If You Want Horse Shows to Continue, [Please, For the Love of God] Wear Your Masks

Several weeks ago, just as competitions were resuming, I wrote an article about how we should be prepared for horse shows to shut down again. The USEF recently announced that face masks will now be required at all times at sanctioned competitions except for when mounted.

They’ve made this announcement because people are not playing by the rules. If we don’t comply, they may threaten to shut down the shows altogether. Major competitions have already been canceled due to noncompliance or concerns about noncompliance, including the Pony Finals and American Eventing Championships at the Kentucky Horse Park.  

I’ll admit that at a local event a couple of weeks ago, one of the volunteers had to remind me to put a mask on while I was at my trailer. I had recently gotten off a horse and was putting tack away. I had forgotten to put a mask back on because there were other things on my mind. I apologized to her and complied with the rules right away. 

Wearing masks at Fox Lea Farm School’s Out Horse Show. Photo by Dominique Gonzalez.

I have been shocked that the anti-mask situation is such a problem with coaches and trainers. They are in a position of power and if they aren’t wearing masks, their students are unlikely to wear them either. This is a problem of individual responsibility, but also of enforcement. If the coach doesn’t wear a mask, they need to be asked to leave. People need to stop tiptoeing around it. Be brave and enforce social norms: if you want to be at a horse show, you need to wear a mask. That’s it. People need to understand that a person could get sick and die if people do not cooperate. It will take some guts for organizers to kick coaches out along with other people, but if they want the season to continue they need to enforce this.

This isn’t about you. In addition to the terrible impact of possible giving someone the virus if you don’t wear a mask, there is also the financial impact of shows shutting down on trainers and coaches who rely on shows to make a living from students and selling horses. Please, don’t ruin it for everyone. 

The collective action problem, which is widely observed in the social sciences from economics to sociology, is a failure of a group of individuals to act in a way according to what is best for the group when each individual acts in a way that is better for themselves. It’s exactly the phenomenon at play with mask-wearing. Maybe you, as an individual, would be happier if you didn’t have to wear a mask at the horse show. And maybe if only you did so, the risk to everyone would not change much (one person out of a few hundred would only increase the risk by a small amount). However, if every individual in the group, or even a large proportion of the individuals in the group, adopts this attitude, the risk goes up substantially for everyone! Thus, what might be “better” for you as a low-risk individual ends up making the whole group worse off. 

Everyone is sick of this pandemic. We are tired, we are annoyed, and we just want to resume life as usual. I understand it; I feel the same way. But this thing is going to be around for a while. Let’s learn and adapt to the new ways of living and doing, including how to be compliant with new rules at horse shows.