For Want Of A Horse

Feb 23, 2015 - 11:07 AM

The U.S. Show Jumping Young Rider Chef d’Equipe sees the futures of this country’s young riders and young horses as inextricably linked.

As the U.S. Equestrian Federation Young Rider Chef d’Equipe, I have a straightforward mission: Develop a program that will identify, communicate, educate and provide opportunities for young athletes to grow in our sport.

We want to establish a pipeline that will produce top riders to carry the United States to gold medals at Olympic Games and world championships. Along the way this pipeline should develop professionals with a great depth of knowledge and scope, whether training young horses or competing in world championships.

Our sport has so many moving parts, and it’s evolving at an incredible rate of speed. It is no longer just a U.S. or a European sport; it is a global sport. I feel we are missing a few parts that will help keep the United States a leader in the sport of show jumping. We have been the leader in the past, and I believe we can continue to be in the future.

We’ve been moving forward for years without a defined rider pipeline program. In fact, it has been left up to the professionals to start a young rider in ponies or short stirrup and, as he or she progresses, to move the rider up through the divisions. As a trainer I did the same. The top of the jumping discipline at the international level simply waited to see who would arrive.

Over the years the U.S. professionals have developed a successful equitation division, and the hunter divisions made changes to remain competitive with current trends. We all should be proud of our efforts and our American style of riding. The system of training and instruction is envied around the world.

My first year as the developing rider chef d’equipe was about targeting certain areas that needed immediate attention as well as identifying what should become part of the development of a rider pipeline. The first area targeted was the official development of the Under-25 category. The Artisan series at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) launched in 2013, and the idea was expanded on at the USEF level. It has taken off across the country. The first championship was held at the National Horse Show (Ky.) this past fall and was an overwhelming success. We have plans for this important category that bridges the gap from young rider to the biggest competitions. The program will include the new U25 Ranking List. It took teamwork for both the establishment of the Artisan Series from the Equestrian Sport Productions team and the expansion of this program by the National Horse Show and the USEF.

The process of defining the pipeline and making sure we have supporting competitions for each marker will take time, however this pipeline should be completed by the end of 2015.

No Horse, No Rider

You all know that old saying: “For want of a nail, a shoe was lost…For want of a shoe, a horse was lost…For want of a horse, the rider was lost…” Then the saying ends with “…a kingdom was lost.”

It is a fact: No horse, no rider. Those of you who have ever needed a horse know this dream-ending reality. How do you make sure your future has a horse in it? Make one!

Those who know me, I am certain, understand how passionate I am about this huge elephant that is taking up several stalls in your barn. They are getting harder and harder to find—the horses, not the elephant. If you stop to understand how global show jumping is evolving and how thirsty for top horses emerging countries are, you will quickly understand why it’s an elephant standing in your barn. The development of young horses is one of the missing parts that need to be fixed in the United States. You’ve heard this before, but how many are listening?

This future lack of quality horses will impact the U.S. show horse industry on all levels. If other countries begin to develop hunters for their own riders, even our hunter divisions will not be safe. Is that too hard to imagine?

In Falsterbo, Sweden, this past summer I wandered over to a ring that had standing room only around the rail and saw an equitation competition going on. It was the first time they had held it, and it was very successful. I recalled a conversation about equitation and medal classes with the organizer of that show two years ago. He asked about the impact on the riders and the training process as well as the industry benefit in general. He went back to Sweden and developed a new division out of an American program. He is indeed a very smart man. Me? Well, maybe I don’t need to be so helpful in the future!

Should this worry the United States? The short answer is yes!

I constantly stress how important the development of the young horse has become. I get the same answer back: “It’s too expensive to develop.” I agree it’s expensive, but the problem is more complex than just a “too expensive” problem. Because the expense is a big part of the young horse issues, the USEF, along with the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association and managers, owners and breeders, are addressing the cost of development at the competition stage. Hopefully they will soon come up with the solution. It’s not just about the jumpers; the problem exists in all disciplines.

