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HN Blogger Contest: Our Responsibility to the Future of Our Sport

“I brought him up close and personal to the event and let him get his hands dirty. Suddenly he had a first-hand experience in the horse world and it actually meant something to him.” Read the rest of Carson Nelson’s Round Two entry here!

Our five finalists in the 2018 HN Blogger Contest are back with their Round Two submissions! For this round, we asked each of our finalists a question: “How do you think horseback riding and equestrian activities can best appeal to the mainstream population?” We’ll be sharing their responses this week — and we want to know what you think as a reader! Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Can you remember what life was like before horses?

I can’t. What was it like before I had an opinion on sheath cleaning?

One of the biggest questions buzzing around the horse community right now — especially for those trying to market equestrian events — is “How can we get more people interested?” This is a fair question, but it’s hard for me to imagine not being part of the equine community. What is it like on the outside of this world? Why aren’t people flocking to farms to sign up for lessons?

I decided to ask of my Instagram friends to see why they were living their lives without horses. The top answer didn’t surprise me — money. Looking through a Dover catalog could make any non-horse friend’s head spin as they start adding up the cost of all the matching saddle pad and clothing combinations. It’s no secret that horses are a huge investment! You buy the horse, the space to keep it, the food, the tack, the vet bills, the farrier bills, the never-ending-list-of-broken-things bills… most people don’t wake up one random morning and decide to invest in that kind of stuff instead of paying off student loans.

My point is, I’m not sure we can fully solve the money problem.

The rest of the answers that came through to me can be summed up in one main idea — they have no knowledge of horses and have no idea where to begin. A large amount of them even admitted that they would love more than anything to get into horses, but how? Many of my close friends have what I would call “secondhand exposure” to horses. In fact, my best friend expressed her concern that she wouldn’t know how to care for a horse. She mentioned leg problems (common, yes), teeth problems, and — impressively — colic. She’s right. This is knowledge that I gained over almost fifteen years of being around horses. And I’m the first to admit that I have barely scratched the surface of horse knowledge.

So what can we do? Sit back and rely on the marketers to find the solution to make non-horse people interested in equestrian events? Well, probably a little. But I think the building blocks of this solution start with us — the everyday equestrians.

It’s clear that our world seems unattainable to those who are on the outside. We throw around words like “farrier” or “George Morris” while our friends sit quietly interested, but not wanting to seem foolish for asking. They hear us mention endless equine maladies, ask how much we pay, and resolutely decide that all of this is too complex to figure out. Does it have to be that way? Does the average person have to be rich or as knowledgeable as Michael Jung himself before breaking into the horse world?

No! I really don’t think so.

I have been attending the Kentucky Three-Day Event for fifteen years. To me, this event is pretty much the Disneyland of the three-day eventing world. Thrilling events, endless raffles for free saddles and trailers, and your favorite horse and rider pairs competing for glory. As long as I have been attending the event, I have driven to Kentucky the weekend before to plant flowers on all of the cross country jumps. Usually I attend with a friend, but she couldn’t make it to the planting weekend this year — so I asked my dad to come with me. Surprisingly, he agreed! He has never been to the event — even after fifteen years – so I wasn’t sure he would enjoy himself. But I was thankful for the company.

Long story short, he loved it.

Photo by Robin Trimble

He loved the horse people (and they loved him), he loved getting up close and personal to the jumps he had seen on TV every year since I was in fourth grade, and asked me to send him pictures of the horses jumping the fences we had worked on. He let me know that he really wanted to come to the event next year. It only took fifteen years! How did I do it?

I brought him up close and personal to the event and let him get his hands dirty. Suddenly he had a first-hand experience in the horse world (besides following me around at various horse shows as a child — not always fun) and it actually meant something to him. He didn’t really need to know much about three-day eventing to have a connection to the event. Although he did learn that the red flag goes on the right side of the fence. You have to start somewhere, right?

That’s the point! We have more power than we think to give our friends an appreciation for horses. I broke into the horse world through a casual visit to a friend’s farm. Next thing I know, I’m leasing their retired dressage horse with no hope of going back.

Me & Winnie, a 24 year old Hanoverian. Photo by Carolyn Palmer

Not everybody will decide to dedicate their lives to horses after a quick visit to the stable, but inviting our friends to the barn to learn something new makes a huge difference. Teach them to groom, to pick out a hoof, to lunge — and if you’re a great friend — how to ride! Even a quick walk around the arena can do the trick. Show them that you don’t have to have the nicest horse and tack to fit into the horse community. Show them how much you love what you do!

Maybe you won’t have an instant convert on your hands, but these friends are much more likely to stop by the local horse show, to click on the endless horse articles that may show up on their feeds (likely because of you), or even enroll themselves or their kids in a lesson program when the time (and money) is right. Most of us had a kind friend who helped us get our foot in the door. Everybody has to start somewhere.

Go riding! (And take a friend.)

About Carson Nelson:

Being an English rider in Utah is pretty weird. On top of that – I decided to adopt a BLM mustang after being inspired by one of my riding heroines, Elisa Wallace. One day I started dreaming about an eventing mustang and a few months later – I’ve got a cute little mustang yearling in a stall at the barn! Thank goodness for a willing husband. I have had some terrifying moments with my young mustang… for example, him breaking his halter after only two weeks of having him and watching him gallop straight for the open gate to a main highway in the middle of town. Somehow, by some higher power, I managed to outrun him and close the gate. I probably shaved a few years off of my life that day. Also, I’m pretty sure half of the people at my barn think I’m a whack job for taking on a mustang. But 98% of the time he is smart, amazing, and rewarding and I think he will be a great ambassador for the breed. I’m excited to saddle break him next year.

I’m also leasing a cute half draft right now and she is a western girl. So I’m trying my hand at riding in a western saddle while still wearing my breeches and half chaps – I can’t help it. I did buy some western boots recently though… you know, to fit in. So we’ll see how all of that goes.

Anyway, I have always enjoyed writing and all I ever talk about is horses so this seemed like a great opportunity to put myself out there and try something new! My other less prominent hobbies and skills include: spending too much time finding the perfect gif, taking lots of pictures of my cats, amateur gardening, baking, giving away baked goods to make people happy, working my job at an HR software company, and talking in mostly obscure movie and TV show quotes. 

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