With increasing age horsemen often hear people ask, “Are you still riding?” The other question that you will hear is, “Do you still have THAT horse?”
Some people (horsemen or not) believe that you need to keep updating to a new horse, just like you regularly update to a newer model car. Personally, I have never held to that philosophy. I expect my cars and trucks to last to a minimum of 200,000 miles, and I ride my horses for as long as I am fortunate to have them in good health. Hopefully that will be well over 20 or even 30 years.
Are there any good reasons to get a new horse every few years — yes! If finances, location, or available time limit you to owning only one horse, then it may be reasonable to think about changing horses regularly.
There are horse shows that go on for years with great success and then it suddenly ebbs, with the show holders never knowing why. Other shows may be just as confused when they have a year with a huge jump in participation for no obvious reason.
Whether your show is growing, failing, or remaining pretty much the same from year to year, knowing why is useful. If you have good data on why people like your show or chose to pass it up, you can build on the positive features and correct the bad ones.
Word of mouth is the most obvious way to find out what people think, but it is not necessarily the most dependable. Some people hesitate to say what they are really thinking because they do not want to offend anyone, or because they don’t feel that their problems are big enough to matter. On the other side, there are always a few people who come away from a show angry and have no problem telling everyone their complaints.
An anonymous survey is probably the best way to get a real picture of how entrants feel about a show. You can do it on site by providing paper survey forms that can be completed and turned in at the show or mailed later, but there are modern ways that may work better. Survey Monkey and other services provide quick and easy ways to get feedback on your horse show, or create a survey of your own for entrants to fill out along with their online entry forms. People who would not bother to take the time to fill out a printed form with pen or pencil might be more likely to respond to an e-mailed survey request. You can add to the incentive for people to respond by offering a prize of some sort to the winner of a drawing from all respondents.
Do the horse shows that you attend operate as a part of the larger community or do they go their own way without regard to what is happening in the horse world around them? If you are a horse show manager for your stable or breed club, you may want to look at the world around your show as you plan your next event instead of operating in isolation. If your goal is to bring in competitors and spectators, and promote your breed in the process, then you need to look at the bigger picture.
Take Dressage at Devon as an example. This is a major week-long horse show in September that is considered one of the most prestigious dressage events in the country. This show is so well established that they are not going to lack for entrants no matter what minor changes they make, but this year they are moving their show date. Why? Because the Pope will be in Philadelphia on their normal dates. Show management recognized early on that a big event in the area is going to make hotel rooms harder to find than usual. Traffic will be worse than normal, and all of the press coverage will be centered on the Pope. Dressage at Devon is a major event drawing thousands of spectators. In their case, they are better off to avoid the stresses put on by a another big event — even though it is far from a horse show.
Spring is here for most of us — time to take a break from the daily grind, clean up, and start anew. The tradition of spring cleaning is just as important around the barn as it is around the house, and horsemen can benefit from making the major effort to clean up and start the season right.
Start with your barn — there may be a lot of work to do but it is easy to identify. Of course you groom your horses, and keep their stalls clean but the start of warm weather is also a good time to scrub stall walls and give those stall mats a good cleaning.
If you have gone through all the pros and cons and decided to breed your mare, you have nearly a year to prepare for the new arrival, so don’t wait until the last minute — start now.
As I have written before, I have never had one of my own mares bred, but I have some experience. My sister-in-law was an Arabian breeder long ago, and I have many friends and neighbors that stand stallions or have a nice crop of foals each year.
I have heard many sad stories of what can go wrong. Generally those come from the horse owner who is breeding a mare for the first time. Big breeders have sad tales to tell too, but they also have the background and experience to be prepared when things go wrong.