UrbanDictionary.com is an irreverent online slang encyclopedia that crowdsources its definitions. The entry for “horse people” states: “Those that are in love with their horses and prefer interaction and intimacy with their horses to actual people. Also are snooty and inevitably annoy all those around them.” Ouch.
Add to this the cliques: die-hard barrel racers, dressage divas, breed snobs. There are coat color cliques, organization cliques, and fans of insert-trainer-name-here cliques. Then there are the know-it-alls. Somewhere out there are thousands of self-proclaimed experts in all the minutiae of the horse world. And while most horse people are quick to acknowledge they’re not perfect, secretly we are all also pretty sure that others are more wrong than we are!
Into this steps the newbie, who’s just trying to learn about horses and riding. Confronted by cliques, barraged by opinions, bewildered at the socio-political subtext of every tiny choice, it’s no wonder she soon hightails it out of the horse world. And that’s awful.
It’s awful for her, and it’s awful for all equestrians, because we need newbies. We need new competitors, volunteers, clients, customers, and friends in order to keep our hobby, our passion, alive and growing. “Passion” is a key word here. Horse people are opinionated because we are passionate about doing our best for our horses and in our chosen disciplines. That’s not a bad thing, but we do need to refocus that passion a little more positively.
Here are seven things we can do to get more people involved in the horse world.
- Do outreach at non-horsey venues to attract new riders. Contact local organizations and offer to do a little talk for them. Chances are your public library would love for you to help with a horsey story time, or to speak to a small group about how to get involved in riding. Does your town’s Lions, Rotary, or Kiwanis Club have an annual picnic? Do the senior or community centers need help with activities? Volunteer to bring a pony to pet.
- If you have something to say, raise your hand—and put it over your mouth. The top complaint about horse people by other horse people is their unsolicited advice and opinions. Instead, offer encouragement and friendship. Eventually, a newbie who feels comfortable will ask for guidance—and thus be much more likely to take it in.
- Try new things. One great way to encourage newbies to get involved and stay involved is to lead by example. If you’ve always done trail rides, try a show. Bored with jumping? Try a ride and tie, or create a polocrosse club. When others see you lead by example, they’ll feel braver about trying things, and they’ll find the horse world niche that’s right for them. Your experience with newbies will also help you become more patient with others.
- Adopt a greenhorn. Does your organization have a mentor program? Many adult amateurs would be much more likely to try a new discipline or activity if there were someone helpful standing by to walk them through it.
- Applaud. Practice good sportsmanship. Compliment people. In other words, remember what your mother taught you about being nice and making friends.
- Lend freely. If you’re going to an event, pack an extra girth, helmet, bucket or hairnet. There’s bound to be a newbie who will be incredibly grateful to you for the loan of one of these.
- Encourage skills over fashion. Let’s lessen the snobbishness in our barns by not focusing on what money can buy. The next time you find yourself in a conversation involving expensive brands, big-name trainers, or the latest “must have” equipment, remind yourself that a horse and rider’s performance is really what matters most.
If we all become open and friendly ambassadors of all things equine, just imagine how many new people will want to get involved in the horse world. It’ s good for horse-related businesses, and it’s good for making new friendships. There’s strength in numbers, and we need to bring in new riders and equestrians to keep the horse community going strong.
LAURA ROSE lives on a farm in Wisconsin where she blogs, paints and sometimes rescues horses.
This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Horse Illustrated. Click here to subscribe!