In Response: Cheers And Jeers For Prudent's Stance On U.S. Show Jumping

Jul 13, 2017 - 1:04 PM

The transcription of Katie Prudent’s Horse Show podcast with Chris Stafford at WiSP Sports caused quite a stir online, with readers commenting on the article itself, on the Facebook link of the article, and on the Chronicle’s discussion forums.

Some agreed with Prudent, some amateur riders were offended, and some wondered what veteran trainers like Prudent might be doing to help address the issues she discusses. Read some of the responses…

Jessica Reffler Turner, commented on the article

Some of us amateurs may be talentless, but those of us who are trust-fund-less also are horsemen. We have to take care of our horses, know them inside out, go without lessons, etc. Isn’t that ironic that we are more horsemen than the rich, talented pros.

Mac123, on the Chronicle’s discussion forums

While prevalent by the likes of Prudent, Morris (and COTH), I think it’s somewhat useless to talk about the good old days and how things worked back then and how things today aren’t what they used to be….and I think it’s useless because it doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, we are where we are. The sport is what it is NOW.

I think the more appropriate and useful conversation is “This is how things are now. How do we fill a team in 10 years with the weaknesses and strengths of today’s modern sport?”

The fact is that today’s sport is a money sport. Our top international young riders, like Reed Kessler, Jessie Springsteen, Katie Dinan, and Lillie Keenan come from an incredible financial backing that no regular person can hope to achieve. With the strength of those people having access to top horses and top coaching and the budget to show and train in Europe comes a set of weaknesses, such as Katie mentioned their experience only riding top horses and being carefully managed by trainers.

But that’s what this sport is now.

When was the last time you heard of a top international young rider (headed for the USET) who truly came from nothing? And I would respectfully ask Ms. Prudent….what kind of client makes up her clientele? Certainly those with at the very least the budget to be able to do this sport the way it is done now, and yet that seems to be the very thing she criticizes.

AMERICA has changed. This sport has changed. This isn’t 1970 anymore. And in a really good way, this sport is actually accessible to the average person who maybe only is talented or rich enough to ride around 2’6. She sounds very out of touch with reality, because the fact is there’s a HOST of really good, really talented riders (who have ridden plenty of green and naughty and rank horses) out there who would kill for the ability to ride at a high level, and yet haven’t had the financial backing that absolutely is required nowadays.

And while there’s a lot of problems in our sport today to be sure, I’d have a lot more interest in what Ms. Prudent had to say if her words were filled more with solutions or ideas of how to make the under-funded rider actually be able to attain international success.

It’s a bit like George Morris’ background. He didn’t exactly come from no money and he’d always been able to be involved in the sport in the higher circles. You lose a bit of touch of what it’s really like to be an average American these days – the kind of person for whom board and training and 5 shows a year is a struggle and a sacrifice.

Laura Hickenlooper Roberts, commented on the article

I think there are plenty of the kind of riders this article describes. Unfortunately, they are unable to get to the shows where barns like North Run, Heritage and the like are going to see them. And if they do see them, are those trainers going to take them on and polish them up and give them the same attention that the rider with a $500K horse gets. It’s a business.

I am incredibly fortunate to have grown up in the era where everyone did their own braiding, feeding, cleaning, tacking, lunging, bandaging etc. A show kids at the show at 5 in order to braid; helping each other when things got tight. I am also incredibly fortunate to have a current barn and trainer for my horses and daughter that puts the horse first, answers any questions the kid may have about the care of the horse, encourages learning and not taking short cuts. And it is a very successful barn. If trainers like KMP want riders like they used to see, they have to go out and find those riders and get them in their program. Find the talent at the local shows, horse trials, pony club. Foster the talent.

LowerSaxony_Jumper, on the Chronicle discussion forums

The questions always pops up: How come they all are against the new trends but always seem to work with the money kids?
How come they don’t buy the young horse with the kid and teach them? It can’t always be the fault of the parents. Like if you are a bit horsey as a parent and George or Katie tell you buy the younger horse, the harder horse to let the kid develop not everyone will go against their advise.

