BY PIPER KLEMM
I love data, I love to know more, and I love to measure every parameter that we possibly have. I stare at heel heights on USEF Measurement Cards. Does that correlate with longevity? What do our 20 over 20 ponies—with a combined several hundred trips around the Walnut Ring—have to teach us?
As humans, data can make us better and also make us so specialized, individualized, and high-tech. But it can also be hard to follow the initial justification or goal of what we are doing.
Goodhart’s Law, as described by British economist Charles Goodhart, describes defining systems as, “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”*
I had been struggling to describe so many things I see in our equestrian world, and while reading and chatting about them, I came across this and it is so succinct.
We see so many examples all around us—when we target winning at the big show, such as an equitation final, we become so extreme in that target that we totally forget that it was intended as a measured stepping stone into the jumper ring and international show jumping success. When we obsess about ribbons at Pony Finals, in lieu of sweat and desire to be a better rider, it is sometimes easier on trainers to spend for the prettiest pony they can find. These are natural market-driven reactions to targeting outcomes.
When we focus on micro goals, we become obsessed with achieving them, and that can often be at the expense of the big picture. Why do we ride? How does loving horses bring us to a more full and rich life? How do we make this a sustainable physical, emotional, and financial sport lifelong? How can we serve our community and facilitate opportunity and betterment for all horses and all people?
When I think about measures and not targets, I want to help our sport be more of a community. I want everyone to feel welcome. I want horses to receive exceptional care. I want there to be pathways so that if people have commitment and desire, they can make a career among us, they can see a way to raise a family in our midst, and that pipe dream of extreme excellence and accolades just might be available to those who never give up.
My own goals are having my horses their whole lives and making sure they always have the best life possible. I want to be part of this sport for my whole life. To be part of the solution on so many levels. To never get comfortable enough that I stop being brave.
There really aren’t any ribbons in my goals. Yes, I’m a fierce competitor and leave it all in the ring during just about every single ride. I want to do my best. I want my horses to wake up in the morning and want to perform just as hard as I do. That’s my target. And the measure of that—the ribbons—should come if I do every step of the process for all the right reasons, every single time.
The photos in this pub note are from this summer when 12 students from the Metropolitan Equestrian Team, a non-profit organization based in New York City with students from all over the country, came together at Stonewall Farm. They learned from all kinds of industry professionals, had many riding lessons, built friendships with all sorts of fellow horsewomen, and developed more empathy and sense for better handling of their horses.
This was made possible by the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation, MZ Farms, the Becky family, and all the adults who volunteered their time and energy and horses to make it possible. My targets of better learning, opportunities, support, and community in this sport were achieved by any measure.
Piper Klemm, PHD
Follow me on Instagram at @piperklemm
*This story was originally published in the August 2022 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!