I am not a millionaire. As much as I wish I was, my bank account is lucky to see four figures in it, let alone seven. This, combined with the fact that I am not pursuing a career as a rider lumps me into the category of true blue amateur. This is a label I am secure in and one that I embrace. I do not, however, embrace the notion of amateur shaming that seems to have become prevalent of late within the equestrian sport world.
Let’s break it down, shall we? A recent article shared the opinion of a highly respected and world renowned rider, one who made a name for herself in the “golden age” of show jumping. The days when hunters still looked like field hunters and when monogrammed saddle pads and sponsor logos were nonexistent. The good old days, as many with rose colored glasses like to call them.
I remember my first hunter show. I was 15 and terrified of any jump that was over two feet high. I leased a little Connemara/Thoroughbred mare who happily toted me around the little jump courses my coach set like it was the best job in the world. My first hunter show was meant to be a confidence building experience. As hunter shows, especially those of the schooling nature, go, it was a lot of hurry up and wait at the in gate while we watched Short Stirrup kid after Short Stirrup kid go in for their trips. After an hour of standing around, my coach decided that we were just going to go in the Short Stirrup so that we could get the day over with. In we went, and soon I found myself in the flat class, lined up next to 15 ponies on my 16 hand horse. It was a proud moment for me, even though I was taller, older and more than a little embarrassed to be showing just two-foot when most of my barn counterparts were doing the Children’s Hunters.
Children’s Hunters were where it was at back then, in the early 2000s. That was the big goal. Import a horse, canter around the 3-foot division, bring home a ribbon. All of the girls at my barn, all of whom were substantially more wealthy than I, worked for this achievement throughout their entire high school riding careers. One of them eventually went on to contest the Junior Hunters (3’6″), but for the most part, Children’s Hunters made you “cool”.
As talented and as financially well backed as these girls were, 3’6″ was never the goal. Most of them moved on, went to college, got married, had babies and left the horses in the rear view. I stuck with it. I transitioned from hunters to eventing, and more than 10 years later I finally completed a big goal of competing at Training Level (3’3″). This was a huge goal for me. It may not be much in the eyes of someone who has competed much higher, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it was a monumental accomplishment for myself.
Looking back at all of those hunter shows I attended as a kid and looking ahead to the events I attend now, I see one common denominator. The biggest divisions at each and every show I have attended are the 3-foot division, or the Novice division in eventing terms, and the 2-foot or 2’6″ classes, the Starter or Beginner Novice divisions.
These are people who support the sport. These are the people who, in part, make it possible to hold the big Performance Hunter classes and the Grand Prixs and the CCI3* events. Yes, everyone’s entry fee goes a long way, and everyone works hard for that money to pay for said entry fees. But when we’re talking sheer number of entries, this is where a lot of that financial support is coming from.
Not everyone wants the same thing out of the horse show experience. The “fearful, talentless amateur” often just wants to enjoy their 2’6″ round and follow it up with a bottle of wine while watching the evening Grand Prix. The “fearful, talentless amateur” does not always do well with a coach who pressures them and pushes them to compete higher. The “fearful, talentless amateur” wants to spend his or her hard-earned money on an experience, not a ribbon. And it is the “fearful, talentless amateur” who makes up a very large portion of every horse show division, which means more money to fund the logistics of the show and those higher classes that are more reminiscent of the “good old days”.
There is a reason why there are often 30 riders in a Beginner Novice division versus 10 in the Advanced. Not everyone is working for that goal. Not everyone has a horse who is ready for the upper levels. But those extra 20 entry fees go a long way in making that event possible. This is not meant to discount anything that upper level riders work for or pay for — we know your money is worth just as much as ours. We know that you pour your heart and soul into your business, and we applaud that. That isn’t the point. The point is, the amateur shaming needs to stop. At the end of the day, the amateur divisions are as lucrative as a horse show class could be, and they are absolutely vital to the survival of the sport. Without these amateurs who cruise around sub-3-foot jumps, the shows would wilt and die without the proper support.
So, the next time you’re waiting for the seemingly endless Short Stirrup division to end, say a silent thank you to the hard working parents or other supporters who are footing the bill for their kid to jump those tiny jumps. The next time you’re volunteering at an event and watching 50 Beginner Novice dressage tests in a row, remember that these riders care just as much about their result as the Advanced riders in the next ring, even if it seems more trivial. Say a silent thank you to each and every rider who supports their sport of choice — amateur or pro, rich or poor, homemade or well-backed. We all are in this for our love of horses and sport, so let’s not throw shade at those whose goals are just a bit more bite-sized than others.