Competing In The 21st Century

For decades, horse people have longed for wider media coverage of all their sports, and, now that we’re actually getting coverage, in traditional and non-traditional ways, it’s a reminder about being careful what we wish for. There’s a TV network devoted to horses (Horse-TV), although it has only limited distribution. And a second horse network is approaching launch. Besides the hundreds of equestrian publications, we can now read dozens of equestrian websites. And horse sports even hit the major networks three years ago, when NBC-TV began broadcasting the Rolex Kentucky CCI on the Sunday afternoon following the event.

Plus, almost everyone’s got a cell-phone camera, filling up the airwaves with even more photos and opinions. The result is almost instant communication about almost anything that happens in our horse world (in or out of competition). And no one could have possibly anticipated all the side effects of people seeing incidents through webcasts, video sharing or cell-phone photos, and then commenting on them to thousands of others, even though the person telling the story may actually know very little about them.

Consequently, competitors in the 21st century need to face two realities. First, we must always be aware of the eye of TV, or at least of the ubiquitous video camera. That means that our decisions to urge a tired horse to the finish line for education or to strongly reprimand a recalcitrant horse could just be recorded by someone for the whole world to see — and probably to misunderstand.

Second, if a catastrophic injury happens, spectators and television viewers expect to see overt emotion. They don’t understand why riders must keep their emotions in check and can’t relate to the strength it takes to focus on the immediate problem — tending to a severely injured horse — while holding back the anguish until the critical period has passed. For reasons beyond our comprehension, the public wants riders to react to catastrophes with oceans of tears and obvious anguish, and the backlash can be vicious if they don’t.

All of us who compete have a relationship, a bond, with our horses. Certainly we must have that relationship — because if we don’t, then we’re training and competing horses for all the wrong reasons. Competition’s purpose is to prove that the training we’re doing — the physical and mental development that we’re attempting to forge in our horses — is headed in the correct direction.

But the reality of the 21st century is that ”somebody” is likely watching. And we may be forced to deal with the fact that our actions and our personalities may not measure up to other people’s standards or understanding of our sports.

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