This coming May marks the final performance of one of the most iconic entertainment troupes in history. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performs for the last time in New York City on May 21. And so comes the end of “The Greatest Show on Earth” – one that entertained those from ages 1 to 93 and lasted nearly a century. How sad that we will not have “The Circus” in our lives any longer, and our next generation will never experience the thrills and excitement that we, our children and their children enjoyed during our lifetimes.
As all of you probably know by now, thanks to full-blown media coverage, the United States and our national anthem have been purposely disgraced by several players in the National Football League and other professional athletes who refuse to stand during its singing as a way to protest racism in this country.
I am sure that most of you are aware of the many and varied opinions on recent drug policies that involve the horse racing industry, as well as those that concern our show and performance horses. After much thought on this subject and especially after the American Quarter Horse Association’s (AQHA) suspension of the Multiple Medication Violation System as it pertains to Quarter Horse racing, I think our equine industry’s efforts should be pointed in a concerted direction.
“Horseman.” This term, in my opinion, describes a person who understands and respects horses. He or she is completely comfortable handling, riding, teaching, interpreting, using and caring for the needs of a horse. This person navigates him or herself around the equine species with an aura of confidence and respect for the animal. A true horseman never has to characterize him or herself as such; that quality is immediately evident and recognizable to anyone who knows what it takes to be one. A horseman commands respect from his or her peers by action, accomplishment and knowledge, which places this person in a unique strata – apart from the general crowd in the horse world. Simply put, he or she stands out and apart from the rest.
Problem is, there are too few horsemen in the equine industry today. Many call themselves horsemen, but few actually grasp and express the concept, and even fewer possess the work ethic required to reach that plateau.
At long last, welfare issues have come front and center in the minds of equine organizations.
I write this column a month in advance of its published date so, I can only guess at the outcome of the upcoming American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Convention. By now, all of you will have heard the news as to who has been elected to serve AQHA’s membership on the executive committee, board of directors, changes in the rules and other pertinent information that has been decided on during this annual meeting.
Since earlier this spring, I have followed the exploits of one “California Chrome” and his march toward the Triple Crown title of Thoroughbred racing: the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and, finally, the Belmont Stakes. By the time you read this, “Chrome” will have either won or lost his battle to reach equine greatness – one that has only been achieved by 11 other horses. My hope, of course, is that he has won the Belmont and become the worldwide, polarizing individual that “Secretariat” once was (and still is, to a lesser extent, today).
Elwood P. Suggins, a character played by the late comedian Jonathan Winters, claimed to be a “Detroit Dynamo.” He knew what it meant to “crash, burn, roll over, have a flat tire and things of that nature.” I guess I’m a little like Elwood P. Suggins, at least with my experience in the horse business. Anyone who’s spent much time in this industry knows exactly what I mean. We’ve all been down that road, and right now it’s about time to wake Leroy up from the back seat so he can witness the crash that’s fixin’ to happen!
Many equine-based organizations (like most not-for-profit institutions nowadays) are experiencing revenue shortfalls. There is less breeding and registering, slower buying and selling (transfer fees), lower entry counts and new memberships. Less, slower and lower add up to fewer dollars, all the way around. Why has this happened? Most recently we point to the “Great Recession of 2008.” But even before that, numbers were trending down because of factors that are still gnawing at our industry today: aging membership demographics, decline of youth members who evolve into adult members, decrease in youth participation numbers, and lessening of the average family’s discretionary income. All these elements, coupled with a dwindling middle-aged membership base, can be a recipe for disaster.
There’s no doubt, I love spending time with my two granddaughters. Emery is 3 and Harper is almost 2, and watching them play or listening to what might come out of their mouths next is entertainment at its finest. When Emery has an announcement to make or wants to get your attention she cries out, “Hey anybodys!” (And believe me, she can always get her Pop’s attention!) One of my favorite things is watching how Emery and Harper love their horses. I see them and I wonder: Is a child’s attention and focus on horses caused by environment or parental direction? Is this “horse bug” actually inherited by a recessive gene no one has identified as yet? You might laugh at such a notion, but sometimes a child’s love for horses seems to pop up out of nowhere.