As co-editors Leslie Wylie and Sally Spickard discussed Eventing Nation’s goals for the upcoming year, we wanted to make a conscious effort to connect more with the readers who take time to read our content each day. To that end, we’re pleased to offer our reflections on the year behind and ahead of us. Do you have an editorial you’d like to share with EN? You can send your Letter to EN to [email protected].
It’s a weird year to be closely involved with a sport that works like a large clock around the ticking cycle of the Olympics and World Equestrian Games. With the pandemic disrupting last year’s Olympics – and, potentially, this year’s – it leaves a lot of us with questions on the future of the sport.
“The future” is hardly a new conversation; as with anything, we deal with the constant of change and the evolution of our sport as the society around it shifts on a daily basis. But the very real threat of losing five-star events and even the Olympic Games poses a lot of questions.
This has prompted me to turn to look at the rest of the sport even more closely than I did before. After all, the amateur rider makes up the vast majority of all equestrian endeavors. As the sport at its highest levels sorts out its future, how can we also expand this majority market to be larger, more financially sustainable, and a better foundation of support for the riders at the top?
There are two focuses in terms of the function of the sport’s foundation. On one hand, you have the high performance program, the tip of the pyramid if you will. These are the riders on the Wheaties boxes, the faces of our sport. Their success is crucial for the survival of the sport; their names and likenesses bring in sponsor support and general recognition. The function of the foundational support, for this purpose, is to source and produce new generations of talent to keep the team on a competitive level. The functionality of the Eventing Pathway Program and its evolution under USEF Managing Director of Eventing Jenni Autry is proof that the net being cast is becoming wider.
But then there is another function of the foundation, and this function really has little or nothing to do with the tip of the pyramid, save perhaps from a financial support standpoint. It’s the foundation made up of riders who don’t aspire to reach the Olympics or the Advanced level – or even an “upper level”, period. It’s the riders who love to compete a handful of times each year, as their budget and work schedule allows, those who circle the American Eventing Championships as their career goal. And it’s my opinion that it’s often these riders who are the most forgotten, the most infrequently seen, and the least supported.
So how do we marry these functions? How can we bolster the ranks of the amateurs not only for the benefit and support of the top levels (which are fully necessary and highly valuable) but also to offer them the best possible system? How can we welcome more riders into our sport to discover their passion for partnership with a horse? Not only does this increase the pool of talent for the top, it also creates a stronger foundational base of dedicated amateurs. How do we evolve to become more efficient in our business model as a sport so as to ensure its lasting viability? How do we keep from pricing out those who would join us if it weren’t for financial limitations? How do we protect the most vulnerable among us? And how to we ensure that every rider has a seat at the table, and a voice to be heard?
These are topics that are very near and dear to me, and I plan to dive into them in more depth this year. I certainly don’t know the answers, but I’m willing to learn and I know our sport is worth it. Watching the likes of Gina Miles, Karen O’Connor, Ingrid Klimke gallop effortlessly around the most difficult courses in the world sucked me in; jumping my first cross country fence without fear years later solidified my love for the sport. It is my hope that we can continue to work toward a more sustainable, more accessible world that benefits all riders and builds a future for the sport we all love so much.
Thanks for riding along with us.
February 2021 feels a different planet than February 2020, doesn’t it? This month last year I was jetting off to Wellyworld for the eventing showcase, cheering with the crowd as horses raced around beneath the sunshine and palm trees, hugging folks with abandon, blissfully unaware that just a month later our season would come to a screeching halt. We adapted, though, and while lots of things are still up in the air at least it feels like there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I took my mother-in-law and grandmother in for their vaccinations last week. Until then I hadn’t realized how much constant anxiety I’d been carrying around with me, worrying about them getting sick, until I was finally able to take a breath and let a little bit go.
In this weird year we’ve had a bit of extra time to tend to gardens that need to be tending to, and one of EN’s weediest flowerbeds is its classifieds site Sport Horse Nation. It looks exactly the same now as it did when a pimply-face baby CEO named John designed it in his mom’s basement 11 years ago. Yet it’s still somehow THE place to buy and sell event horses (testimonial, I found my midlife crisis sportspony Princess on SHN). These nice fancy horses deserve better than some crappy WordPress blog, so we’re giving them a brand new completely redesigned website –coming soon! Thanks to our Patreons who shared feedback for the redesign; I was able to integrate a bunch of it. Honestly, the equine marketplace is in dire need of reform, and our goal is to create a radically transparent space for buyers and sellers alike. All Patreons will receive a coupon code for a free ad ($75 value) AND they’ll be the first to get the gate code, so all the more reason to join the club!
Other than that … the snowbirds are already flapping their wings down in Aiken and Ocala. The first two Advanced horse trials of the year, Rocking Horse II (Feb. 18-21) and Pine Top Winter II (Feb. 26-28), and Twin Rivers Winter (Feb. 25-28) are this season’s upper-level appetizers — loaded potato skins, truly, is how I like to imagine them. Maybe fried mozzarella sticks.
Honestly I’m just glad to have 2020 behind us, and I’m really excited about our new Patreon (one day left to score a sign-up before Feb. 14 at ANY tier and receive an EN Yeti mug or wine tumbler!) I’m already loving the lively conversations taking place in our invite-only Facebook group and the breadth of experiences you guys are bringing to the table. Now more than ever, it’s a relief to have a friendly, safe space where you can kick it with friends, even if we’re separated by computer screens. Community is what sets eventing apart, and I’m so honored to be a part of it with you.
Now more than ever, go eventing!