Perhaps every major sport is supported by their own ‘grassroots’ which offers beginner and/or low-level competition, and horse sports are no different. An unaffiliated network of state and local groups serve the American equestrian grassroots, doing the important job of harnessing enthusiasm, imparting skills, and maintaining basic safety for both the horse and rider.

However, the equestrian grassroots are also unique, because they serve another purpose besides competition. Assumptions drawn from other sporting activities don’t reveal the true nature of the grassroots in horse sports.

The difference is more than height

The grassroots offer a foundation of competitive experience … but a meaningful contest of rider skill requires that participants have the skill and experience to assist and improve their mount’s performance—until that point, the essential challenge is to learn balance, position, control, and focus.

While it is logical to assume that grassroots horse competitions are basically a smaller and less formal version of competitions run by the national ruling body, the US Equestrian Federation (USEF), that view is incomplete.

Gone with the Wind Gas Fumes

Grassroots development is no less than a modern re-creation of the public’s connection to horsemanship.

In the old days, yet only a few decades past, horses were common in daily life … there was little reason to pay much attention to how riders might first come into the sport. Education and experience in horses were gained through daily life, and there were many natural avenues to becoming qualified for equestrian competition.

In America today, essentially the entire infrastructure of that world has vanished. There are limited places where the broad public can still experience the horse and human relationship.

Working to replace the commons of horsemanship not only promises good business outcomes for the ‘industry’ … it may even serve to re-establish and elevate a humane public relationship with our ancient partner. Grassroots competition is about more than competition: it is about the community. A community that may have forgotten how horsemanship formed many of its successful values and habits … but would happily remember.