Melanie Smith Taylor, who helped establish the USHJA Emerging Athletes Program in 2009, and natural horsemanship trainer Mindy Bower will part ways from the EAP now that the 2011 National Training Session has concluded.
According to committee chairwoman Sally Ike, EAP leaders have been struggling to justify the high cost of the program, and after surveying the riders, they decided to expand the stable management component of the program and eliminate groundwork. Therefore, this year’s National Training Session, held Nov. 17-20 in Mundelein, Ill., was the last in which Bower will take part.
“We’ve formalized and established a real curriculum as it has to do with stable management,” explained Ike. “We found that kids are lacking practical knowledge such as how to run a hand down a leg (and know what they’re looking for), and how to take apart a bridle and put it back together to make it fit properly. To me, horsemanship is everything that has to do with the horse. This is not to say that we don’t think the groundwork component isn’t valuable, but what Mindy Bower teaches is just one side of horsemanship.”
Taylor, on the other hand, believes that without the groundwork seminars, the EAP misses the point of what it takes to become an all-around horseman. So when the committee confirmed that the groundwork component would be eliminated in 2012, she also ended her involvement with the program.
Taylor especially disagreed with eliminating groundwork lessons under what she sees as a guise of austerity, noting that Bower was the lowest-paid clinician. “In fact, I personally supplemented her clinician fees all year because I felt that strongly about her being there,” said Taylor.
And almost every rider (and several parents) who spoke at the conclusion of the National Training Session seemed to feel equally passionate about the training, mentioning Bower’s lessons as among the most valuable ones they’ll take away from the experience.
“Mindy brought to the program the things that I believe in,” Taylor said. “Without Mindy’s piece, the EAP is like any other clinic. And that’s what you’re hearing from the kids, too. She teaches the kids how to get into the soul of the horse. Most people want to shape the horse on the outside, but this helps the horses on the inside. And you don’t get that unless you see it.
“I did everything I could to show the USHJA how fundamental these horsemanship seminars are to the program,” she continued. “But no matter what I said, I couldn’t persuade the committee in charge of making decisions for EAP to come watch a session so they could see the value of it for themselves. I found that shocking. They cut this part of the program without understanding what it was they were eliminating.”
Taylor was visibly emotional at the conclusion of the National Training Session yesterday, tearing up as she congratulated the 12 finalists and encouraged them to consider all their clinicians as mentors and reach out for help at any time in their careers.
“I would’ve liked to have said more at the end, but I knew I would just get way too emotional,” she said later. “We had such an exceptional group of riders at every level this year. Why anyone would want to reinvent the wheel of EAP, I don’t know. It’s working! I really don’t see how it can get any better. But I do wish them luck with the new format, because the kids deserve it.”
Taylor noted that six of her fellow EAP committee members have told her they plan to resign as a show of support: Bower, EAP stable management clinician Jennifer Alfano, Callan Solem, Eliza Schuford-Hucks, Kathy Moore and Linda Allen.
“They have really stood beside me, and we share the same ideals about what this program should be,” Taylor said. “And I do have to say that [Ike] was really helpful this weekend. She came to the final and really got into the stable management. But many of the other people who made this decision have never even been to our sessions.”
Ike noted that she’s excited about the 2012 EAP Program, and that she and the committee are working to bring together the “best of the best” clinicians and stable managers who will teach the 240 riders accepted into the program.
Taylor and Bower will continue holding clinics together in the future.