Read a book. Attend a clinic. Make learning part of the horse show culture.
One Saturday Susie shows up at her riding lesson carrying some books. Her riding instructor asks, “Hey Susie, what do you have there?”
“I found some books about riding,” says an excited Susie.
“What on earth are you going to do with those?” says her riding instructor. “You came to me for riding lessons; what do you think those books are going to do for you? I will teach you all you need to know.”
And so it goes with much of education in horse sports, especially in the hunter/jumper discipline. In my opinion, there is a lack of focus on education, and there even seems to be a negative attitude—or at least an apathetic one—toward education, whether horses are our vocation or our avocation.
Many times I have wondered why there is a lack of educational activities in the hunter/jumper sport. Lack of opportunities cannot be the reason. A quick search on the Internet yields an almost overwhelming abundance of equine-related materials, and a good amount is pertinent to the hunter/jumper discipline. Of course wading through all the resources and materials is a daunting task, and I think coalescing that information is a great value our various horse organizations can bring to their members. However, this is a macro or “big picture” view, and so often our horse industry seems to operate primarily from a micro perspective. What do I mean by this?
Take the many hunter/jumper trainers throughout this country. The demands on them are huge, and they are consumed by the myriad of day-to-day tasks: getting the truck serviced before heading out on the road again; submitting entries for the upcoming show and figuring out which clients want to attend; making sure junior riders get qualified for various local, regional, and national medal finals; finding that “just right” horse for an adult rider with a limited budget; all while scheduling the farrier, veterinarian and feed delivery, while squeezing in a few minutes to answer their bookkeeper’s questions. These are all crucial elements to keeping a business running, and it seems as if there is little time to step back to look at the bigger picture.
About the time a typical trainer climbs into bed, knowing his alarm is going off in the wee hours of the morning, there is little time or energy to pick up a book on riding theory, read an article on the latest findings in equine nutrition, or watch an online video about horse behavior and its implications on training practices.
How many trainers attend seminars on running a small business or watch a video about marketing strategies or read a book about communication skills and having difficult conversations? Again, all of this is a micro perspective and examples of issues facing our sport’s professionals.
But when I look around, I don’t see our horse organizations addressing these topics and needs from a macro perspective. Education, from either a micro perspective or a macro perspective, seems to be woefully lacking.
And I am not trying to single out our professional horsemen. What about the juniors, amateurs and even owners who make up the bulk of our sport? In the hunter/jumper world there seems to be great apathy about educating ourselves in topics surrounding the sport we are passionate about and the horses we love.
Where Is Everyone?
Last year I attended a U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Emerging Athletes Program clinic held in Los Angeles, with riding instruction given by Joe Fargis, an Olympic gold medalist. You would think that in a location where there are easily 2,000 hunter/jumper competitors and more than 100 professionals, all within an hour’s drive, that the venue would be packed. But it wasn’t. Over three days about 50 people attended in addition to the 20 or so riders. Amazingly, some of the trainers of the EAP riders were not in attendance.
Where was everyone? Why didn’t people attend? Sure, the clinic could have been advertised better, but I’m quite certain that even if all the news stations in L.A. had made announcements, very few additional hunter/jumper people would have shown up. I have no doubt that many horse crazy little girls would have shown up with a parent in tow.
Why does it seem that we don’t care about education when it comes to our sport, our passion and, for some of us, our profession? We seem to work hard and spend a lot of money to win in the show ring. For all the money and time we spend on that focus, it surprises me that more people don’t seek additional education to increase their opportunities for success.
I recently attended a USEF high performance riders meeting led by Robert Ridland, the U.S. show jumping team chef d’equipe, and DiAnn Langer, our developing rider coach. One of the topics they addressed was rider fitness. They talked about the need for riders at any level to engage in appropriate non-riding fitness in order to support and enhance their riding goals.
I was surprised that not a single rider asked a question, requested resources, or sought any additional information. However, I know there were riders in that room hoping to represent the United States in major international competitions and others with an eye on the various developing rider programs that are emerging. There is excitement about the competitions but a seeming apathy about learning about all the things one can do to make that dream a reality. I know that exercise is important, but I don’t know what an optimal exercise program would be for a top rider. If I was aspiring to be a top rider, or if I coached riders, my hand would have shot up in an instant.
Wouldn’t it be great if one of our horse organizations offered some online resource materials to riders interested in improving their riding fitness? Another Internet search yields dozens and dozens of books and videos on this topic. Clearly there is an audience for these materials, but I wonder how many of our hunter/jumper riders are part of that audience. For those who are interested, a clearinghouse of available titles and perhaps recommendations would be a valuable resource.
I have no doubt that there are individual trainers across our vast country who provide a list of suggested reading materials to their students. I have no doubt there are trainers who suggest to an aspiring junior jumper rider to undertake some aerobic and core strengthening fitness work. I have no doubt that there are individual trainers, juniors, amateurs and owners who seek education in order to better themselves.
However, there is no strong culture of education, at least not in the hunter/jumper discipline. There is no attitude of education that flows from the top levels down to the lower levels, and there does not seem to be an ardent demand from the many, many hunter/jumper riders at any level for more knowledge. This lack of desire for education bothers me.
For myself, my family, and those with whom I work closely, I view education as a lifelong process. I encourage those around me to better themselves, which includes learning, and more learning, and yet more learning. I frequently share information I’ve learned, and I’m constantly recommending books, videos, websites, and the like to those around me. One of the most common reasons I hear for not pursuing education is “time.” However, I just discovered an amazing website that has video lectures on almost any topic you can think of: grammar, history, mathematics, various science topics, and more. Topics are broken down into short, discrete videos ranging from five to 10 minutes. We have a lot of travel time going to and from the barn, shows, work or the grocery store. There are a host of podcasts you can easily listen to. Time is the excuse, but desire and a sense of value seem to be the reasons.
I truly believe that education will make our overall sport better, and I know that education makes each of us better. May our sport move toward the direction of education as an integral part of our culture.
Larry Langer, of Burbank, Calif., has been a professional in the horse industry, including as a U.S. Equestrian Federation and Fédération Equestre Internationale-licensed official, for more than 50 years. He is president and CEO of Langer Equestrian Group, with more than 40 years of experience in competition management, including the 1984 FEI World Cup Finals and the 1996 Olympic Games. He’s secretary of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association and chairman of USHJA’s Ad-Hoc Education Committee. He also owns LEGISequine.com, an insurance agency specializing in the equine market, and he owns between four and six show jumpers at a time, which his wife, Marnye, competes. He has a college-aged stepson, a dog and two cats.