Our columnist believes we should re-establish the importance of the continental Young Riders Championships.
In recent weeks, the comments of Katie Prudent, McLain Ward and George Morris on the current state of U.S. show jumping have been making waves in the media and on the internet. I respect each of those individuals as horsemen, and while I do not agree with everything they have said, there are important issues that we must address for the continued success of our sport.
The Broken Pieces Of U.S. Show Jumping
We have not “dumbed down” the sport, but rather we have a few things that are broken.
I was in Saugerties, N.Y., during the Adequan/FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships. I’ve competed in the event myself, and I even had a rider who won the championship when it was held in Chicago. Previously, it was a stand-alone event and was very, very important here in America. The championships were a big deal, an opportunity for up-and-coming riders (not necessarily the very rich) to show on teams and really experience all aspects of the sport.
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At this year’s NAJYRC, highly respected individuals within the industry, such as Ralph Caristo, were disappointed. They were piecemealing teams together. Instead of staying in the United States, many young riders are racing off to Europe and not supporting this American plan. They’re not heading to Europe for major events but for what I call “glamour trips.”
Many of our young riders go to Europe to compete in normal horse shows. The trainers call them “European experiences,” but they are really the same as any CSI** or three-star event in the United States. Often this isn’t an experience that the rider needs, but it’s really a trip that is advantageous for the trainers.
We need to strengthen what we offer our young riders here. I think the North American championships used to do that.
I totally disagree with the idea that there aren’t opportunities for young riders. There are great opportunities here in this country. Riders just need to keep in mind that they have to work their way up the ladder, not just step into the place of a grand prix rider. During NAJYRC I saw some really good riding, some good professionals and some good workers. We need to dig in and teach our young riders to take more advantage of the opportunities offered within the United States.
Bringing Talent Together
In order to make a big change, we need to get a little radical.
I’d like to move the NAJYRC to be held in conjunction with the USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals—East in Gladstone, N.J. We’d have to make the week longer and similar to the old Festival of Champions at Gladstone. If it’s held in the fall, then you’ve got a captive audience with some of these trainers who run off to Europe being more available for the fall date.
It’s going to require fundraising and a lot of preparation, but I also think it could bring a great deal of revenue to Gladstone, which they could use. They would have to update the facilities a little bit, but it would be a progression of what we already have with the USEF Finals: a talent search.
Too Much Entitlement
Talented young riders are identified through events such as the USEF Finals and NAJYRC, but they then have to realize that if they want opportunities to come their way, they might have to make sacrifices. Making excuses like, “I don’t want to leave home,” or “I don’t want to do this,” are not acceptable.
Opportunities aren’t going to be handed to someone based solely on talent. We need to teach young riders to think a little bit differently. They need to realize that in order to change their lives they will need to make sacrifices and work very hard.
A lot of young riders today may have talent, but they feel entitled. Most of them don’t want to become horsemen. A lot of them have a little bit of experience and think it classifies them as horsemen, and it doesn’t. What entitles you to become a horseman is to learn a whole lot from the best. A lot of these young people dream about becoming professionals. They dream about getting this great job, and they feel they know so much, but they haven’t really lived it.
There were no gifts when I was growing up; talented riders had to work for it. I never once in my life thought I would have an Olympic horse, much less three or four. It came from this persistence and from being in the trenches. Young riders have to get in the trenches and earn the experience that will make them great.
Whether you have financial backing or not, if you want to work you still have a shot in this industry. Riders, trainers and organizers all need to come together and make America the place you want to be.
Is it good to go to Europe? Of course. But is it good to come to America? Of course. We have to create events that are so special that riders can’t go to Europe until they’ve experienced what the United States has to offer.
Ronnie Beard of Wyndmont Inc. is a respected trainer and coach with a gift for discovering talented young horses and developing them into international superstars. He is a sought after USEF R-rated judge and has judged all the major equitation finals. Currently, Beard serves on the USEF High Performance Show Jumping Committee, and he is the chairman of the Platinum Performance/USEF Talent Search Task Force. He contributes countless volunteer hours to equestrian sport with his work on the USEF Show Jumping Developing Young Rider Task Force, and he was one of the original co-chairmen of the USHJA Emerging Athletes Program. Learn more about Beard at www.Wyndmont.com. He began writing Between Rounds columns in 2016.