I poked the bear because I wanted to share my experience. I did it publicly because I believed and still believe the proper channels are broken. While others rightfully fear retaliation and want to ride sanctioned events enough to tolerate the issues, I don’t.
I’ve been struggling all week to write this blog. I’ve been so disillusioned. The ‘ideas’ article isn’t quite done. So what to post? I wrote this as an email to some close friends and have decided to share it. I hope you can at least get a chuckle out of it. I did when I went back and read it today. I really never was any good at ‘shut up and color.’
The disagreeing with me I welcome. The agreeing, more-so. And certainly the good conversations from both sides. The opinions are fine. Even the personal attacks are mostly fine. But to call me ‘just a jockey’. That was the last straw. Even if I didn’t have a lifetime of horse experience and hadn’t spent 8 months researching everything endurance and training a horse for it’s first 100 mile ride and making every decision from nutrition, to shoes, to exercise schedules, to the long slow rides; to imply getting a horse through their first 100 is ‘just’ a jockey? There’s no just about it, even IF that were the case. The overwhelming attitude is not one that tells me this sport wants to grow or be helped. It tells me the thin veneer of welcome to newcomers only extends to those who submit to the unwritten rules.
- Thou shalt not be in the top 10, or god forbid, win, your first 2-3 years.
- If you do, you are riding too fast.
- Or worse, racing.
- Thou shalt not ask that trail be marked better. By the time you earn the right to be in the front, you’ll know the trail.
- Thou shalt complete a season volunteering and perhaps riding a couple LDs before you are ready to ride a 50. Then see Rule 1.
- Thou shalt smilingly listen to the pontification of those with more miles than you on all thing as they are helping you. Miles = knowledge. You know nothing.
- Thou shalt not speak up about any issues you see until you reach some magical number of miles, have been a ride manager, and can prove your own actions are beyond reproach.
- Should you express an opinion prior to that, you are a whiner, you are weak, and you don’t belong in this sport.
- Groveling and extensive listening per Rule 4, can mitigate some transgressions of Rule 5.
- Should you somehow tolerate paying these ‘dues’ for long enough to gain the prerequisite miles, have proof you have hand raised your horse and done all long slow miles yourself, and if you have somehow managed to keep your eyes open and not just say, ‘well, that’s the way things are’, perhaps you’ll be in a position to administer CPR and fluids to a dying sport. Or perhaps you’ll enjoy your, ‘the rules don’t apply to me anymore’ status and your power to give your friends a free pass too much to want to change.
At the end of the day, it’s the attitude that got me. I invited it in. I poked the bear. And the bear ate me. I most likely would have quit anyway, in silence, like many I have heard from. This way, I just got to see the true colors more quickly and clearly and saved myself time and money investing in a sport that doesn’t want to change.
The reality is it’s just a few who are rotten, but a few bad apples are enough to make the entire basket look unappetizing, especially when the rotten ones are on the top,
I didn’t follow the unwritten rules. You told me to ‘shut up and color’ and I didn’t. I thought I could speak out and drive positive change at the expense of some ruffled feathers. I thought I could weather the expected abuse and personal attacks. But I couldn’t.
Some warped, optimistic, misguided part of me thought I could make a difference. But a bigger part recently learned a lesson. The part of me that cried last night. The part of me that doesn’t care anymore. That part is now in charge.
I thought the bear had eaten me for a short time, but it turns out I was only maimed. My next ride is hopefully going to be the Red Rock Rumble in Nevada….on a RACING MULE!!!
HEY! I BET YOU THOUGHT THAT WAS THE END….BUT IT’S NOT!
by Ashley Tomaszewski
It seems endurance is not the only discipline that is participating in a dialogue around changing and improving the sport. If you don’t follow the hunter/jumper scene, popular equestrian news source The Chronicle of Horse published an interview with legendary rider Katie Prudent , in which she rips American show jumping a new one. While her main point does have to do with riders “buying” their way to the top, she also touches on the “dumbing down” of the sport. “When I was a kid, you did junior hunters, and that was 3’6″, which is a little more than a meter. And if you wanted to do jumpers, you did the junior jumpers. But there was not low children’s jumper, children’s jumper, modified children’s jumper, low junior jumper. The way it’s been dummied down in today’s world, it’s amazing that anyone can ride at all. The sport has become for the fearful, talentless amateur. That’s what the sport has been dummied down to.”
The interwebs exploded with discussion both for and against Katie’s comments, with one letter from one of those “amateurs” really sticking out for me . Jennifer Baas put herself and her opinion out there, going up against the opinion of one of the sport’s great riders. While Jennifer said in her open letter, “I’m just Jennifer Baas. You’re Katie Monahan Prudent. You’re a legend, a leader—you can impact change.”, little did she know that her voice was the voice of many and that change is starting to take place. In her follow up letter, she mentions that Murray Kessler (USEF President, successful businessman, father to US Olympic rider Reed Kessler), reached out to her to listen to her feedback, and give her a forum to help move her ideas along.
This is not unlike the explosion of the endurance community after Dear AERC. Just a low mileage new rider speaking out against the legends.
I’m just Ashley Tomaszewski.
- just because it’s the way you used to do it, doesn’t make it right or the only way to do something. We need change and evolution; that is how things grow and become better. Why did the dodo bird become extinct? Because it didn’t adapt to its environment. Horse events and even disciplines could disappear if they don’t adapt to the environment around them. To quote McLain Ward, “The sport has had to change internally and because of external pressures, and the greats of any generation will adjust to what the sport is.”
- If someone wants to stick to the lower levels with no intention of moving up, who cares? They just want to enjoy their horse. If that’s not at least part of why you ride, you may want to reconsider your hobby choice. Be happy they even chose the same discipline as you.. These lower level riders are the bread and butter of the industry. They are what help to fund the upper levels.
- If people don’t have the resources, they could have all the talent and work ethic in the world and still never make it to the big leagues. To those that complain that LD stands for “luxury distance” or that you’re not a real distance rider unless you’re doing 50-100 milers, are you going to give me the money to buy an endurance –bred horse so I don’t have to ride my chunky cow pony?
or are you going to add more hours to my day so that I can condition for longer rides? I didn’t think so. You are very fortunate to be in the position you are in and some people may only ever dream of being in your shoes, so please do not look down on the riders who only do the shorter distances. They have their reasons for doing so.
The point I’m trying to get at is, put your opinion out there! There are most likely others that are thinking the same thing you are but don’t know how to say it. Provide feedback, give suggestions for how things can be improved. Getting the conversation started is the first step to evoking change.