Where Do We Go from Here? One Rider's Hope For a Post-COVID Horse Industry

Where Do We Go from Here? One Rider's Hope For a Post-COVID Horse Industry

The equestrian community has managed to find helpful and meaningful ways to combat COVID-19 and its wider-ranging effects over the last month. Well-known riders have joined together, starting and participating in challenges to raise money for frontline workers as well as those within our own community who have lost income. Many barn owners, trainers and grooms are working long hours with reduced staff caring for our horses while barns are closed. ‘Virtual horse shows’ have sprung up, providing entertainment and helping to keep us all engaged. We need to continue these efforts - working together, and supporting each other.

However, another pressing thing we need to be thinking about during this time of crisis is intentionally reflecting upon and discussing our community, so that by the time life starts staggering towards its new normal, instead of being an industry and a sport lost and drowning in a very different world, we can be ready to step into that world healthily and responsibly. This self evaluation will not only protect our passion, our jobs, or whatever the equestrian world is to us, but more importantly it will ensure that we can continue to fulfill our duty to the horses themselves - to always be able to care for these living, breathing animals, that depend on us for life and livelihood, beautifully.

Nobody knows how long the pandemic itself will ravage the world. Nobody knows what the next years will look like. We know only that they will be different and hard. That being the case, we can’t come up with step-by-step plans for the future. We can only ask questions and seriously discuss answers.

Regardless of what the equestrian community looks like in a few months’, years’, or decades’ time, we all can agree that we would like to see it thriving, but how do we thrive in a post-pandemic world? 

First and foremost, we will thrive if we can put the true well-being of the horse at the center. We are a community formed around the awe and love of horses; their well-being is the foundation of what we do. We must always stop and consider the horses’ interests before our own, acknowledging that the only way to fulfill our goals as they relate to horses is to first fulfill the horses needs. We must remember that horses are not primarily commodities to be bought, sold, and profited by. They are living creatures with whom we have the privilege of interacting. 

I think that the current forced pause we’re in with COVID has helped us realize or re-focus on the needs of the horse. The patterns of rest and methodical, longer-term focus of training that have begun to form in many barns, without the pressure of a show looming next weekend, are good, important habits. Instead of simply champing at the bit to get to the first show that opens, I hope we find ways to fit these quieter learnings into our lives with horses moving forward. I would like to think that in the years to come, we will be a community that is even less result- and performance-focused. I hope we can focus on the journey and creatures that get us there.  

Secondly, and equally importantly, we will thrive if we can put the health and well-being of all the people involved in the community at the center as well. We will be living in a global recession. Many, many people will be suffering. And just as horses provide the foundation for the house that is the equestrian community, the people working in it provide the frame. A house with a rotten frame cannot stand; it will fall. As quarantines end, let us not forget the people that this crisis has, in many ways, made us belatedly aware of: The grooms, taking care of our horses; the trainers and riders who we sometimes take for granted. We also must not forget the braiders, ring crew, course designers, organizers and stewards who are the backbone of horse shows. This crisis has stripped them of basically all their sources of income. And with a recessed world it will take a long time for it to come back. Ask yourself - what can I do for them? How can I appreciate them more, and support them, moving forward? (And if you’re not sure - ask those individuals!)

"I hope we find ways to fit these quieter learnings into our lives with horses moving forward."

Going into a stripped down world, we must also be aware of the size of the (metaphorical) house that we are building and living in. The question is, therefore, how do we move forward sustainably and responsibly? Although I firmly believe that equestrianism and interaction with horses is an integral part of the fabric of human culture, its offshoot, the horse show world, is not. The show industry is based around a luxury sport. We build massive, glamorous barns. We travel the world. We spend millions upon millions of dollars. Don’t get me wrong - I, like so many others, love the sport. It’s exciting. Breathtaking. Intriguing. Challenging. It is based around the connection between equine and human. But we will have to find ways to preserve the sport by modifying and refocusing it. The sport, perhaps, will be more important; the luxury lifestyle associated with it, less so.

These are just a few questions and reflections. There are so many more questions to be asked. Problems to be solved. Issues that I am too young to fully grasp.

However we move forward, it will be a difficult time. That being said, I do think that as a result of this crisis, we are presented with a novel opportunity to evaluate our equestrian community and the surrounding industry, while also being presented with some new, strict guidelines from the rest of the world. It is my hope that we will build a beautiful and responsible ‘house’ that will become a sustainable and relevant part of the renovated globe.

I do not write this because I in any way consider myself an authority. I am, in fact, very young and inexperienced. In fact, I write this because I am young, and it is my desire to be able to continue working with horses for years to come. To be a part of a community that is stepping mindfully, yet boldly forward. I pray that we may carry on with great, joyful hope.

Photography by Shannon Brinkman for NoelleFloyd.com. 

Written by Jon Porteous

Jonathan Porteous currently works at Market Street Inc., in Frenchtown NJ. Before coming to Market Street he was a working student for three years. He is very thankful for all the horses and people he gets to work with on a daily basis.