JN Blogger Contest Finalist Anne Warner on Full Care Facilities

Several talented writers entered our first ever JN Blogger Contest and after careful deliberation, we have narrowed down the pool to the top three entrants. For their final essay, each writer was given the topic “Full Care Facilities: Do They Help or Hurt the Future of Our Sport?” This week, we will feature each of the final three contestants’ editorial perspective on the assigned topic and YOU will have the chance to vote for your favorite writer! Contestant number one, Anne Warner, gives us her thoughts on our tricky topic. 

Photo by Alissa King / JN

On July 12, 2017 The Chronicle of the Horse ran “A Conversation With Katie Prudent” in which Veteran U.S. show jumper Katie Monahan Prudent (a member of the last gold medal winning World Championships team in Aachen, Germany in 1986) elaborated on what she called the “dummying down of U.S. Show jumping” in recent years.  With 2018 Show Jumping gold in the World Equestrian Games going spectacularly to the United States just last week, her comments regarding the future of our sport may merit a revisit…because while many felt like responding to her statements with a short sharp slap to the side of her helmet, that kind of indictment is better met with solid investigation and the best investigations go all the way back to the source of the problem.

In her interview for The Chronicle with Chris Stafford, Katie said…

“The sport makes me sick nowadays.  And in America, what’s very sad is that we’re not producing a ton of great riders.  Unfortunately, because of money, the fearful, talentless amateur can rise to a certain level. And that’s sort of what the sport has become—how far can the amateur go by buying the greatest horse in the world. It’s not where can a good riding kid go on any horse that comes down the pike. It’s just a totally different sport now.”

Her premise, that money buys success, is certainly not a new one, and it’s hardly exclusive to show jumping…every competitive endeavor is fraught with either the actuality or the appearance of an elitist mentality and an ever increasing “pay for play” perception.

And “full care” facilities would appear to cater to this mindset.  In a horsey version of “keeping up with the Joneses” boarding facilities do everything they can to be competitive with each other and entice new owners and riders into their isle ways.  Boarding and riding out of a “top” show barn carries the same bragging rights that having a dancer at Julliard does and yet the most important services these facilities should provide their clients are often woefully and deliberately lacking…and THAT is what has the future of our sport in Jeopardy.

So in addressing whether “full care” facilities help or hurt the future of the sport, the well-considered answer is that they can do either, depending on whether or not education, observation, and support are included in the “full care” list of services they provide.

The riders from “back in the day” were more likely to come from a rural setting where horsemanship and all it encompasses was learned and expected as part of growing up in the sport.  As society has transitioned to more urban environments, potential riders and owners most often live in town and have to seek out facilities initially for lessons and subsequently for boarding horses they purchase and these newcomers to our sport will not magically appear with the working knowledge of horse care that their predecessors did.  They have to be educated.   It’s as simple as that.

Therefore, “full care” facilities separate themselves into helpful or hurtful depending on their willingness to educate their clients along with profiting from them.

Let’s be real…the horse business is expensive.  As a lifelong pro, I can attest to how hard it is to even make ends meet let alone turn a profit.  As horses and horse shows become more expensive, pros and the facilities they operate out of feel compelled to increase the services they provide and the amount they charge for each service in order to be competitive (or even survive!)  As facilities include more and more aspects of horse care under their umbrella of services, increasing numbers of owners and riders are discouraged or even flat out prevented from accessing the knowledge and skills that used to come with those aspects of care and the situation we currently face is perpetuated…our sport becoming lopsidedly populated with people who can afford horses but never become “horsemen”.

Whether or not a facility offers “full care” is therefore not the deficit that threatens the future of our sport. The deliberate lack of education at the facility level is.  Many top owners and riders utilize “full care” facilities for their horses because their jobs, schooling or distance from the facility dictate the necessity of it.  Not everyone has enough hours in the day to address every aspect of their horse’s care.  But that doesn’t mean (or have to mean) they can’t become the kind of horsemen and women we need to carry the future of the sport…it simply means it’s the right level of care for their situation at that moment.  “Full care” facilities, however, do not relieve any horse owner of the responsibility to become knowledgeable in all aspects of their horse’s care, even if the staff of their facility provide that care on a daily basis.  And “full care” facilities that help the future of our sport not only encourage that education but require and incentivize it.

 “Full care” facilities that insist on managing ALL aspects of horse care except the actual time the owner spends riding, hurt the future of our sport by restricting knowledge and hoarding the skills that have to be imparted to each young rider in order to transform them from paying clients into knowledgeable horsemen.

Education or the lack thereof, at the facility level, is what threatens the future of our sport.  Facilities have to offer it and owners have to insist on it.  Regardless of the discipline pursued, the early associations a new “horseman” has with any facility are hugely instrumental in shaping their “equestrian mindset”…and herein lies the tremendous responsibility of every type of horse care facility… because, a facility without education, observation, and support does not truly offer “full care”  and absolutely hurts the future of our sport.

Photo by Emily Almodovar Warner

Anne Warner is a lifelong rider, trainer and advocate for off the track thoroughbreds. She runs Double Clear Equestrian Center in Lincoln, Nebraska where she teaches all levels of students and has OTTBs in training from fresh off the track through Grand Prix.