Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2024

We Must Prepare Our Young Horsemen For The Future

The Junior & Pony issue of the Chronicle always challenges me to really think about our sport and its future. It gives me a reason to take the temperature of our sport, to examine its strengths and weaknesses and to find ways to make it better.
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The Junior & Pony issue of the Chronicle always challenges me to really think about our sport and its future. It gives me a reason to take the temperature of our sport, to examine its strengths and weaknesses and to find ways to make it better.

Recently the focus for many of us involved in equestrian sports has shifted to a concern that our future young equestrians need better horsemanship skills. Several well-known trainers have talked with me about the weakness they see among our up-and-coming riders, and the conversations inevitably find their way to horsemanship and the necessity for having this experience to create successful partnerships between horses and riders.

To truly excel in this sport at the highest levels, horses must be more than just vehicles for their riders—they must be equal partners in the equation.

So where do we go from here? What currently exists in our world to promote, encourage and enhance the values of good horsemanship? And what more can we do to make this a bigger part of our sport?
In years past, it was natural for riders to learn horsemanship. We didn’t have as many competitions, and children didn’t participate in the extensive menu of sports opportunities available today. Consequently, trainers spent considerably more one-on-one time with their students and turned out well-rounded horsemen.

Today’s reality is much different. The average show stable spends the majority of the year on the road,
moving from one competition to the next. Lessons are conducted in the schooling rings the day prior to
showing, and because of busy competition schedules, the hands-on part of the experience is drastically reduced.

There’s only so much time in each day, and after the professional spends much of the day showing and schooling, very little time is left for the lessons, let alone time in the barn teaching students how to care for their horses. This means there’s very little chance of producing a well-rounded horseman.

While there are young people who wish to learn about the horses they ride, and their care and training, for every one of these individuals, many more just want to ride in their classes and then socialize or leave.
It’s an alarming trend, and it’s taking a toll on the depth of the pool of our future riders.

As an example, a few years ago, a friend of mine judged the practicum portion of a state horse show association’s medal finals. The top-scoring participants in this portion had been in Pony Club, and the two lowest-scoring participants were well-known junior riders of national standing.

Pony Club has consistently produced equestrians with excellent knowledge of stable management and horsemanship. We’ve seen how their combination of horsemanship skills and riding skills produce excellence by the strong showing the Pony Club team has made each year at the USEF Pony Jumper Championships.

Those Pony Finals also host the Emerson Burr Horsemanship Chal-lenge, which includes a written test and a hands-on practicum test. Barbara Cherry, a former pony mom from Fairfield Hunt Club (Conn.), was instrumental in creating this extremely popular program, and the grand dame of ponies, Edna Lytle, has devoted her time for the past several years to judge the practicum.

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Additionally, several opportunities have arisen to inspire and encourage riders of all ages to educate themselves about our horses. This winter in Florida, George Morris held a weeklong training and horsemanship clinic for riders, who were invited based on their results in various equitation finals and national championships.

George treated these riders to many hours of instruction. Equally importantly, they were exposed to the superb stable management of Laurie Pitts and to all-around horsemanship through the assignment of “mentors,” many of them top professionals.

Many of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association zone committees, as well as several state and regional horse show organizations, have incorporated stable-management requirements into their equitation finals. Another program combines stable management and horse-manship with the awarding of educational scholarships.

Numerous competitions and individuals are hosting clinics throughout the country to bring education to the masses. At the USHJA, we’ve seen a 46 percent rise in the number of clinics already on the schedule for 2007.

So the opportunities are available for those seeking knowledge. I just wish that more young equestrians were interested in these opportunities.

So what else can we do to help equestrians of all ages to become better horsemen? And how can we make sure we’re providing opportunities to young riders interested in representing our country in the future?

First of all, I think that parents need to ease up on their children, to quit pushing them to be involved in as many sports and events as possible. They need to stop going down the road that leads to becoming a “jack of all trades, master of none.”

If equestrian sports are their passion, let them spend the time they need to become skillful at something in which they have a passion and a desire to work. Gaining the knowledge to be a horseman requires a substantial investment of time.

Most people believe it requires a lot of money and luck to reach the top of our game. Yes, these two elements can make life easier, but take a look at our successful grand prix competitors. Those at the top have all made sacrifices to get there. Because of their hard work, diligence and overall horsemanship, they’ve made their own luck, and the money has found them.

People want to back winners, and these hardworking and dedicated athletes have proven themselves to their financial backers.

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Next we need to expose our riders to as many diverse educational opportunities as possible. All too often I hear young people talk negatively about dressage, eventing and some of the other disciplines and breeds. That’s just a sign of a lack of exposure and ignorance. To be well rounded, you need to open your mind and eyes to what other horsemen are doing.

We can all learn a lot from checking in to what others are doing and why. Your teaching skills will benefit tremendously by observing other instructors, both within and outside of your own discipline or breed.

We must never stand in the way of the riders we teach furthering their education just because we’re afraid of losing them. Every instructor/ trainer learns that clients come and go. Every student will probably leave your barn eventually, so while they’re with you, do your best to make them into educated horsemen.

As trainers and instructors, we must also keep abreast of the opportunities available for our riders, while we continue educating ourselves too. We need to recognize when it’s time for a rider to go on to the next level and take the time to find the right situation.

Furthermore, we need to look into the way the European countries are educating their riders. Many enter a national training and development program and become apprentices to the top riders or trainers. Years ago, we used to see this apprenticeship situation in our country, but now it seems that you can be a groom today and grand prix trainer tomorrow. This isn’t good for our sport, and it’s caused many instances of people leaving our sport discouraged and disillusioned.

At the USHJA, we’re working toward the goal of developing a trainer-certification program, which I believe will have a positive effect on our industry and make it more legitimate. Creating this program is a long and often daunting task, but I have faith that those involved in the development will succeed.

We need to hold more clinics in horse  management, selection, care and maintenance. I would like to see one of these held in each zone, for the benefit of all equestrians.

I also believe that our top riders need to open their doors and consider taking on young equestrians who need a place to learn and develop as working students and apprentices. Of course, these young people need to take advantage of these opportunities and be responsible and hardworking in return.

It’s up to all of us to be a part of ensuring and shaping the future of our sport, and horsemanship is a significant part of this effort. It’s an exercise that requires you to put aside personal agendas and to keep your eye on what’s best for our sport.

Basically, we must concentrate on advancing and improving our training and riding, not just on the dollars.

My father had a saying that I truly believe sums up the life of a successful horseman: “Work hard, live within your means and save your money.” I’ve tried to live by his words of wisdom, and they’ve served me well in my equestrian career.

Bill Moroney

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