From John: It is my distinct pleasure to introduce Eventing Nation to our latest guest writer; event organizer Katie Lindsay. One of the many great suggestions we received in our EN Census, and through emails, is that our readers would like us to showcase the different perspectives of the countless separate entities that come together to make our great sport happen each weekend. Today I am grateful that Katie has taken the time to give us an organizer’s perspective, and I am pleased to share that perspective with all of you. Thanks Katie, and thank you for reading. Go eventing.
When John and I were communicating about my writing some epic pearls of wisdom (?) for Eventing Nation, I told him that I’d like to debut with a humorous piece, something along the lines of the AEC Gobiblog that my (late) dachshund Gobi wrote for three years (with mechanical assistance from me because with his short legs, he had trouble reaching the computer keys). As fate would have it, however, and exercising the time honored privilege of a woman to change her mind for whatever damn reason suits her pleasure, I have not been feeling very witty of late. In fact, I find myself being disturbed about some relatively recent situations, a feeling that for a while threatened to become a full blown hissy fit.
As background, one of the hats I wear is that of an organizer. This hat usually sits pretty squarely on my head at a confident, somewhat jaunty angle. Occasionally though it slips a bit, and even more occasionally, it ends up dangling off my left ear. For several days, it was definitely in the latter mode until an ensuing clarification righted it again into more positive territory. What prompted the most recent snit? Probably, (aside from some personal issues too complicated to delve into at the moment), a posting by our very own John earlier this month concerning something Buck Davidson submitted in his blog about PRO (Professional Riders Organization). John wrote:
“…according to Buck, PRO advises show organizers on what dressage and show jumping judges to hire: “Another important part of PRO is helping event organizers decide on which officials to hire…” An organization of select riders influencing which judges are hired by competitions seems like it might potentially create a slight conflict of interest.”
(Before I continue, a disclaimer is in order. I have a high regard for the professional horsemen who have opted to make a living at the sport we all love. God knows running narcotics from Colombia would be a whole lot more lucrative and probably less injurious to one’s health! I am also a huge fan of Buck’s. I especially enjoy his laugh which borders on being a full blown cackle, and I am always glad to see him wherever I am and in whatever capacity!)
Back to the topic at hand, then. This posting pushed all my “shoot from the hip” buttons, but resisting the urge to dash off a snotty note to PRO, I chose instead to just settle into slow burn mode and see what develops – and in retrospect, I’m glad I exercised a (rare for me) bit of self control because it has been subsequently pointed out that this “generous” offer by PRO that Buck referred to would be implemented ONLY IF ASKED, a caveat missing from Buck’s original blog entry. Though the clarification helped a bit to soothe the savage beast in me, nonetheless I remain in watchful mode. What got me so cranked up at the time was that the statement read as a blatant manifestation of the (sadly) ever growing schism that I have been noticing in eventing between the various participating factions – organizers, officials, competitors, volunteers – and further division within each faction. Damn I wish this weren’t so! It initially came crashing into my personal radar sights two years ago when the Professional Horsemen’s Council, a USEA committee, put forward a “strong recommendation” that would require organizers to provide separate warm up areas for professionals for the purpose of showing sale horses during competitions. This request was subsequently withdrawn, but to me it epitomized a dangerous alienation within the sport. I had just gotten over that when the statement cited above appeared. Even with the clarification which was provided, I am still left with a very queasy feeling about the state of our discipline that has led me at times to question who exactly is running the asylum!
Let’s face it, each of our “groups” has its own area of expertise. I wouldn’t be caught dead advising Bruce or Phillip or Boyd on what bit to use on his horse because I don’t have a clue about the specifics involved or the reasoning behind whatever bit he is using. On the other side of the coin, it is only the rare multitasking competitor who would have the specific expertise to know what officials would meld with what organizations and why. In fact, what defines in a competitor’s mind an appropriate official? Maybe one who gives 9’s on someone’s trot work? Or one who overlooks a crappy change? I would be very curious to learn who is on the A list! Yes, I’m the first to admit that there are some dicey officials (and competitors and organizers and volunteers – fill in the blanks) out there. Some of these less than stellar souls also keep on being hired. Why does this happen? Maybe they are cheaper and therefore affordable for struggling events. Maybe their personalities mesh with that of the organizing committee. Maybe because they are a bit more casual with less than smoothly operating events, they get hired back. There are lots of reasons. “One man’s nemesis is another man’s prince.” As an organizer, I early on realized the importance of working with a TEAM of officials that can put Ego aside, even when they may not exactly agree among themselves, and can pull together with the shared goal of providing a successful experience for all concerned. When selecting officials, I am very mindful of that team concept and would be overly resentful should an outside entity force someone on my event who I know wouldn’t gel with that idea.
The plain old audacity of the P.H.C.’s warm up area recommendation is a separate matter entirely, but it too shines a light on the dangerous polarization I perceive. A lot of events are feeling the land and money pinch. Had an ill conceived recommendation like this become a rule, it would be more than likely that compliance would not be possible. No events, no place to showcase these sale horses. Do the math folks! Thank God it was withdrawn – but sadly, I think the insensitivity that prompted its suggestion still exists.
In the overall scheme of things, our sport is but a miniscule fraction of a relatively tiny segment of athletic endeavor. I see ideas like the above proposals as strengthening further divisiveness in our discipline. This is the very last thing we need! Instead, we should all take a moment to forget ourselves and walk in each other’s shoes. In Reston last year, I congratulated Jon Holling on “coming over to the dark side” and organizing an event. He looked at me with a hound dog expression, sighed, shook his head and said “Katie, I had no idea!” He thus admitted to a realization that there is a lot more to a side of the sport that he’d taken for granted up until the time he put on an organizer hat. He got it! We could all probably use the same kind of hands on diversification training that Jon got!