As you may be aware, some adult amateur dressage riders have been clamoring for more attention and resources. At the same time, the USDF, like many other equestrian organizations, watches its membership base age and wonders how it will find enough young people to replenish the stock.
Both of these demographics were the subject of discussion at today's USDF Membership Committee meeting, which, like nearly every function at convention, is open to any member.
Two USDF-member-related surveys were conducted this year. The first, by the Membership Committee, aimed to nail down some current demographics and to determine primary reasons for members' decision to renew. The second, an independent survey conducted by then-PhD candidate Jane Rodd, was designed to ascertain adult amateurs' reasons for participating in dressage and for joining the USDF.
It appears that adult amateurs and junior/young riders have very different reasons for becoming involved with the USDF. For the kids, it's all about competing. For the amateurs -- the non-pros among USDF's adult members -- competing takes a back seat to learning, having fun, and enjoying a sense of camaraderie with like-minded enthusiasts.
USDF's affiliated dressage clubs (group-member organizations, or GMOs) are the entry point for many members. Which makes sense, as one's local club is bound to be the primary source of the warm fuzzies many amateurs are after. The takeaway from this is that the USDF needs its GMOs as much as the GMOs need the USDF.
We've all heard the maxim about the importance of first impressions. Well, according to Dr. Rodd's survey respondents, not all dressage enthusiasts earn a score of 10 on this one. Some reported feeling as if they were trying to break into a clique, or were otherwise not warmly welcomed, when they were new GMO members or dressage newbies in general.
This is a disturbing finding that all who love our sport need to take to heart. Does your club, show, event, or barn have a "welcome wagon" system in place? That eager kid or timid lady who approaches you might be your future client, or member, or volunteer extraordinaire.
|USDF members crowd in for the sport-horse education session. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
Perhaps the occasional reminder of why we're in this sport would be helpful in banishing DQ syndrome (that's "dressage queen," and it's not a compliment). In my experience, the best horsemen are the best students. They don't know everything, and they don't pretend to know everything. They retain their love of horses and their eagerness to learn. If you needed an example, all you had to do was look at the meeting room at the convention today, where sport-horse judges Bill Solyntjes and Kristi Wysocki presented a condensed version of their seminar on sport-horse judging. It was standing-room only as respected riders, instructors, trainers, judges, and others crowded in for 60 of the more informative minutes I've spent at a convention. That zest for learning is catching, and attendees lingered for many minutes afterward, experimenting with Bill and Kristi's photos of horses, creating conformational plumb lines with pieces of yarn.
And the kids? You betcha we need them -- kids, ponies, instructors and trainers for kids and ponies, the whole package. If competition is their entry point, then so be it -- offer competitive opportunities for kids and ponies. Many of them will find, as we adults did, that although the thrill of chasing blue ribbons may abate over time, the thrill of learning grows and grows.