She and many others complaining are in a better position to make changes…

Joan Ryan, commented on the article

Well said, Katie. I showed H/J in the late 60’s early 70’s (16-25 yo). Like so many others here, I had OTTBs that I brought along myself while riding anything else offered to me. Other than feed and clean the stalls at home, (I fed and mucked at shows), I did everything myself. Groom, braid, supervise health and shoeing needs, braid, ship and above all, really care and love my horses.

I never had a big name trainer and my most expensive horse cost $2000. Yet I competed on the A circuit with many year end tri-colors to our (collective) names. When I watch today’s events, I see wildly expensive horses packing around riders who fly from show to show to meet their mounts “ring ready”.

This is not horsemanship. (As a sidebar, one recent show awarded one amateur so many championships and awards at the end of the show, it was absurd. Champion, Grand Champion, best amateur rider, best turned out, best groomed…. I think there were several more but, the one they overlooked, was “Rider who spent the most money!”

Daria Kissenberth, commented on the article

I agree with the fact that many riders are spoiled and it became a sport for the rich. I however STRONGLY DISAGREE that competitions are catered to talentless amateurs. She was lucky she had the opportunity to start riding as a kid (same with Kent or McLain). When you do, you are naturally a more gutsy than someone who started as an adult.
I didn’t start riding until I was in my 20s, so yes the 3’6″ jumps look humongous to me, and I don’t know if I’ll ever have the courage for them. I work 2 jobs, ride 5-6 times a week, take weekly lessons, I trailer to horse shows myself, groom and braid my horse myself….I work very hard to be able to ride and compete at nice venues with beautiful jumps. I compete in amateur classes and I TAKE OFFENSE IN BEING LABELED A TALENTLESS AMATEUR.

Laura Kestner, commented on Facebook link

I love Katie and admire her as a horsewoman but she’s missing a connection here. She says (truthfully) that the same 4 riders have been at the top forever but then laments the low classes. I want to to show too!

Who does she think pays for the big venues and the judges? It’s the thousands of low jumping riders who fill HITS around the country. Our barn is filled with sane, sound horses who have been jumping the lows for years. I doubt that others jumping higher can say the same. Low level riders are the fuel that keeps the whole thing turning. We have 25 beginner horses and one fire breathing jumper because that’s what the business needs.

Those at the top would do themselves a favor if they stopped snorting derisively at the rest of us doing the best we can and having a little fun.

Kimberly Patenaude-Eckler, commented on the article

Funny thing, (not funny “haha”, but funny “coincidence”) is that George Morris is saying the same thing.

Horsemanship is going out the back window. The reason why we call ourselves “Equestrians” is going out the window at the same time. The love of the horse is disappearing, and it is turning into a business, not a hobby.

We are seeing horses used as tools, and not for the free spirit creatures profess to love. As stated, horses are expected to do as they are asked, and if things don’t go as planned, the horse gets the blame as well as the Coach. Before you know it, the horse is being sold off, and the rider is moving barns.

Riders aren’t being held accountable.

Kids today aren’t mucking stalls, grooming horses, cleaning tack, mixing feed, holding their horses for the farrier/vet. They are being babied, and coddled.

I grew up riding anything I could get my hands on. Broke, unbroke, green, frothing at the mouth. I am thankful for those horses because they taught me valuable lessons. Without those horses, I wouldn’t who I am today.

I am a Pony Club Kid. Without P.C, I wouldn’t be the Horseman I am today. I incurred valuable lessons in horsemanship that I should value today.

We rarely see that today.

I am sick and tired of riders never holding themselves accountable for their mistakes. I frequently hear the rider blaming the horse, and their Coach. Never do I hear “I dropped my horse a stride out from the jump, which caused the refusal.” , “I was unbalanced, which should why my horse could not pick up his left lead.” , “I sat down too early over the apex of the jump, which can the rail.” (examples).

If you were to put a 10 year old rider from N.A beside a 10 year old rider from the U.K, you would see a vast difference. That is sad.

