The equestrian grassroots can re-establish opportunities to learn about horses which existed in the world of a century ago, from which our modern establishment of horse sports grew.
Modern equestrian competition echoes the cavalry era
Show jumping as a sport had its beginnings in literal grass roots of farm pastures and sale yards, but the advancement of jumping was studied and organized as a top-down military endeavor. The focal point of major jumping competition was the elite officer corps of a nation’s cavalry—not the beginning rider, who (at that time) had many opportunities to learn about horsemanship outside the sport.
After the disbanding of cavalry, much organizing energy went into transformation of the sport to civilian participation. In the wrenching economic and social change away from living horsepower, effort was concentrated on transitioning existing forms of horsemanship. New roles and possibilities were often overlooked.
The public: The missing element
This lack of innovation has proven unfortunate, because the intervening decades have seen the loss of the underlying public economy that supported former cavalry contests and early horse show competition.
New forms of basic horse/human interaction are needed to engage public participation and support for horse activities. Developing a welcoming grassroots for education and experience is one of the most important challenges to preserving a future for humane horsemanship and the keeping of horses.
Replacing the public connection to horses is the imperative of the grassroots
The sport of show jumping is sanctioned by well-meaning national and international organizations which claim to serve ‘all levels’ of riders. In practical terms, this has acted as a statement of envelopment rather than representation, obscuring the fact that the grassroots even exist.
Good intentions aside, the reality is that the free-wheeling and independent nature of grassroots competition is difficult to serve within the needs and purposes of elite competition. Competitive demands are not the same as the challenge of providing basic experience and education to the broad public.
By not seeing this reality, the community-level grassroots of horsemanship have remained unseen and undeveloped. This has caused the public to largely abandon not only the grandstands but their very attachment to horsemanship. The future viability of the horse/human connection is left in question.
Recognizing the Grassroots
To recognize the grassroots means coming to terms with societal change, completing the transformation the horse world began with the advent of mechanical horsepower.
There is need for a new conception of the grassroots, recognizing its role in providing the public with humane and positive paths to learn about and experience horses.
The grassroots are the new arrival in history
Formal competition with high standards is of vital importance to horses, because it helps establish a connection of human interest and inspiration. Organized elite equestrian competition preserves a wellspring of historic experience and achievement in one of mankind’s oldest and most influential technologies.
However, wonderful as it is, high-level equestrian competition is NOT a new thing in the world today. Equestrian sporting spectacle follows a steady but ever-changing line through history … tracing back past jousting and polo and racing and dressage, back even before the original Olympics to origins lost in the mists of time.
Instead it is the GRASSROOTS that are on the cutting edge of progress today, offering the potential to replace opportunities of horse/human engagement that existed in our former economy of living horsepower. This should not be a surprise, of course: horsemanship has always adapted and opened into new forms in the face of contemporary challenges.
As today’s horsemen/women realize and grow to trust in the living spirit and love that make up the horse and human partnership, they will see that new opportunities are opening once more. Old ways can be brought into a new day, preserving both hallowed memory and its future.