Like any other niche community, us horse owners and riders know what we like. We gravitate to anyone or anything that speaks our language. We can spot each other a mile away. In my neck of the woods, the ‘I get horseback’ uniform is:
- Long, well-fitted jeans with roughed up cuffs over cowboy or paddock boots.
- Knife in jeans pocket
- Ball cap, often with sunglasses perched on lid
- Long sleeved snap shirt (tee or tank top if it’s really hot)
- Truck (half ton or larger)
- Unlimited capacity for talking about our horses and our horse lives
Of course, uniforms vary depending what you’re doing. Working cowboys, English riders, trail riders, endurance riders all have their angles.
We are millions strong, divided amongst disciplines, united in passion. It’s a wonderful, diverse community.
Our focus and intensity have awarded us with scores of great organizations, brands, and gear dedicated to every conceivable micro-interest within the our community: miniature horses, OTTB rescues, camping with horses, coon jumping mules, Sulphur mustangs, Breyer model horse fans. You name it. The list is long.
Yet despite this vibrant ecosystem, here’s one thing I know:
Increasingly, we are all losing our voice in greater conversational contexts. Our clubby focus is distracting and detracting from the larger task of representing ourselves in and among the tens of millions of non-horse owners.
We love looking in and encircling ourselves with like-minded folks. But like any other niche community, we struggle with the less comfortable task of reaching out.
It’s like avoiding creek crossing or breakneck galloping or trailer loading. Our discomfort with discomfort makes us less ready and less relevant. Read about the cons of comfort here.
Have you noticed? When it comes to our relevance in conversations around public land, lifestyle, sports, and healthy activities, riding does not rate. Forget about rating, it isn’t even recognized. The very word “riding” now refers to stepping up on a bike or motorcycle or wave. But riding a horse? What?
This New York Times article suggested tennis as the best sport for a longer life despite the crystal clear (to us) evidence that what we do is wwaayyy better for the mind, body, and spirit. Even badminton was mentioned. Horse riding was not.
We’re outside the conversation when it comes to outdoor recreation and access to public lands. We have expos and trade shows for our horse-specific interests but try to horse-talk someone at the enormous and enormously influential Outdoor Retailer. Blink, blink, glaze go the eyes. Try to start a conversation about trail riding at Shift, a conference “where conservation meets adventure” in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Blink, blink, glaze go the eyes.
Horse riding can mean “adventure travel” and “hunting and fishing” and “wilderness therapy” and “outdoor education” but we’re nearly absent in these conversations.
While there are myriad groups and associations to join within the horse community, few of them reach beyond horse owners. And many of us don’t connect our horse-owning and riding identity, passion, and dedication to non-horse-y communities. Back Country Horsemen of America is a storied, service-minded organization that’s aging and not staying particularly visible or current. It has a grand total of 447 Instagram followers.
I’m familiar with our flaws because last weekend, mea culpa. I failed to reach outside my horse-y circle. I meant to attend the local fundraiser for Mancos Trails, which services and promotes multi-use trails, but I bailed.
I was chatting with Kate Schade, owner and founder of Kate’s Real Foods, about riding in the greater outdoors conversation. Her company has stepped up to become a Session Sponsor at the Best Horse Practices Summit. Like our title sponsor, Patagonia WorkWear, Kate’s sees the value of reaching across specialties.
Kate knows that horse owners and riders tend to be educated, loyal, well-resourced consumers. They make good choices: like choosing one of her Tram Bars (organic, gluten free, honeyed and yummy) over a Snickers bar or being passionate about public access to open space and sharing the trail. For her, riders are on boards, bikes, and horses.
Don’t get me wrong. Joining and advancing our niche circles is good work. But if we don’t travel outside our comfortable spaces, the greater world will assume we don’t care or matter.