100 years ago, it was easy to get horse experience. Horses delivered the mail, took the family to church, carried you to battle and helped on the farm … horses were everywhere. Horses entertained you too: variety-based horse shows dealt with highly-skilled horsemanship, providing competition that delivered standards to achieve.
Today’s official equestrian competitions developed from this tradition, and their success serves the important purpose of seeking excellence. Yet horse shows were only one segment of what made up the horse world 100 years ago.
A century ago, you could let junior ride double on the neighbor’s old farm horse until he got some balance, and bring Dot home from Grandpa’s for the twins. There’s almost nothing left horse-wise of that world. Modern horse sports were officially organized in an era that knew many opportunities to learn about horses that are now gone.
On the other hand, the new segment of low-level equestrian competition (jumps below 3’6) provides a new opportunity for the public to gain experience with horses.
The “grassroots” are more than another set of equestrian competitions. The focus is different. One purpose unique to the equestrian grassroots is to provide an opportunity to learn about horses.
The grassroots have been neglected over the past century … horse organizations often adhere to a traditional outlook formed when grassroots didn’t exist. The source of its energy may have been misunderstood: as horse-opportunities died out, the grassroots have become a primary channel for the public to gain experience with horses.
Society went from a horse-based to a machine-based culture in the space of a generation. Only a few areas survived the shock to provide traditional ways to learn about horses. Today’s ranches and riding schools and carriage rides and equestrian venues are increasingly important connections to our ancestry … storehouses of something we’ve sometimes forgotten but still love, and maybe even need.
Freedom finds a way
Because their goals are not necessarily the same as the official show world, the grassroots have a certain freedom from conventions. The grassroots can provide a horse experience that is educational, economical and enjoyable … and with this focus in mind, can find new–and even old–ways to succeed.