BY KIRSTIE LYNN DOBBS
The hunter/jumper community turned upside down when Roby Roberts announced that the long-anticipated World Equestrian Center circuit in Ocala Florida would not be a USEF sanctioned event. Instead, the circuit would be sanctioned by the National Snaffle Bit Association (NSBA), traditionally a western riding organization. Paradigm shifts do not happen often in this very traditionally rooted discipline, but for many this move symbolized a crisis. A crisis that many members of the community have felt for decades. A crisis stemming from increasing costs that makes the sport increasingly inaccessible to many Americans.
The response thereafter (notably on social media) was hyper critical of USEF in terms of their practices, regulations, and membership fees. Even the leadership culture and structure of the organization has been under attack. As a scholar of revolutions, social movements, and civic engagement, I couldn’t help but ask myself… is a revolution in the making?
There is so much more to political and social transformation than having a context ripe for change. You need committed revolutionaries. You need a solid group of people who are willing to put a strategic plan into action that spurs along progress and measurable change. You may be reading this and thinking, “This could be me! I want change! I want a better future for my horse friends, my child, my family, who are so invested in the beautiful bonds that exist between humans and horses.” But where to begin? Referencing one of my favorite books, Blueprint for Revolution, I’ve outlined a toolkit that has successfully led to social and political change across the world to make communities a better place.
Dream Big, Start Small
If you are thinking about forcing the entire USEF board to resign while strong arming show managers to lower their entrance and nomination fees… good luck. Those are tremendous hurdles that are just simply too big to chew. Revolutions are not won by one big momentous change, but represent a culmination of little changes that happen over a long span of time.
I see many “dream big, start small” acts happening already in the hunter/jumper community. The fact that various workshops and meetings at the 2020 USHJA annual meeting are free, including the Diversity and Inclusion in our Sport workshop, is a small win. It also appears that there has been an uptick in different industry related companies promoting anti-racism while working towards inclusivity. Photographers, boot companies, and various media outlets have “stepped-up their game” in terms of promoting inclusivity in the sport.
Create a Vision of Tomorrow
People across the industry are unlikely to join your revolution if you don’t have a clear vision for tomorrow. What exactly are you trying to achieve? What goals are you working towards? Based on the copious amounts of social media posts on this subject, it seems like what horse people want is to enjoy showing, riding, and being with their horse without fear of discrmination and judgement.
This vision not only includes a cultural shift in attitudes towards “who” constitutes an athlete, but also the costs involved. People want a reduction in the barriers associated with riding. So, my dear revolutionary, put this in a simple, clearly articulated mantra that can be expressed widely across various different platforms.
The most difficult hurdle for the horse showing community may be the importance of unity. People (not just equestrians) tend to think they know better than anyone else, and a coherent unified message can often be derailed as individuals and groups gallop off into their own directions. With horses, we often demarcate our social circles based on where we show, how many horses we have, and whether we are in the three foot adult hunter ring or in the grand prixs.
If we are going to have real social and political change in this industry, this behavior needs to stop. We need to focus on how we can identify with one another, regardless of our demographics that might shape our differing experiences with the equestrian world. I think we can all agree that the horse community is bonded on a shared love for the horse. Revolutionaries need to capitalize on this shared identity and use it to move the movement forward.
What I am trying to communicate is that we horse revolutionaries do not need to reinvent the wheel, but we also will not win by simply calling out each other via social media. We need to formalize our action by adopting pre-established models of promoting social change and adapt them to fit our objectives that are centered on a unified vision.
A great asset of our sport, is that it is particularly attractive to young people who often spur along social and political change. Young people have been critical in speaking out about racism, discrimination, and inaccessibility in our sport. But youth driven revolutions likely fail if they do not have a concrete plan. So, let’s make one.
If any of this interests you, then maybe these strategies for action might motivate and empower you to join the revolution.
Signed – Rebel Pony
Kirstie is a lecturer in the Department of Political Science and Public Policy at Merrimack College in North Andover, MA. She shows as an amatuer in the hunters, jumpers, and equitation out of her family stable Treesdale Farms located in Carmel, IN.