The Extra Edge

I would like to focus on the benefits of developing your own young horse. Few people are specialists at the development of the young horse from age 0 to 7 years. You no doubt have heard this many times before. The age of 7 seems to be the earliest that an American rider is willing to take on a young horse. Even then few understand how patient they must be with this 7-year-old. It is so easy to go too fast with them.

There was a time when all of our top riders made their own horses. I can hear you groaning, but hear me out. Many top riders in Europe still do make up their own horses, and if they are not doing it right now they did when they started their careers.

I believe that the young horse skill set that the European riders develop gives them a bigger advantage in the show ring. First of all, they know their horses better. After all, they put the controls in so they can call on them more easily. Secondly, they know the shortcomings of their horses and somehow are able to get that 1.40-meter horse to give them 1.45-meters, the 1.45-horse to give them a 1.50-round now and then. You have all seen it. You wonder how a particular rider can get so much out of his horse.

Why? That is a great question.

While I could give you all my opinions I would rather hear yours. Seriously, take some time to think about it. Ask a few people who have made their own, like Joe Fargis, Rodney Jenkins, Conrad Homfeld, Laura Kraut, Anne Kursinski and Robert Ridland. Of course let’s not forget Jeroen Dubbeldam, Rodrigo Pessoa and Ludger Beerbaum, just to name a few. The list goes on, but we can all agree it’s an impressive list. All are top riders. I think they will also tell you of the gratification they felt in taking a 3-year-old and teaching that young horse what he will need to know in order to become a top mount. That moment when the young horse can finally give you the answer to the question is an incredible feeling. Few moments are so profound.

The Young Horse Specialist

To be fair, our show schedule is now so hectic, with a competition somewhere on every day of the year, there is really little time for our top riders to develop a young horse. That issue leads us right to the training of the future young horse specialist. They call them stable jockeys in Europe. Most top Europeans spent time as a stable jockey. This job involves getting the young horses broke and giving them experience in the show ring.

We are missing that step here. It seems everyone wants to become a professional right out of the juniors and go to the top shows. Even if they only have one horse in their stable, off they go.

How do we encourage our young riders to seek a broader education, one that includes young horses? I’m not completely sure, but there is another path that is just as rewarding. Young riders need to realize that there are only four riders on an Olympic team, and that only happens every four years. Just that fact alone should encourage young riders to seek out other opportunities and expand their options.

Internships are available at several top breeding farms. Young horse trainers’ schools are being held, young horse training centers are being considered, and it’s always possible to work in the stable of a European young horse professional. These examples are not to be considered all that someone would need to do, nor can you just take a course and call yourself a young horse specialist. It takes time, and it’s not easy. Just like learning to ride in the first place, it’s hard work. Young horses especially need a person with the right temperament, compassion and a talent to communicate what is expected from them. What is put into that horse in the beginning will be with him forever, and that’s an incredible responsibility.

The rider who chooses to develop young horses and does it well will be in great demand in the future. Not only will she have a satisfying profession, she will have a great home life because she will not be on the road and living out of a suitcase at a show every day of the year. She also will be in position to make a great living.

If a young rider is fortunate enough to have an eye for the selection of promising yearlings, 2- and 3-year-olds and then produces them with skill, not only will the top riders in the United States be knocking on his or her door, so will the world.

“For want of a horse, the rider was lost.” Now that is a scary thought.


A former member of the U.S. Equestrian Team, DiAnn Langer serves as the U.S. show jumping young rider chef d’equipe. She’s a licensed “R” judge for jumpers, hunters, equitation and hunter breeding and a past president of the Pacific Coast Horse Show Association, the California Professional Horsemen’s Association, the CPHA Foundation and the Los Angeles County Horse Show Association. She also served as an international course designer for 11 years and is the mother of Rolex/FEI World Cup veteran Kirsten Coe.

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