We need a program

15 Oct

When I was a little girl, I rode our large dogs.

Then, even though we lived in a very urban and cosmopolitan city, I found the real horses.  They lived in a converted car garage, near the city’s big park. Our arena had a few support beams in it, spaced  far enough apart that the original cars were not bothered, but it was difficult now to plan a ridden diagonal;the privately owned horses went up the ramp, to stalls that had light; the horses I rode all went down the ramp,to the underground .

I dreamed of ‘making the Team’ –and everyone everywhere pretty much knew what that meant: riding so brilliantly (far beyond one’s peers,of course on a backyard something that gave its heart and sinew beyond ordinary limits) that I  and my equine partner/soulmate were awarded  a spot on the USET’s team.

For a long time, that meant the show jumping team–until I discovered dressage.

…But teachers, students, friends–even friends of our distinctly non-horsey family-everyone understood the dream and knew what USET was. The Team held open selections, and people made their way to Gladstone, USET headquarters, for a day of watching gorgeous horseflesh and studied, cool and hopefully brilliant riding. I remember walking up to a woman mounted on a gorgeous creature the color of a new-minted penny. It was my hero, Sheila Wilcox, the  British star equestrian. “Of course”, she answered when asked if this was a British Thoroughbred she sat on.

The riders were friendly, approachable, fun.

The sport was friendly, approachable, fun.

Its heroes were everywhere, ready to answer questions, give a smile. Asked how he accomplished the most beautiful, flowing training session, the rider thought a moment and said ,”I pulled a little and I pushed a little.”

Now,  in a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’, in the modern world, equestrian has to continually prove its worth, its spectator appeal, its ability to attract sponsorship, “air time” on television. It has to ‘reach out’. Even as it has grown larger, equestrian sport in the US has become ever more unreachable ,a closed world.

Gladstone is now basically a golf course with one corner devoted to equestrian. When three true heroes of the sport were recently honored– Frank Chapot, William Steinkraus, George Morris, all of whom have basically defined ‘the American style’ over fences and in the glory days of great success– they were honored with the dedication of a tiny, postage-stamp courtyard in front of the  one remaining building that can properly be called USET Foundation.

That  need to add one word, ‘Foundation’, may indeed be where the current lack of medals have come from.

The U.S. always had two organizations: AHSA–American Horse Show Association– and USET — United States Equestrian Team.

Dealing with high performance, training and organizing the riders and horses that represent the US in international competition, was the province of USET.

Dealing with national shows, breed organizations, regional and other concerns, was the province of AHSA.

Then IOC  (International Olympic Committee)announced that the U.S. had to have one national governing body for equestrian, to comply with the regulations setup.

A bitter, long and ugly battle ensued. In the end, nobody won.

We now have USEF–United States Equestrian Federation–and have satisfied IOC but hardly anyone else. Some of the best minds and talents were sacrificed to achieve some kind of solution. The bureaucracy left  after the consolidation is neither fish nor fowl, not able to concentrate on either national or international problems or growth.

— The level of competition keeps going ever downwards,in order to keep a growing membership happy when they have no international aspirations. Ribbons must be won, prizes must be gained,and more and more equestrians must be found to pay fees for a bloated organization that does not necessarily have great horse sport as its priority.

—  The heyday of the US was when we had great trainers: de Nemethy for the jumpers; Ljungquist for dressage; le Goff for eventing. Except for George Morris, who has just retired from being coach of show jumping, we do not have their equivalents nor do the riders want such ‘father figure’ coaches,preferring instead to run their own lives,  and generally be seen as stars of their own movies.

—  There is no database,and no co-ordination between breeders,riders and  trainers. Everything happens on the singular level, with no attempt to really figure out sources of potential horseflesh within the U.S. because there is no one to train them, no circuit to show them, etc. Again–singular attempts are continually made on all fronts, but doomed in the end because there is no program to keep records, see what does and does not work.

We need a program.

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2 Responses to “We need a program”

  1. Shirleyvh October 22, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    What a wonderful, intelligent piece of writing! No one cold have said it better. I GREE 200%

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