BY PUBLISHER PIPER KLEMM, PH.D
As I sit down to reflect on the 15th Anniversary of The Plaid Horse, I think about how far we’ve come as a sport over the last fifteen years. We’re so focused on looking ahead, identifying issues so that we can correct them, and grappling with the day-to-day of our industry, that it’s not always intuitive to discuss success and progress.
The efforts put forth by so many in our industry have been immense.
Fifteen years ago – I was the age of many of the cohort I mentor – and there were very few opportunities available for the passionate rider who wanted it all. While it will never be a level playing field in our sport – life isn’t either – I want to use the 15th anniversary to highlight some of the great advances we’ve made in opening opportunity to as many folks as we can.
One of the biggest leaders in this has been the USHJA. While it has been easy since it’s inception eleven years ago to discuss the increased fees we have all had to pay, the association has elevated the sport. Many focus on the $11.7 million that it has been given out in USHJA International Hunter Derby Prize money to date. Yet, the betterment of the sport has risen from the opportunities for established professionals all the way down to the beginning level.
Programs such as Horsemanship Quiz Challenge (ushja.org/hqc) requires no financial commitment and offers the potential of scholarship and support to pursue industry goals. The Emerging Athletes Program has helped hundreds of riders secure internships, improve horsemanship, and make necessary connections to start the pathway to industry success.
The emergence of NCAA Equestrian within the last decade created more jobs for coaches, barn managers, and equestrian academic professors, in addition to scholarships and collegiate incentives for young riders. Many of these young riders come back into the equestrian community at large with a degree and the advanced maturity and critical thinking skills that a college education lends. Additionally, horses looking for second or third careers have more options than ever to join the seven forms of collegiate riding.
Social media has opened up the ability to watch, follow, learn from, and reach out to professionals, mentors, and role models for these young riders. Young riders headed to, say their first Pony Finals, can study the courses, ring, rounds, and learn the lion’s share of what to practice before they ever set foot at the Kentucky Horse Park.
We all have plenty of work left to do – these programs are a start and must be cultivated, expanded, and supported. But, due to the dedication and tireless work of many individuals and groups, we have made great progress. I look forward to the next fifteen years.