Ain’t It Grand?

In early February, the Quarter Horse News staff welcomed Kristin Burlingame as a new associate editor, and in the next few weeks, we hope to fill the remaining opening on our staff with another new face. What this means is that over the past few months, I’ve read a lot of résumés and interviewed plenty of worthy candidates. While the talent coming out of our nation’s colleges and universities is inspiring, talking to so many budding young journalists has the unfortunate side effect of making me feel old. Very old.

When I was fresh out of college, I accepted my first job as an associate editor in Orange County, California. I won’t tell you the year, but I will tell you that nobody I knew even owned a cell phone. I know this because the people who had mobile phones were easy to spot by the antennae that had to be mounted to the hood of their cars for their “car phone” to work.

Getting show and race results wasn’t as simple as going online – we had to call and ask a real person to fax us results, which then came through on a thermal fax machine. I spent many Saturday afternoons stopping by the office to change that roll of thermal paper. If it ran out, there wasn’t a built-in memory to keep the overflow to be printed later; you just didn’t get results.

In college, I still wrote out my assignments by hand, on a legal pad, before using one of the university’s word processors to type them in and print them out for grading. The hardware (an original Macintosh) and software (ClarisWorks) I used at my first job probably only exist in museums. The Internet? It was just gaining public acceptance, and none of us could have realized how much it would change and shape the future of journalism, and the world.

Today’s graduates grew up with the Internet, smartphones and personal laptops. My nieces and nephews all had iPods and tablets before I did; they don’t remember any time B.C. (before computers). As I was preparing my speech for the Alberta Horse Owners and Breeders Conference, I innocently asked two of my associate editors, “Does anybody know how to make a PowerPoint presentation?” One quickly responded, “Of course we do, we both graduated from college!”

No doubt, it’s a different world than it was when I was growing up. And for the most part, I’m pretty happy with the many benefits technology has provided. I can now do my banking, order event tickets, make travel plans, write a letter to an old friend and read the news, all without leaving my desk. Technology has allowed us to become more productive in business and in our personal lives. When I am on the road (though hopefully not when I’m driving), I can check my email, send text messages and take calls on my iPhone. I am accessible – online and plugged in – 24/7, and most of the time, that is a good thing.

Technology has even touched the horse industry. Paper files can be replaced by apps and software programs. Video technology can analyze your horse’s gait to pinpoint minute lamenesses. Advances in reproductive technology have allowed us to harvest eggs from mares, freeze semen from stallions and produce clones. In the Tack & Equipment section of this issue, you can read about some of the advances in saddle pads and hoof boots, both of which borrowed materials and ideas from human high-performance sports to help our horses. Technology has allowed us to take better care of our equine athletes, keeping them performing better, and longer, with fewer injuries and less stress.

But if you’re involved in the horse industry, you know there is something primally alluring about a total lack of technology. We gravitate toward the horse – a living and breathing animal – rather than iron horses or race cars. We choose interacting with an animal that has a mind of its own, over besting our own high score on a video game. We set aside the multitasking that technology offers and choose to be present in the moment with our horses – or at least we should.

A co-worker and I were talking about trainers and training and non-pros and lessons one day. She suggested that I might write an article about cell phone use, her point being that she’s heard plenty of amateurs and non-pros complain about trainers being on their cell phones when they should have been paying attention and coaching during a lesson. I started watching, and she was right – cell phone use is rampant, and not just among trainers. The next time you go to a show, take a look around. Lopers who should be paying attention to the horse they are warming up are on the phone. Trainers who should be paying attention to the horse they are tuning up, or the rider they are instructing, are on the phone. Non-pros who should be listening to their trainers are on the phone. Maybe they’re not all talking – they might be texting, emailing or even Googling – but the one thing they all have in common is none of them are present in the moment, and it’s all because of technology.

A friend of mine used to complain about a bad habit I had of checking my email during lunch. It was rude, she said, to ignore the person you are dining with by checking your phone. (She was right.) When she told me that, she didn’t have a smartphone. But she does now, and guess what? She checks her phone at lunch, too.

I am sure there are probably studies going on about how it’s human nature to become so easily tethered to technology. We don’t want to miss anything, and technology has made it so easy to multitask that if we aren’t accomplishing at least two things at once, we feel like we aren’t being productive. But by doing so, we miss out on the best part of being involved in the horse industry – we miss out on the horse. The horse has a lot to tell you, and he isn’t doing it through a text message. Hang up and be present – for your friends, family, clients, and most of all, your horse.