Ever since we published the Horseman’s Forum debate between World Endurance Champion Valerie Kanavy and American Horse Shows Association President Alan Balch (July 20, p. 70), I’ve watched an extremely lively discussion develop on the Off Course section of our website’s bulletin board. The comments and observations posted there are, I think, a signal that the American Horse Shows Association has truly become an organization of individual members desiring services and leadership, not the collection of horse shows that it was until 20 years ago.
The discussion has demonstrated the value of cyberspace forums like this and shown that, oddly enough, there may be a positive side to the conflict between the leaders of USAE and the U.S. Equestrian Team. The battle has forced us to ponder how our sport has changed and how to advance its evolution, and the Internet has given people from–literally–all over the country a place to talk about it like never before.
Obviously, any mention of the fees competitors pay to AHSA is kind of like kicking the hornet’s nest. The cost of competing is at the heart of a smoldering tension between local or national-level competitors and international competitors. It’s a tension that has quietly mushroomed in the last two decades with the introduction of regular, domestic international competition and as flying horses across the country and around the world has become more common in our high economic times.
Kanavy ferociously decries the costs incurred by elite competitors, comparing them to the fees her friends pay in other countries, especially Germany. But that’s as pointless as the Germans complaining that their gas is four times as expensive as ours-the factors behind both costs are completely different (such as the fact the German federation has 750,000 members and the AHSA has 80,000). Besides, even though I’d sure cough at paying $300 for a passport, it’s a small percentage of the costs someone like Kanavy incurs during a horse’s international career.
The participants on this thread directed a surprising amount of animosity toward international competitors. They seemed to think that they were underwriting the dreams of the riders we read about most. I’m not sure if it’s because they misunderstood Balch’s words or because there really is a deeper tension there. Balch wrote that the entire membership does shoulder some of the overhead costs incurred by a small percentage because, if they didn’t, the fees incurred by riders and owners of our best horses would be nearly cost-prohibitive. But he noted that their goal has always been to keep the cost per person as low as possible.
Balch’s admission caused heated debate on whether it is worth the cost, on whether the rank and file gets any benefit from their support. Once again, I was amazed that a few actually said they didn’t care what any of our riders did abroad or even in the Olympics. I can’t believe that they’ve never felt inspired by TV moments like David O’Connor or Joe Fargis winning the gold medal, or that they don’t reap an enjoyable education by watching events like the Rolex Kentucky CCI in person or the FEI World Cup Final on the Outdoor Life Network.
The relationship between the riders and horses competing in places like Sydney and Atlanta and the 8-year-old girl on a lesson pony is the centerpiece of the vision Balch and his officers have for a new, comprehensive national governing body. Next week I’ll analyze some additional comments from the bulletin board thread about the duties and the role of whichever organization finally wrests the title as our NGB.