The old quiz that asks, “What do you do when you are in a room with an 800 pound Gorilla? Answer, “Whatever he wants!”
Let’s start with a little fiction and then move on to reality, and you will see the reason for this odd introduction.
Let’s pretend the year is 2020, the setting is the International Working Equitation Championships somewhere in Europe. For the first time the United States is represented in an international competition with a team of riders and their mounts, all flown from the US. With a US team at the game the title World Association of Working Equitation has some meaning.
Day One: Dressage. While not typically attended with large crowds there is an increase in attendance during the trials. Every competitor not preparing their mount is viewing the Americans. The general response is, “yes they are ok, and trying, but they don’t really have the horse”. The US team finishes the day with all their riders in about the middle of the standings. The team is in about the same place. Surprisingly the tone and demeanor of the riders is very positive. A US rider comments, “Yes, we are very happy with our scores and our rides, this is exactly where we expected to be.”
Day Two: Precision. The American Team walks the course and develops a riding strategy for the day. The WAWE officials beam with excitement as they now have the beloved “Cowboy”, well actually Cowgirls, among the international competitors. In the warm up arena the training and athletic ability of the US horses does not go unnoticed. The calm professional demeanor of the horses and their acceptance of the new environment has the admiration of most of the international riders. “These horses have shown” is heard more than once. The precision of the riders is impressive as well. The Europeans love the American Team, they are charming, affable and proud to wear a cowboy hat. Spectators came expecting to see Cowboys first hand, for the first time, but the ladies do not disappoint. In competition the horses are un-phased by every challenge and negotiate the course with minimal faults. The horses and riders are obviously very seasoned in the competition environment. The European riders expresses some level of respect, even disbelief that these riders, wholly unknown to them can command such an impressive performance. At the end of the day the US riders all place in the top 25% of the scores, moving the team into third or fourth place. Again, the riders comment, “Yes, this is going really well, we didn’t make any bonehead mistakes and the judges recognized we came well prepared. ” The Team is placed right where they expected.
Day Three: The Speed Trial. The US coaches have their riders mentally prepared for the day. The significant funding behind the team shows in every way. Helpers warm the horses as the team visualize their rides. This team understands their greatest strengths lie ahead, and they, and only they know that the competition is not theirs to win, but it is theirs to lose from this point forward. As the Speed Trial unfolds the European competitors, and most particularly the Portuguese recognize they are actually threatened by the Cowgirls in their midst. WAWE officials are thrilled beyond belief by the attendance at the games, but also grow uneasy by the prospect of what may lie ahead. The Cowgirls fly through a most challenging course. European spectators loves the American team in their western saddle and the handy horses they ride. The US team does not disappoint. The result? Four riders in the top ten, including first and second. It appears the fabled speed of the Quarter Horse is not myth. This performance places the US and the Portuguese teams in a virtual tie for first place.
The Cattle Trial. Most of the European teams have conceded they are riding for third place at best. The close scores between the US Team and the Portuguese has the Cattle Trial attended as never before. And the teams do not disappoint. Each US rider on her Quarter horse offers a stellar performance because they have hundreds of hours working together with cattle of all types. They have the cow sense, the horse with the ability to move deftly, and put on a burst of speed unmatched by any other horse in completion. The riders clearly understand the teamwork that will win this event. These riders are OF the cattle culture, they have risen to the top against the best of the best in the largest equine nation in the world and their showing careers have prepared them for the pressure of just this moment. In the end, the team produced by the American Quarter Horse Association clearly sends the message to the Working Equitation community, the 800 pound Gorilla has arrived!
Obviously this is fiction but it is a winning strategy! This, dear reader, is potentially your future without significantly improved relationships and cooperation in the Working Equitation Community in the US. At this time you have an opportunity to shape the future of WE in the US. Time may be short.
The AQHA and the National Reined Horse Association have already positioned reining as an event in the World Equestrian Games and as an Olympic Demonstration Sport, potentially on target to be an Olympic event. This should not be lost on WAWE. They might be uneasy about the prospect of such powerful forces entering the world of WE, but the entry of the NRHA and AQHA could accelerate the WAWE agenda for a WE Olympic event. Why? Because these organizations have the rider numbers! Here are just a few observations. The AQHA is by far the largest breed association in the world because they produce great horses. The AQHA and Quarter horse breeders could benefit from this type of exposure. The prospect of newly minted Euros flowing in as AQHA registration fees and export of horses could be enticing. The AQHA would love to show the world that the American Cowboy is no myth, but is in fact the best of the best. The AQHA has the infrastructure to take Working Equitation on as a class if it so desired and would have little trouble introducing WE into their event line up. They already offer classes that are amazingly similar to WE, they are just not linked together as one competition. They have the cattle culture already in place among their riders, and cattle are present at all of their shows, so that isn’t even an inconvenience. They ALL ride with one hand! Qualifying a team would be no challenge as top riders would clamor at the opportunity to travel abroad representing the United States of America. Each of them proudly wearing Cowboy hats and riding western saddles. These riders would not hide from their heritage. The AQHA would not tolerate bickering over such a trivial topic. If WAWE wants Working Equitation to have a truly world class organization and a place in the World Equestrian Games and the Olympics, perhaps they should start talking to the AQHA and NRHA!
Would I want this? It would be far superior to where we are today! I suspect our friends riding Halflinger, Morgan and Lusitano horses would be disappointed. Is it likely? Not at this moment, but a vacuum is always filled. Would it change the complexion of the discipline? Yes, very much. For the better from a democratic and national pride perspective? Most certainly.
The point here is simply this. WE in the US just went from two national organizations asking for support and recognition to three. If our grass roots riders felt there was confusion previously, imagine how they feel now? Will this be a set back? Time will tell. As they say, “the Devil is in the details”. Could it be that maybe the Devils you know are better than the one you don’t?
This is certain, if we get in that room with the 800 pound gorilla, we are going to do whatever he wants.
So you may be wondering, did the US team win? I’m not sure, what do you think? Ad your thoughts below!