Step Outside The Bubble

I didn’t mean to do it. I wasn’t totally prepared, and it probably came out all wrong. I stood up and spoke at a committee meeting during the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Convention in Fort Worth, Texas. 

It was the Long Range Planning Committee – the individuals the NCHA counts on to “make recommendations with regard to the direction of NCHA for future growth and development and make recommendations regarding improvements to the structure of the NCHA as set forth in its Constitution and By-laws.”

I spent the day before at the convention, attending meetings and listening to NCHA directors and members (though there were few of the latter, which was disappointing, given the close proximity of the convention to the “Cutting Horse Capital of the World”) talk about NCHA business. One of the items that kept coming up was the proliferation of legal action the NCHA has seen. Everyone, it seems, had an opinion on what could have or should have been done.

A long discussion had started about the idea – brought up the night before as new business during the NCHA Board of Director’s meeting – of developing an advisory committee of five lawyers to determine what is in NCHA’s best interest legally.  Much was said about past lawsuits. Even more was said about what the NCHA should do – form a committee, don’t form a committee, analyze past results or strategize moving forward. One member put forth the idea of a general policy review, to determine how well the NCHA’s current legal policies are working and what areas could be changed. 

As editor of Quarter Horse News (QHN), I don’t just follow the cutting horse industry and the NCHA. QHN also covers the reining and reined cow horse industries, which means I become familiar with the inner workings of not only the NCHA, but also the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA), the National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) and the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA).

What struck me enough to speak up in the middle of that meeting was that the NCHA could learn a lot from the AQHA, or the NRHA or the NRCHA. And vice versa. Many times what one association is struggling with, another has already been through and could offer advice based on their experience. We don’t exist in a bubble. 

My not-so-eloquently stated words were echoed the next day by Dr. Jerry Black, a cutter and veterinarian. Black gave an educational seminar about current issues facing the horse industry. He started his talk by reminding us that, while we do tend to become centered and focused on what is right in front of us in our world, the horse industry is much larger than just cutting (or reining or reined cow horse). There are issues affecting the horse industry as a whole that we, as horsemen in any discipline, should be concerned about. We cannot live in a bubble. 

Of course, the bubble phenomenon is not limited to horsemen. Political scientist Charles Murray argues that America’s elite (super-wealthy, super-educated and super-snobby, he called them) live in a social and cultural bubble, with little or no exposure to American culture at large. PBS Newshour posted an online quiz to determine how thick your own bubble may be. Out of nothing more than journalistic curiosity – because super-wealthy, super-educated and super-snobby I am not – I took the quiz. (If curiosity gets the best of you, too, check it out here:

According to the score analysis, the higher your score, the thinner your bubble. The lower, the more insulated you might be from mainstream American culture. At a score of 39, I have a relatively thick bubble and am on the insulated side of society. 

A quiz for cutters might include questions like: Have you ever ridden in an English saddle? Have you gone to an equine event other than a cutting in the past year? Do you have any close friends who aren’t cutters? Have you watched a webcast other than cutting in the last month?

If you’re a cutter, I bet your bubble is pretty cutter-centric. If your not a cutter, substiture your discipline for cutting and I bet the results are the same. The truth is, we all live in bubbles of one kind or another. Being in a bubble is comfortable. We are in our comfort zone and we like that. Stepping outside of our bubble requires time and energy, both of which are in short supply for many people these days. So, why bother?

Because, as Black pointed out in his presentation, what affects one segment of the equine industry could have lasting effects on other horse industries. He talked about the federal legislation the walking horse industry is facing over the soring of horses. Will the cutting horse industry face similar federal legislation over other issues someday? “Probably,” he said. 

There is a big world outside of our bubbles. Many times, that outside world can intrude into our bubble whether we like it or not. The only way to be prepared is to venture outside of our bubble on our own. Be proactive.

On the final day of the NCHA convention, the committee chairmen gave their recommendations at the general membership meeting. In the recommendation to undergo a general policies review, there was a short line requesting the committee seek direction and advice from other associations. They stepped outside the bubble. It may be a small thing, but it could make a big difference for all of us.