool, but I’m not a delegate or judge or anyone remotely qualified to make suggestions about rules, format or scoring.

This manner of striking down ideas made me wonder if I had anything to offer at all in this important discussion. I have no background in marketing to suggest the best ways to attract new spectators and participants. I basically felt as though this was a conversation to be had by people who are not me.

My breakthrough came–it should not be surprising to any of you–while I was cleaning stalls. What is it about sifting through shavings that ushers clarity and creative thinking? Whatever it is, I’m thankful for it. I had spent nearly a week focusing my attention on all of the things I am not and wondering how I could write about something I’m not qualified to assess. What I realized, by my sixth stall of the day, was that I couldn’t write an article about what I am not. But I can write about what I am.

People often call me a hippie. I do love tie dye and John Lennon but, more than that, I am a huge believer in love and kindness and positive human interaction. I think that there is so much power in simply treating people well. So I can’t speak to the officials or the organizers or the owners, but I am addressing all of my fellow event riders. Intro through Advanced, amateurs and professionals alike, we can have a tremendous impact on the accessibility of our sport by being more accessible as individuals. We don’t need the “powers that be” to fix it for us, this is something we can address on our own.

I was blessed with the opportunity of a lifetime when I spent ten months working for Buck Davidson, but not long before that I was a young child from a family without the financial means to buy a pony or take lessons or enter horse shows. Every summer I would beg for my parents to bring me to Millbrook Horse Trials just to watch in amazement at the riders I had only seen in magazines, now warming up right in front of me. I spent several years this way, reading Pony Club manuals and Young Rider magazines 51 weekends a year and watching Karen O’Connor, Phillip Dutton, Bruce and Buck Davidson and countless other idols for one glorious day.

One of the happiest memories of my childhood is the day I collected pinnies after cross country at Millbrook. That day I wasn’t just an outsider; I was a part of something big and so exciting. Enamored, I worked my heart out for years until I was finally able to compete and join the sport in earnest. I think that’s what we riders can focus on: we can treat spectators and volunteers as a part of our big, amazing eventing family.

I totally get how busy and stressful shows can be, but take a moment to imagine what it would be like to engage with some of the spectators who often look a little lost. They’re standing around flipping through a program and hoping it can tell them what the heck is going on. We as eventers can reach out to begin opening a dialogue on what our sport is really about.

If you see a group of people standing on the sidelines looking a little lost, take the time to talk to them. Bring some strangers along with you on your course walk. Give your ribbon away to a kid you see watching (honestly you have enough in your tack room, right?). These are the kinds of changes that we can make (without using any additional resources) to engage the public and ensure that their spectating experience gives them a reason to come back. Maybe they’ll even invite other friends to join them.

Any eventer can tell you that the greatest thing about our sport is the spirit of friendship and community that travels with us around the country and even the world. So what could be better than to invite people into our midst by being outgoing and welcoming? I am a lower level eventer, a mom, a former working student and someone who was once very much an outsider of the eventing world. It turns out I didn’t need to be a marketing expert or a technical delegate to come up with a realistic and effective strategy to make eventing more appealing to the public.

All we need is love, guys!