I often hear about the equine industry’s push to get new people involved. During these conversations, there is particular emphasis on increasing youth participation. The thinking is that for the horse industry to survive, it needs young people standing in line to take up the torch as the current equestrians age out. However, I think the industry would do equally well to try to reach out to existing adult horse owners and riders. I feel that we can do more to get present-day horse owners further involved in the industry.
I suspect many owners would like to be more active with their horses but are limited by a lack of resources. Most industry activities require you to have a trained horse and the means to transport him. When I’ve had these available, I attended lessons, clinics, shows, and trail rides frequently. When I have not, I sat at home watching other people travel and have fun with their horses. Nothing can make you feel more alienated from an industry than constantly looking in from the outside.
I’m not the only person who has encountered this. I remember attending a horse club meeting and overhearing a new member who could participate in club activities with her horse but did not own a trailer. I was confident someone would offer to give her a ride or connect her with another member who could. After all, here was someone who had gone out of her way to attend a meeting where she didn’t know anybody and fork over her hard-earned dollars for dues. Instead, she was told that to participate she needed to get her own trailer.
The issue with this attitude is it eliminates those folks who could otherwise add money, ideas, and participation numbers to our industry if they were supported to travel more. Many equestrians cannot overcome the barriers to self-transport. For many, it is not financially feasible to purchase, register, insure, and maintain a truck and trailer. Some own a rig but do not have the skills or confidence to drive it. For those who can travel regularly with your horses, please know how fortunate you are—there are many who find it next to impossible to load up and go.
When I haven’t been able to self-transport, I have sometimes been offered trailer rides to events. There have also been times when I did not have an appropriate horse for an event and was offered a mount. Some of those events ended up being my most cherished horse memories, which were only made possible by fellow horse folks’ kindness. And you can bet I was contributing money to the industry that I would not have spent if I had stayed home. I also gained skills and contacts that encouraged me to continue to be a horse owner despite my difficulties participating in the industry.
While helping others can be seen as a burden, it can also be richly rewarding. There is satisfaction in being able to share resources and skills within an industry you love. Offering someone a trailer ride to a clinic is one way to give back. To that person without a trailer who longs to increase their skills, you are offering a treasured opportunity. Of course, friends offering friends trailer rides or loaning horses is nothing new. One might even argue that social media has made this easier. But I think we need a more formal system of connecting equestrians; sometimes we want to help others but don’t know how. A structured program might help ensure these connections are made.
Perhaps horse associations and discipline-specific clubs could come up with safeguards and reward incentives for horse owners willing to help. Maybe clubs could keep databases of people who can offer rides and those looking for rides. Organizations could offer discounted memberships or entry fees for those willing to help fellow equestrians. Because liability is a concern where horses and trailering are involved, clubs could provide insurance information and references.
As we consider ways to keep our industry strong, we hope the next generation will fill our shoes when we are gone. I hope that, too. But in the meantime, horse owners and riders are seeking ways they can be more active now. In extending a hand to the current generation of adult riders, we can enrich their lives while enriching our own. After all, if we can’t bolster our community now, there won’t be much left for today’s youth to enjoy when they become adults.
The Horse recommends checking with your insurance agent about liability coverage before trailering someone else’s horse.
This Across the Fence forum was originally published in the July 2019 issue of The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care.