The Importance of Education

A few years ago, Bernie Traurig posted the following question on his website,

This is a question that will for sure bring more questions than answers. How can we come up with a solution to help make this sport affordable for the talented young riders that have a dream but their parents do not have the funds... How can we take young horses to get mileage without having it cost so much. How can we buy horses that are not so expensive that are still quality for the job...These are just the tip of the iceberg on questions.. If you have any thoughts or even more questions post it & lets see with some brainstorming what we all can come up with...

- Vickie Montgomery

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I decided to respond with the following essay. Sadly, nothing came of the feedback that was given but it did pose quite a few interesting points of view. You can read the other postings on the website.

The Importance of Education

I wouldn't say that finding quality horses is necessarily the big problem facing the industry today. We have horses, lots of them, of every shape, size, and ability. The problem is one of education and access to education. I do believe we are missing quality horses and quality riders because of inadequate educational opportunities for horses and riders. We can buy all the horses we want and from anywhere, but without the knowledge on how to train them properly, we are no better off.

Let's not dance around the problem. Money buys access - access to education, access to shows, and access to horses. We currently have no national support for grassroots educational programs that would provide talented individuals access to the education they need to become productive equine professionals. Other sports have talent scouts that go out and look for raw talent at the local level and then support them on their journey to professional status. Currently, the only platform for riders to be noticed is at big shows, and the only way to be decent enough to get to the shows is to have access to a horse and training that will get you there.

I thought the Emerging Athletes Program would be just what the sport needed to recognize talented young riders and help them in their education. My heart sank when I found out that I (at 24) was too old to participate, and I lost all hope in the program once they removed the 3' section. We should be ADDING 3' and 2'6" sections, not removing them! We should have offshoots of the EAP that take into account that not every talented young rider will have access to a horse that can do the 3'6" and a trainer that can train them to the 3'6" level. We should have these clinics more than once a year and they should be affordable and accessible. We do not need a Melanie Smith-Taylor to teach every single level, but we do need qualified and compassionate educators to teach proper basics and give students a launching point for their career. By removing the 3' section we are essentially saying, once again, that money buys you access to educational opportunities.

We need a better certification program for professionals, and we should provide scholarships and incentives to young professionals to become certified (think free USEF/USHJA membership for the year if you pass, advertising/networking opportunities, etc). The USHJA certification process should be modeled after the USDF certification process. By requiring professionals to teach and ride as a part of the certification process, we not only provide a platform for feedback, but we also provide an opportunity for young professionals to be noticed and mentored.

We need more internship programs and easier access to them. We need talent scouts going to schooling shows across the nation and looking for diamonds-in-the-rough. And once we've identified these individuals, we need to provide them with access to educational opportunities they can afford. We need to support local trainers who do an excellent job and we need to have an inexpensive way to measure progress and find talent (much like Linda Allen's new Benchmark Program). We need Upper Level trainers to pay-it-forward and volunteer their time to help the Intermediate trainers. And we need the Intermediate trainers to pay-it-forward and volunteer their time to help the Beginning trainers. We need to form a community and stop being so terrified that the trainer next door might steal clients. We're all in this together because, last I checked, we all love the horses and the sport.

We have the money. We have the horses. We have the resources. And we have the educators. It's time to move away from overpriced show venues and overpriced horses from Europe. It's time we focus our energy on broad education programs and develop a definable training scale by which to train horses and riders. It's time to acknowledge small name trainers who do an excellent job at preparing the next generation of horses and riders. It's time to rebuild the horse community to connect local trainers to upper level trainers, beginner riders to advanced riders.

I am excited to be present in the industry when there is so much talk of change. I have lived on the outskirts of the big shows, the big name trainers, and the good horses for my whole career. I have had the benefit of a few trainers and generous horse owners who saw some talent in me and were willing to work with all that my parents could financially offer, and for that I am thankful. I consider myself lucky for the opportunities that have presented, but I also work hard every day to continue my education to the extent that I can afford. I will never be able to purchase a made horse that will allow me to walk into the upper level jumpers in a few months time, so I learn a little bit every day from the horses I have on how to be a more effective rider. I do this so that when the day comes when the horse-of-a-lifetime or the job-of-a-lifetime comes to me, I will be ready and willing to take it all the way. After all, "luck is where preparation meets opportunity."