On Being An Amateur
Hello and welcome. There is "something" about being an amateur exhibitor in today's Arabian industry, and it seems like we all seem to face similar challenges regardless of what level we are working to succeed at. How many times have you prepared for a show...taking hours to train and fine tune your horse, stretching the budget to eke out every possible penny, and hoped so hard for success that your head hurt? How many times have you looked enviously at the other "amateurs" in the ring with you and wondered how THEY do it?
Amateur is a rather simple term referring (in this case) to those exhibitors are not paid for their equestrian endeavors, or who do not "make a living" in the horse business. I have included at the bottom of this page, a complete excerpt from the AHSA rule book defining "amateur."
We all know that competition itself is vastly different from one show to another...and even within a specific show. Grass roots horse showing, more or less at a schooling level, is certainly less competitive than horse showing at the National level. While amateur exhibitors are allowed to compete at any given level, we find that competition among our counterparts is often as varied as the types of shows we go to. Thus, the essence of being an amateur.
Let us take a few minutes to take a look at a few riders and horses who won National Championships in amateur classes at this year's US National show:
Just for fun, let's compare this to results from the 1999 US National show...see if you recognize any of the same horses/riders:
Domination? In some respects, yes. In others, not really. There are many questions as to whether or not spouses of professional trainers should be allowed to show as amateurs...there are also as many questions as to whether or not trainers should be allowed to serve as judges.
The fact remains that it is obvious that to be competitive at a national level, amateur exhibitors must have all their ducks in a row. It's no cakewalk. Politics most certainly play a role in how you get where you are, but it is possible to take part in the political game while still adhering to your own morals and values.
Did that last statement make you think that I was suggesting that the Arabian horse show industry is immoral? Hmmm.... There are things that happen in any sport, any public activity, and any activity for that matter, that make people want to cringe. Human beings are such that some of us approve of certain things, and at the same time there will always be those who disapprove. That's why we have successful attorneys in our society...and unsuccessful ones for that matter.
I would like to take a step back, however, and go back to the essence of amateurism. Regardless of what level we are working to succeed at, we are competing primarily because of our love for our horses, and because of our competitive spirit. We are not professional horsemen for a variety of reasons, perhaps the most prevalent being that we prefer keeping our horsemanship as a hobby. We maintain our amateur status because we have no desire to move into the professional ranks, and we don't have to make an effort to abide by amateur criteria because there is no "gray area" in our day to day equestrian activities. For some the "gray area" is a little fuzzier, but we don't need to go there...not yet anyway.
Our horses are the reason we have been labeled amateur exhibitors. Were it not for our horses, we could probably go around in life simply being known as "the lady lawyer who rides that horse," or "the gal who works in Sector C, Cubicle 67E, who rides the bay gelding." Instead, we load our horses into the trailers on a fairly regular basis to shed our work facades and become Adult Amateur Owners to Ride...or AAOTR's.
That leaves us with where we want to go. We want to succeed in our chosen divisions, and we want to continue to build on our laurels to create positive role models for other amateurs who may be pondering their fate in the industry. Regardless of whether we are showing our horses exclusively at schooling shows, or if we are going "for gusto" at Regionals and/or Nationals, WE are a driving force in the industry.
The vast majority of amateur exhibitors (as a whole) who are active in today's Arabian horse show industry, are normal folks. Most of us only own one, maybe two, horses, and we scrimp and save every penny to make ends meet. We cannot afford to purchase horses who cost more than our cars, let alone our houses, and then be expected to keep them in full time training. Most of us are on our own...some of us have done our homework, and some of us do what we can to hook up with trainers as we need guidance. Some of us stretch the budget even further to accommodate a full time training regime...and there are thousands of US who find a happy medium somewhere in between.
Although "most" of "us" are normal folks, there are some pretty cool "bigwigs" out there. I want to tell you briefly about one of my very first encounters with a National Champion amateur exhibitor...
Two summers ago I had taken the "plunge" and had my horse in a trainer's barn prior to Regionals. This was my horse's last truly competitive season, as I knew that as he got into his later teens it would be harder to keep his competitive edge. Anyway, he came along well, and the moment of truth arrived as we jogged in the in-gate for the Western Pleasure AAOTR 18-39 class at Regionals. There were 26 horses in the ring at that moment, of which there were no fewer than 10 National Top Tens or better...at least 6 of them had been National Champion at one time or another.
I had a solid ride. I was happy with what my horse and I put together, and knew I really didn't have a chance to even make cards this go-round. We'd just missed a Top Five at the previous Regional show, and I was content that this was a better ride in a much more competitive class. Back at the barn, I was met with bear hugs from the trainers, and would have been happy with that. From the stands came a rider who had been National Champion the previous year...she marched into the barn area, came up to me and gave me a great big bear hug. She told me that my ride was one of the best she'd seen me put together, and that in any other class I would have been right in the top three.
Ever since that moment I knew that National Champion amateurs who have "unlimited budgets" don't necessarily have to be uncaring or cold people.
Just because we work and show our horses on a budget does not have to mean we cannot build on our competitive strengths. By doing our homework and paying our dues, we can keep pace with the rest. National level competition is for the elite, but we CAN work extra hard to be amongst those elite.
As we head into the 2001 show season, remember that anything is possible. If you dream it, you can do it. Just concentrate on what you need to do to get the job done.
In the meantime, AAOTR.com will be there for you. We hope to offer the encouragement and guidance you need to give you that added boost of confidence when you need it most. Have fun, and we'll see you out in the ring.
Questions? Comments? Concerns? Please contact us at [email protected].
And the full definition of Amateur:
(Any questions please go to www.ahsa.org/rulebook2000)