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June 5, 2012

The Shamateur Rider

Kathy Kusner, who represented the United States internationally in the show jumping ring, had to ride as an amateur to compete in the Olympic Games. When she wasn't show jumping, she schooled steeplechase horses, shown here with Joe Aitcheson (left).

Dec. 1, 1967

Chronicle editor Alexander Mackay-Smith calls for professionals to be allowed to ride in the Olympic Games.

The “Shamateur” Rider

The Council of the British Lawn Tennis Association has abolished the distinctions between amateurs and professionals—the first national governing body to do so. Henceforth at Wimbledon all those who play will be able to draw expenses and payments according to their worth and merits. Wilson Stephens, editor of The Field, calls this “the boldest and most momumentous decision of any taken by a ruling authority in sport since the Second World War.” He further commented: “The shamateur, a predator upon the game for 60 years or more (since the days, in fact, when two famous brothers demanded the best accommodations and champagne if they were to compete in tournaments) will no longer exist in the game in Britain, even though he or she may thrive in other parts of the world, notably Europe and South America.”

Here in North America, we are equally familiar with the dedicated and accomplished young rider, who spends virtually all of his or her time in the saddle, and who represents this country in international competitions and/or competes regularly in horse show classes and races reserved for amateurs only. Many of them are able to lead this kind of life because they are independent financially. There are others, however, who have no independent means, and who presumably receive support from undisclosed sources.

There is, in some circles, a tendency, usually based on envy, to look down on individuals in the latter group of riders, to sneer at their means of livelihood, to call them “shamateurs.” This attitude is not only wrong, but completely unjustified. Most of these young people could make a far more comfortable and less precarious living in other pursuits. Because they love horses and horse sports however, and because they are fired with ambition to excel, they pursue their respective careers as top riders with a dedication which involves giving up, not only financial opportunities, but also many hours of sleep and relaxation enjoyed by those occupied less strenuously. To get to the top and stay there requires hour after hour of hard work, much of which can only be classified as drudgery.

What we should deplore is not the riders, but the rules. Fifty years ago, perhaps, there were valid distinctions between amateurs and professionals—distinctions of birth, education, manners and viewpoint. A commissioned cavalry officer was an amateur, eligible to represent his country in the Olympic Games, but a non-commissioned officer was a professional. Then along came a certain European country which promoted a top rider from Sergeant to Captain just before the Games and demoted him just after them—with understandable repercussions!

Those who ride on our international teams are indeed their country’s international representatives, subject to the closest scrutiny, not only as to their prowess in the saddle, but also as to their deportment, their sportsmanship. They can be and usually are far more effective in cultivating good will for their country abroad than its diplomatic representatives. To say that only amateur riders are fit to represent their country, on the other hand, is the grossest sort of discrimination, an insult to the many people and accomplished riders who earn their living in the profession which they love. This discrimination is just as invalid in national and local competitions furthermore, as it is in international competition.

We hope our United States and Canadian representatives will use their best influence to induce the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) to follow the example of the British Lawn Tennis Association, and to abolish this invidious distinction, and that the International Olympic Committee will then follow suit.

“Shamateur” is an expression which, at least in the equestrian field, has long ceased to be appropriate. Those who represent their country should be selected because they excel in athletic ability and in sportsmanship—and for no other reason.

This article was first published on Dec. 1, 1967, in The Chronicle. It's part of a series celebrating 75 years of Chronicle history.

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