Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Like Ball Girls At Wimbledon

So, picture this: an open town-hall type meeting at this winter's USEA (United States Eventing Association, my tiny fabulous sport) convention. Moderated by Jimmy Wofford, Olympic-rider-turned-legend. Maybe 300 people in the room, including the president of the USEA, the president of the United States Equestrian Federation (the national governing body for all horse sports), the president of the United States Pony Clubs, and a lot of other bigwigs. And me, sitting at the back.

Imagine that someone--I forget who--begins the familiar rant, kids these days. It starts innocuously enough, how do we interest young riders in eventing and thus insure the future of our sport? but quickly falls into kids these days. How they're too busy with other activities. How they don't learn horse management skills. How they all ride ridiculously expensive horses and don't learn anything and never, ever, volunteer. It actually became a full-scale rant involving all those presidents and other big names, about kids I didn't recognize, and the longer it went on, the more annoyed I got, and I stood up at the back of the room.

I stood until the legendary moderator invited me to speak. And I can't remember exactly what came out of my mouth, because I was annoyed and also because 300 people in the room, many of whom I honesty revere, but I told them about my pony club. About how I'd become by default the leader of a small, very inexperienced club that had been fractured by outside issues (mostly squabbles among parents). Actually I do remember what I said at that point. I said, "I inherited a club of six kids, none of them higher than a D3 (that meant something to my audience) and the most expensive horse any of them have is my daughter's, who cost-- (and I said out loud what the horse cost, which I won't repeat as it's private, or at least was until I told all the eventers, but trust me, it was a very low amount to the audience at hand--also, I wasn't being entirely truthful, as in the heat of the moment I'd forgotten about one member whose horse probably did cost more, though I don't know how much as that was private too)--anyway, I went on to say, what I did was throw those six kids together for 3 days on my farm, and what emerged was a team. I said that two and a half years later I had 13 members, including 3 C2s and an HB (again, this had meaning to those in the room, and it's pretty damned impressive, too), and that last year I took an eventing team to Midsouth that finished first in Horse Management (whupping Keeneland!), and that also these same kids were badgering me to find them volunteer opportunities because they wanted to be useful. I said that kids these days didn't need expensive horses, they needed community, and that my club was nothing like the kids everyone else was complaining about, and that if we want to insure the future of eventing what we need to do was create relationships and community.

And I sat down. My hands were shaking a little, because it was a pretty big impromptu rant, and I wasn't exactly sure if anyone cared. But before I could lean back into my seat, a woman was pressing her card into my hand. She told me she was in charge of the volunteers for dressage at Rolex, and if I wanted to bring my kids she'd give them jobs. And I gasped.

It's hard to explain how cool this is. The best comparison I've been able to come up with is that it's like being  the ball boys or ball girls at Wimbledon--the kids who dart across the court to pick up stray tennis balls, then stand statue-still in the corner. It's a chance to be very close to a very big stage. Rolex is eventing's U.S. Open, it's a huge deal for us.

When I left the meeting, I phoned my daughter and said, "We've been offered a chance to work dressage at Rolex." "Um, YES," she said. "Yes, yes, YES." Then I put it up on the club Facebook, since I couldn't access my group email from the meeting, and the girls went wild.

Of our 13 members at that time (we have 16 now) 1 is in college taking finals, 1 has quit riding, and 2 are flaming furious that school obligations prevent them from coming. The other 9 are taking two days off school, driving 5 hours each way, wearing regulation khaki pants, white polos, plain belts and polished paddock boots, and doing this:

And then on Saturday we'll get to watch this:


Six kinds of awesome, baby. Nobody deserves it more than my kids.