Who are the members of the Professional Horseman’s Council (PHC), and what does it do? Our varying professions within eventing were put together to collectively bring the sport to a better place through our unique perspectives. It all sounds great on the surface, but as an organizer I confess I was a bit skeptical that the other members of the PHC wouldn’t appreciate the point of view that I thought only an organizer would understand. The reality is that so many of us cross over within other professions in eventing that there really is an appreciation for each other’s perspective. From the Chair of the PHC, Jon Holling a rider we all know very well, and has recently taken on the organization of a major event in Florida, or Doug Payne an upper level rider whose Mom is an outstanding official we all know well, and there are several other examples of crossover within the PHC. What my experience on the PHC has taught me is that we are all basically passionate eventers that care about the sport and the direction in which it goes. Whether the PHC member is an official, organizer, rider, groom, or a little of all these components, we are all somehow involved professionally in the sport that we love, and that can make for a very power combination.
The topics we have faced vary. Some of the heavier discussions include safety issues. As an organizer I always wonder about how our sport will deal with the constant flow of challenges that a risk sport faces, but the energy and insight brought by the members of the PHC into the serious and complicated issues that face our sport is both forward thinking and very encouraging. At the top of the list facing our sport is how to deal with the very complicated issue of improving safety in a horse sport that is inherently risky while not changing the true essence of what draws horses and riders to the sport of eventing. There are several opinions on the PHC on how to handle some of these issues, but where we all generally agree is that any plan going forward in the name of safety must not include the dismantling of the heart pounding excitement at the core of t\he sport and end up turning the eventing into show jumping in a field.
(Right: Robert Kellerhouse and his wife Erin are some of the biggest proponents of West Coast eventing.)
Over my 35 years (yikes) in the sport of eventing my colleagues in other equestrian disciplines have offered their general opinion that they think we are all crazy in jumping solid fences, and most of the time I heard that sentiment I knew eventing was right on track because eventing has to be different from any other equestrian sport. It is the unique nature of eventing that draws the best kind of people to this equestrian sport. There is something to be said about the powerful emotions that jumping solid fences on cross-country bring to both competitor and spectator alike, and where are sport goes completely right is when that is executed with the best the sport has to offer in cross-country course design, riding, preparation, officiating, horsemanship, and the like. But where eventing went wrong was with the intolerable level of accidents in recent years.
Among many very important reasons, it was this disturbing pattern of tragedies that really brought the PHC (and almost every other committee committed to eventing) together in a quest of how to responded with changes to fine tune the rules as well as the culture of the sport to try and break the disturbing trend of accidents. The members of the PHC discussed several ways to help improve safety including but not limited to; increasing rider education, cross country design and construction improvements (this includes a long list of frangible and deformable jumps and the studies behind the new technologies), rule changes including the implementation of increased qualification standards, the new loss of establishment standards, and the controversial fall and out rule. These subjects coupled with the speed study and cardiovascular study (being fully supported by the USEA, and USEF organizations as well as the leaders of our sport) have brought me a new sense of encouragement to the future of our sport. Coincidentally, in my first meeting of the FEI eventing committee in Malmo Sweden where the first annual FEI eventing safety seminar took place, I was encouraged to see that the international eventing community is discussing and implementing many of these same subjects.
But besides the heavy issues the PHC faces in our meetings and conference calls, we also discuss some of the not so huge but equally passionate topics that face our sport. Take that one paragraph of Bobby’s (Costello) blog article. An article that dealt with many important topics including one paragraph on warm up jumps. That one paragraph generated more controversy than the Health Care bills in congress! Well maybe not quite that much, but that one paragraph inspired a fairly large response from the readers and it really proved to be an excellent example of the type of passion that exists within our sport from its members. The funny thing is that the USEA shows the number of responses that each article generates, and Bobby had like 25 and every other posting in that edition of the eventing blog had zero comments. It is that kind of inextinguishable fire that moves our sport forward.
I am grateful that the other members of the PHC for dedicating their time toward making our sport better through a very unique "all in" insight that a professional brings to the table when issues face both their livelihood and the sport we all love. Although we come at our solutions from many different angles, we are all inspired to make our sport better through our collaboration. Good luck to all the competitors, organizers, officials, owners and supporters in 2010. Here’s hoping we bring home some medals in Kentucky!