Convention! Go!

We must include everyone. Photo by Holly Covey We must include everyone. Photo by Holly Covey

Most of us laugh about not recognizing friends without their helmets on, and make jokes about “real hair” (vs. helmet hair) but the real reason we should attend conventions is simple — communicating with peers. It allows us, without distractions (or horses banging embarrassingly loudly  in the trailer), to discuss issues, identify leaders, consider new ideas, and give praise to deserving winners.

Of course, the opportunity to meet the sport’s heros, to sit on a real chair, walk on a carpet, be reasonably clean and dressed, without sunscreen or bugspray is always a plus!

This year the United States Eventing Association’s annual convention is December 2-6th, 2016, at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. It is not too late to sign up to attend. Go to the online services on the website, log in and check out the options, and you can email or call the association office also.

Convention attending doesn’t have to be every year, because we’re all busy with homes and families, but it is important to go as often as time and your budget permit. I have never attended a convention where I haven’t learned a whole lot — about the sport, about how people think about it, and about the people who care about the sport. I have attended many, for a lot of different groups in the agricultural sector, and the USEA’s is one of the friendliest I go to.

This year the big news is the sport summit to be held Saturday morning. I’ve been to one of these before and they can be very interesting! You can choose from topics like alternative therapies, professional grooming with the incredible Cat Hill, take an art lesson from the beloved eventing artist Julie Lawler, learn about turf grass management, course design, safety apparel, jump chutes, young riders, intercollegiate programs, our sport’s Hall of Fame inductees, certified instructors, the list goes on. (And the volunteer initiatives meeting on Saturday afternoon. Stop in and say hello! I’ll be there.)

Here’s the schedule.

When David O’Connor first became coach of the U.S. eventing team, he made a statement asking every upper level rider to attend the USEA annual convention and once there, made it clear that the yearly meeting was a critical part of his program.

I’ve sat in on one or two of the public meetings of the elite riders and they were very good. I still have a handout that Coach O’Connor gave out, encouraging riders to examine their riding very personally and focus on goals.

I have no team aspirations (well, a Novice team at the ATC’s might be on the horizon this year) but I read that handout every now and again and it’s got a permanent place in my events folder at home on the desk. See what you can find at a convention?

One thing I really appreciate is the trade fair. I almost always learn something about horsemanship or care by talking with the various company representatives. It’s important to listen — if sponsors and trade fair participants go back to their parent companies and bosses and say, “It was a great visit. The booth was mobbed,” then their bosses are going to get very excited about checking that box for future sponsorship of events, riders, and the association. It makes the world go round.

So spend time at the trade fair. You don’t have to buy or commit to something just to make a difference. Sometimes just making a rep perfect their elevator pitch is enough.

Attend meetings with subjects you care about, and try to do this — pick one thing that doesn’t seem interesting and try to make at least part of the meeting. I have learned lots of interesting things attending meetings I initially thought would be a waste of time. Ask questions. Pick up the literature. Take it home and read it.

I once picked up an information sheet politely at a table, listened to part of a demonstration and sort of dismissed it. About nine months later, I had a horse whose symptoms seemed to indicate something I’d heard before; I went through some papers, found that info sheet, and called my vet — and headed off a potentially serious condition. I was very glad for that knowledge!

Are you saying, “But I’m not trying to get on a team. I can only afford a couple of events a year. I don’t think the convention is for me.”? And my reaction is maybe not, but we do this sport because we love it, we love the complete test of our horsemanship.

Even if you’re only competing a few times, or have a green horse, the wonderful thing about a convention is we are all pretty much equal when we attend. We learn and discuss and communicate and identify common problems — and listen, and share creative solutions.

Being a part of this shared experience makes the sport better. It makes you a better rider and better horseman, and it helps you for the future, no matter where you go in the sport.

I want to attend this year to assist with trying to get a volunteer initiative off the ground. I’d love to see a lot of my friends and fellow eventers pack out all the meetings including the volunteer one. But even if you haven’t decided to go, I’d like to ask if you’d spend as much to attend the convention for a day as on a lesson — and there you learn from only one person. The convention will give you a hundred people to learn from, so go, it’s worth it. And it will be fun!

And you might be surprised what we look like without our helmets on!