Your Turn: I’m no expert but I think our sport is dying

After spending the week at a ghost town-esque Capital Challenge, Bernadette Kilcer ponders why equestrian sport has so little public appeal.

From Bernadette:

The only upside to being furloughed is that I was able to spend the majority of the week at Capital Challenge. Not only was it free (which is key when you aren’t getting a paycheck), but I got to watch some really fantastic professional and amateur riders go. Friday and Saturday were especially eventful watching all of the rounds in the (air-conditioned) indoor at Prince George’s Equestrian Center.

That said, I’m no expert but I think our sport is dying. The stands were EMPTY on both Friday and Saturday night. It was FREE and there still was no one there. All of the vendors said that it was the slowest they had ever seen it. Many of them were quietly questioning whether or not it was even worth the effort to come. If you look at jumping events overseas the seats are packed. Heck, if you look at pictures from just a mere 20 years ago here in the States the seats were packed. Even at Upperville this past summer there weren’t as many people there and stands were empty. What happened??

Jimmy Wofford, three-time Olympian and world-renowned eventing coach, has had several serious yet tongue-in-cheek columns in Practical Horseman about boosting viewership of eventing. I can honestly tell you that there are more people that attend Fair Hill, Rolex, Plantation or any of the other events in this country that are on par with Capital Challenge–and those events are outdoors and depending on the mood of Mother Nature you can either be freezing or roasting, take your pick.

I’m no expert, but I am pretty certain I can tell you what has happened.  We, as a community, have become a self-licking ice cream cone. We do not reach out, we do not advertise, we do not encourage people who may not have access to horses every day to see the merits in our sport. A perfect example: Every year during Washington International the Washington Post runs the same basic article about how “ordinary people” are enthralled by the horses that are down by the Verizon Center. Why is that? We should have packed venues like they do in Europe. Why don’t we? Why hasn’t USEF or any of the event organizers done a better job of doing out reach OUTSIDE of our community.

First, we don’t advertise to the “outside world.” When was the last time you saw a commercial featuring an English rider (outside of the commercials run during Rolex)? When was the last time you saw any information at all about our sport in any venue outside of our community?

Second, we aren’t on prime-time TV. Heck, we aren’t even ON TV most of the time. Sure, USEF has teamed up with SmartPak to stream it on the internet, but unless you are already IN the community you don’t know about this. We need to get people from OUTSIDE of the community interested in what we are doing. I grew up watching indoor eventing, show jumping and hunters on CBC (that’s the Canadian Broadcasting Channel). Why aren’t our events on TV?? Aren’t we exciting enough? Oh wait, that’s because we haven’t successfully completed step one yet.

Why should we care? Why the fuss about getting more people interested in our sport? Two reasons: dollars and cents. Without their support here in the States our land will disappear, our farms will disappear, our competition venues will disappear, and ultimately our sport will disappear. I don’t know about you, but I’m not willing for that to happen.

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