Poltroon, commented on the Chronicle’s discussion forums

Yeah the good old days. The world was a bit different then. Most of those kids who weren’t made from money still could have a horse in the backyard and hack over to a high quality trainer, or ride their bike over and spend the day. That integration of horses and residential is pretty rare now.

There are still kids who like to work hard and love horses and will ride anything. But, I wonder how many of them would have a path to a great trainer who will put them on horses. In California, school horse strings are becoming hard to find. Sales barns are running with such expensive horses that they won’t just put any barn rat kid on them. So, making that jump if your parents don’t have thousands of dollars a month to spend on a horse and training is becoming harder.

As for her suggestion (and rather unkindly naming specific riders) that kids who have been well mounted their whole lives probably won’t have what it takes, I’d suggest that Meredith Michaels Beerbaum always seemed to have super nice horses growing up. I think she turned out OK.

Katie is an amazing rider and horseman. I would love to hear more solutions. How does she get her fellow professionals to make riding more about playing and loving horses? How do you get kids the opportunity to sit on a 3’6″ horse if the families don’t have $20k a year to spend on horses, in a world where the median household income is $52k and half of American kids qualify for free or reduced lunches?

There are still kids out there who are hungry for the opportunity.

Natalie, commented on the Chronicle’s discussion forums

I agree with the above–that while her words obviously carry quite a bit of weight, and certainly have a lot of truth behind them, she’s not accepting that she and other incredibly well-known trainers are part of the problem. As all of you already noted–BNT’s cater to these very rich people. I don’t entirely fault them for it, since they are experts and have a right to demand a fair price for their work. But, it excludes the majority of horse owners, even those who are ambitious and talented, since most of us won’t ever have pockets deep enough to train with these people, much less show with their barns.

And I also bristle a bit at the derisive attitude directed towards those who show at lower heights, because it also smacks of elitism. Even if you ride well enough to jump around 3’6″ or better, once again, money can quickly become a barrier, as horses with even potential to actually be competitive in those divisions don’t come cheap. Of course you can say that truly talented “self-made” horse people can find ottb’s and other diamonds in the rough and train them up to that level on the cheap, but that’s not actually realistic for most amateurs, not now, and frankly, I doubt it really was back then either. As some have noted, people like George Morris didn’t exactly have to claw their way up through the ranks riding whatever they could get their hands on because they lacked funds to pay for nice horses and training.

Ashlee Thomas, commented on Facebook link

Let’s be real here. You may be a talented rider on an average horse but if you want to be competitive you A) have to have the financial ability to show on the A circuit regularly and B) eventually you’re going to have to find a different horse to be competitive which means spending more money especially depending on what you chosen ring is hunter/jumper/eq

Even if you don’t pay for a groom and daily barn care etc you still have to pay for a stall, getting the horse there, class fees, daily schooling fees, braiding, night watch etc so for a four day show you’re easily going to spend a couple thousand dollars. That’s in addition to your regular board, regular lessons and whatever else you have to pay for on a monthly basis outside of shows. All the while you may be standing right next to a kid or adult in the warm up area while waiting your turn who’s sitting on a 100k imported horse with a well known trainer who had her horse tacked up before she even got there. THAT is the norm. That same rider doesn’t stick around to cool her horse off, untack the horse, unbraid him, bathe him, put liniment on his legs and rub him down, pack his feet, wrap his legs etc

So while yes, there are plenty of people at the “bottom” who are doing it because they love it and are involved on a more personal level with their horses ….there IS a dividing line when you start to move up if you truly want to be competitive. You cannot be competitive unless you have the money to do so. and let’s face it, who has parents or financial benefactors who can dole 10’s of thousands of dollars year upon year to JUST horse show because THAT’S what it cost. Again, in addition to regular board, regular lessons, show clothes, schooling equipment etc which cost thousands on its own.

You have to pay to play. Plain and simple.

Read all of the articles about Katie Prudent’s podcast discussion about the state of U.S. show jumping.  And join the discussion on the Chronicle’s discussion forums

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