I’m going to throw some wild and crazy stuff at you. It has to do with the most recent USEA convention, held last weekend in Colorado. If you did not attend (and thousands of USEA members did not, as only about 350 did) you probably watched all the usual places (COTH, Eventing Nation, etc.) for the scoop on what was happening.
From most reports, it was the New Eventing Coach Show. An incredibly exciting vision was laid out by David O’Connor, formerly USEF president and now the USET Eventing Coach. By all accounts his various seminars, talks, and outlines were a smash hit among all the upper level riders who were present (and it was highly suggested that they make it a priority to attend.)
If you are an ammy rider like me, you probably gleaned the reports for the stuff that was important to you. Like new programs or rule changes that might affect what you do at novice and training levels, or other issues of education or horsemanship. Alas, this convention was light on the ammy, it seemed.
However, I have been looking at some old reports of past conventions, taking a close look at organizational management, and leadership styles. I’ve also drawn on what I know from watching and supporting international level eventing for over 30 years.
Rather than watch, and wait to see what “they” were going to provide “us”, we need to change our attitudes. If you want to be provided with things, and want to sit back and receive them, then you don’t want leadership — you want a commander.
Organizational leadership is a collaborative effort, an outgrowth of a group that is like-minded and focused. Leadership becomes self organizing.
In contrast, an authority at the top can organize a group by making the decisions, and obtain and parcel out favors (programs). (Here’s a more scholarly explanation of the two styles: http://managingleadership.com/blog/2004/07/15/what-is-organizational-leadership/)
The fact that the upper level riders attended by suggestion, then once there, were enlightened, and hopefully come home stimulated, is all good for the sport. Those that felt like they were disorganized can have a structure to what they and their stables should be doing in the coming year. Those that were worried should have had their fears allayed. In all it should help those of us who are students of these riders, because if they are less tense, more focused, and more organized, if they know what is going to happen and when, then they can provide more organized and better teaching.
That’s the immediate trickle down I can see.
The second positive is the realization that as adult amateurs we are the fuel ($) in the tank of the engine that drives the Eventing ship. We are also the hull of the ship, because we present the protective sleeve around the sport to the Young Riders, the upper level riders, the professionals and the sponsors with goods and services to sell us. We are most assuredly important in a very big and needed way. It is not important that everyone knows this, but it is important that our protective influence is not eroded by disrespect, ignorance, or dismissive attitudes.
While we can’t individually come up with a half-million to give to the sport, together in that “collaborative effort”, we can do something just as important. We can get together and volunteer, we can ask that organizers and our association recognize and respect the volunteer effort in a much more interactive and encouraging way than they presently do. We can ask that our association make funding volunteer programs and rewards an absolute priority, right alongside making the riders better who are going to represent us abroad. Our sport here needs us both. Volunteerism is critical to our sport’s survival and growth.
I wrote an article a long, long time ago about volunteerism in horse sports. I wrote, “you can’t legislate us, you can’t browbeat us, we volunteer because we want to.”
I don’t think that sentiment has changed. We still volunteer out of camaraderie more than by command.
The Team (USET, upper level riders) needs the commander (David O’Connor). The organization needs the collaborative effort of all of us, working together, to bring about what we want for ourselves. The more we give, the easier it gets for all of us!