Challenges In Front Of Us

Mar 16, 2021 - 8:00 AM

Our sport and industry are facing many challenges. Some were brought on as a direct result of the pandemic; some were exacerbated by the pandemic, and others have been brewing for a long time. Regardless of where and when these problems arose, for the health and stability of our sport, our industry, and all of us, we need to address them.

The question is: How will we face these challenges? Many of the discussions I participate in or witness are more divisive than constructive. From social media to the back gate of the competition and all points between, it seems that people are quick to state opinions, certain in their convictions, and much more talking than listening goes on.

When I’m involved in a conversation, I frequently remind myself to listen to hear, not listen to answer. I can sometimes be so certain that the other person’s perspective is wrong that I can’t wait to make my points. However, when I stop and really listen, when I reflect back the topics to make sure I understand and that the person means what is being said, that often changes the tone of the conversation and makes the interaction more respectful and sincere, and much less combative.

If we can all be a bit more open-minded and a little less certain of our conclusions we will open ourselves to more understanding, and with more understanding comes better options, paths and solutions. Issues addressed in a constructive, thoughtful manner will yield better results and will keep more people engaged rather than turned off or chased away by vitriol and divisiveness.

“From social media to the back gate of the competition and all points between, it seems that people are quick to state opinions, certain in their convictions, and much more talking than listening goes on,” says Marnye Langer. Kristin Lee Photography Photo

While this is not a comprehensive list, I think many people will agree that some of the key topics in front of us include:

• Loss of places to keep horses and engage in horse activities. Equestrian activities in urban areas are increasingly under threat. Some of the dominant factors include: cost of land, revenues generated by equestrian activities versus other business activities and related expenses, pollution and environmental issues, and nongovernment organizations and government regulations. Equestrian areas in more rural locations face similar challenges, struggling to operate in a viable manner and attract enough people to support them.

• Accessibility and cost regarding keeping a horse, riding and competing. We seem to be living in an economically divergent society where the spread between the wealthy and the poor is huge and growing, and the middle class has all but vanished. We’re in danger of horse sports, especially at a national and regional level, being accessible primarily to the uber-wealthy, and this is precarious for long-term growth and stability.

• Competition licensing. Commonly this topic is often referred to as the “Mileage Rule,” and it is certainly a hot-button issue with many strong opinions.

• Sport growth. We have flat to declining membership across most of the disciplines when it comes to members who compete. Where do new riders come from, and how do we attract and develop them? How do they bridge the gap from riding in a lesson program to owning or leasing a horse and competing? The chasm is wide.

• Career paths in our industry. What jobs are available in our industry? How do we let people know about these jobs? Are these career tracks where someone can live in a decent residence, drive a well-repaired car, take care of their basic needs, save and invest for their goals and future, and then have a little left over for personal enjoyment? What kind of organized, structured education and training exists?

• Our horses. What’s in place for the horses that give so much to us from personal enjoyment to intense competition? From birth, to all phases of their lives, to death, what do we do for our horses, and what resources are available? What are we doing to make sure horses are not treated primarily as vehicles for our personal enjoyment and gain or overlooked as living, breathing, complex creatures depending on us for their safety, wellbeing and even companionship?

I don’t pretend that these issues are the only issues and that there aren’t other serious issues facing us. However, these are important topics; they exist throughout our country, and they affect all levels of our sport and industry. Each subject is complex and has many layers and additional related topics.

Because of my breadth and depth of experiences, combined with my passion and dedication to horses, this industry and horse sports, I am sharing my perspectives and raising issues in the hope that we can engage in constructive discussions, open ourselves to creative thinkers and divergent perspectives, hone in on core factors we can influence, and work collaboratively toward solutions.

This is a tall order, and there’s one thing I know for certain: The divisive nature of many discussions and attitudes currently circulating are not going to yield the most optimal solutions. In fact, this pervasive divisiveness is more likely to lead to consequences a large majority of us are not going to like. Too many times, today’s reactionary solution yields unintended consequences down the road, sometimes years later. The old adage, found in many different cultures, “Be careful of what you ask for” comes to mind. Let’s make sure we’re coming up with solutions that reflect conceptual understanding, have context, and that will help our sport and industry grow.

Sadly, our industry seems to be a microcosm for how American society is currently functioning. I don’t care as much what political views you hold, as much as I care about how you present them. Can we engage in honest, constructive discourse and a true willingness to consider different ideas as opposed to hurling slogans and bromides reflective of political tribalism? Perhaps if smaller segments of our society, like our horse industry, can figure out how to operate, interact and problem solve without divisiveness, then some of that can spill over to the larger world we all live in.

Some may find me idealistic and unrealistic. However, having extensively studied the early history of the United States, a small group of people dared to think differently, did extensive research, shared their ideas with others, continued to refine those thoughts, and those ideas led to action and the first non-monarchial and non-dictatorial society of mankind. Let’s improve our sport, our industry and ourselves, and maybe we can make a small change in how we operate in society.

The next time you discuss an idea, share an opinion, or respond to a situation, take a moment and consider if you’re contributing to divisiveness or insisting on behaving in a more constructive, thoughtful manner.

Can we be truly curious about the issues and realize that understanding and examining the concepts underlying a situation may help us figure out new paths and processes.

Marnye Langer fell in love with horses as a little girl, and at 57 that hasn’t changed. She grew up near the California-Nevada border in the Lake Tahoe area and rode in the backcountry in the high Sierra Nevada mountains. As a young adult, she formed her own event management company and produced one-day and weekend competitions to start. Now she runs The Langer Group, which was founded and run by her husband, Larry Langer. She shows in the amateur jumpers and recently took up reining.

This article ran in The Chronicle of the Horse in our March 8 & 15, 2021, Horse Care issue.

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