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A few weeks ago, a transcript of Katie Prudent’s interview with WiSP sports was published on The Chronicle of the Horse and rocked the horse world to its core (If you haven’t seen it, read it here and then come right back). I started R4WB to hopefully make the equestrian community a little friendlier and a little more inclusive, but I saw that Katie’s opinion was doing quite the opposite. I’ve never been one to bite my tongue, so I decided to go ahead and dissect Katie’s argument piece by piece.
Prudent began the interview by attacking lower levels of competition. “In America now, in competition, there are levels of competition that start at 80 centimeters. They start at the lowest level…The way it’s been dummied down in today’s world, it’s amazing that anyone can ride at all.”
Well, what about green horses that need to feel comfortable at their first horse show? What about older horses who have stepped down from the bigger levels but still love to work and show? What about the kids that want to try something new in a safe environment? What about riders that want to get their confidence back after a tough fall? What about people that can’t afford a 1.40m horse? These “subterranean levels” are beneficial to a number of horses and riders for a whole slew of reasons. To discount them is insulting.
Next, Katie graced us with the famous line that left us all shook up. “The sport has become for the fearful, talentless amateur. That’s what the sport has been dummied down to. Unfortunately, because of money, the fearful, talentless amateur can rise to a certain level.” In some ways, I agree with her here.
I think we’ve probably all seen riders buying expensive, fancy mounts that are just too much horse for their current riding ability. But here’s why this is the case, Katie: it’s because of people like you that invalidate the lower levels and make people feel like they’re not “legitimate” riders until they’re showing 3’6″ and above. Thus, we have juniors and ammies rushing up the levels even though they’re not ready, because when people like you tell us that anything below 1.10m is a joke, it’s hard not to want to move up as soon as possible.
“The sport makes me sick nowadays,” Katie continued. “In America, what’s very sad is that we’re not producing a ton of great riders.” This I blame on people like Katie–trainers–that wish things were still the way they were during the good ol’ days. I applaud you, Katie, for recognizing that this sport has changed, but I won’t applaud you for being a stick in the mud and refusing to take action to help us get out of this rut. You say that most up-and-coming junior riders and young professionals, “have only ridden the best horses that money can buy” since they were little children, but who is responsible for allowing this to happen?
Trainers, just like you. You may not have liked it, but you were complacent. You say, “Most of the riders whose families have a lot of money, they don’t have the same desire to work at their sport as the kids who grew up without money.” Maybe this is the case, but YOU taught some of them. Some of these up-and-coming pros came through YOUR hands. You criticize riders for never knowing what hard work looks like, but you had the chance to change things years ago when you first noticed this trend start to happen, and you didn’t. None of this happened overnight, but you chose to speak out at a time when it was already too late.
Which leads me to my opinion on the current state of show jumping. Right now, the show jumping world is divided into two large, basic groups: the “haves” and the “have-nots” (the “haves” being the group that Prudent believes are ruining this sport). We stand on two opposing cliffs with a ravine between us–close enough that we can yell across the abyss, but far enough away that we can’t effectively communicate with one another. This distance and lack of communication starts to breed jealously for the “haves” and disdain for the “have-nots”. We aren’t honest with ourselves and each other, and we start to forget that inside every rider is a passionate little kid that does this all for the love of the horse.
We attack the opposing group for superficial flaws and insist that life is better on our side for whatever reason. We forget that we are not so different from one another, though one group may be lacking in monetary wealth and the other in experience riding off-the-track thoroughbreds. The “haves” promote an elitist lifestyle on social media. The “have-nots” feel invalidated while scrolling through Instagram.
And here’s the ultimate truth: neither side of the ravine is any better than the other, but over the years, trainers, like Katie Prudent, have subconsciously divided us. She accuses the “haves” of buying their way to the top, and that idea eventually trickled down to the “have-nots”, which is why we now find ourselves with a split between us.
Katie Prudent says, “We’re going to have to hit rock bottom” before any of this changes. I respectfully disagree. I see so many hardworking juniors and amateurs, both “haves” and “have-nots”, that are dedicated horsemen and women above anything else. There’s a big change coming in this sport, and until then, whether you are a “have” or a “have-not”, be mindful of your words and actions, because there will always be someone looking up to you.
I don’t have Katie’s riding experience and expertise, and I’m 100% certain that I could learn oodles from her. I respect her as a horsewoman and an educator in this sport, and I think she made some good points in this interview. But what I can’t get behind is the notion that this sport has been dumbed down, when really, the addition of lower divisions has allowed MORE people to experience what it means to be a competitive equestrian.
My goal with Riders for Well-Being has always been to make the sport inviting, united, and compassionate. I hope that trainers, judges, parents, “haves” and “have-nots” can put aside our differences and build a bridge across the ravine. I hope it happens soon.