“The cities aren’t going away any time soon. We need to embrace these urban experiences and relish the opportunities they present to us to make our world more accessible to newcomers.”
My particular corner of Horse Nation is a pretty unique setting: the farm where my horses live is just five minutes from the center of a small city. Though the population is a drop in the bucket compared to much larger cities in our wider region, such as Cleveland or Buffalo, there’s a distinctly urban feel when you’re walking the compact but busy streets. Just a short drive in any direction, however, takes you back into countryside, still largely agrarian, where cows and cornfields checkerboard the hillsides and my horses and I roam.
I remembered the proximity to this small urban center over the weekend: both days, my father-in-law and I hooked up horses to two different carts and worked my Belgian team as well as Percheron single gelding we’re fitting up for a friend. We headed down the road to the family farmstand, which makes for a nice little drive to expose the horses to light traffic, the highway underpass and a few other obstacles like small slopes and crop field footing. We usually pause in the parking lot at the store to let the horses rest, maybe convince one of the employees to bring us out a couple of cider donuts this time of year, and let shop patrons visit with the drafts.
This particular Saturday, Rocky and Randy and the Percheron Captain were swarmed by interested onlookers, many of whom had never seen a horse close-up before: the juxtaposition of living in an urban center in a rural county. We answered questions, let people stroke the horses’ velvety noses, explained what we were doing and where we were going and why one horse was resting his hind foot while another was nodding his head impatiently waiting to hit the road again…
Simultaneously, Horse Nation’s head editor Leslie Wylie was on scene in Central Park, New York City, where the horses had come to town in a big way:
The Central Park Horse Show is perhaps not unique as a concept if you’re thinking about horse show facilities in city centers — but most of those are enclosed in coliseums, and while every indoor facility certainly has its own feel and unique character, a coliseum is a coliseum. To horse show under the iconic Manhattan skyline, open all the way to the bright lights and the stars beyond, is another thing entirely — and without the show trammeled by walls and ceilings, any passersby could pause and sneak a peek, like the curious folks in the photo above.
Leslie’s Eventing Nation editorial on the role of arena eventing in bringing equestrian sport to the people is absolutely worth a read, and her comparison to the outreach by the Longines Global Champions Tour is worth mentioning again. After all, who can forget the photos of bikini-clad beachgoers leaning on the rail at Miami Beach when the horse show came to town right on the beach itself?
In a world where it can feel like people are separated even further from horses than ever, we’ve got to keep horses accessible like this. Whether that means setting up a pop-up showgrounds in the middle of the Big Apple and raising the jumps in Miami Beach, or driving your team into town and letting the local folks say hello, we can’t afford to continue to cloister our horses only in the rolling countryside, miles from population centers that are marching increasingly outward.
The cities aren’t going away any time soon. In fact, they’re generally going to be getting bigger, and they’re not making any more farmland. We need to embrace these urban experiences and relish the opportunities they present to us to make our world more accessible to newcomers. A chance encounter while strolling through a park might light a spark that creates a lifelong horse lover, someone else who will add their voice to our numbers to help keep the equestrian community strong, preserving the opportunities we do have to enjoy our passion while opening more doors for new experiences.
Last week, the story of the Compton cowboys touched the hearts of many readers — individuals who found creative ways to keep horses in one of the most notorious cities in the country for gang violence. Urban horsekeeping might not look much like the country dweller’s favorite visions of rolling green pastures and tree-shaded hacking trails, but the physical, mental and emotional benefits for horse lovers are the same no matter where they’re riding.
We can’t afford to go into the future kicking and screaming for the old ways and the old days. While it’s important to preserve the traditions and concepts that make our equestrian world what it is, it’s equally important to adapt and innovate, welcome newcomers to the sport and remain accessible into the future.
Long live equestrians. Go riding!