Monday, February 21, 2011
Ask not what your sport can do for YOU......
I've been thinking a whole lot the past 6-12 months or so about why there are a good many eventers out there, why we have dedicated supporters, talented trainers, lots of enthusiasts, and very generous sponsors, competition organizers, and venue hosts....yet there still remains a good amount of disconnect and dissention amongst what is really a small number of the human population. Yes, eventing may rule our world, but it's nary a blip on the radar for the world at large.
Since I was laid off from my corporate job in December 2009, I have applied for jobs; cut back on all unnecessary expenses (like spending money on frivolous things such as shampoo, Kleenex, and salt); applied for jobs; cut back on my groceries while increasing the groceries for my "herd"; applied for jobs; spent more time schooling at home and less time competing; applied for jobs; taken the time to do some thinking and research about what I can do to "up" my involvement as an eventer (when I can't monetarily afford to sponsor, pay entries, or train); applied for jobs; sold my gold jewelry; applied for jobs; sold almost all of my books; applied for jobs; and, I have spent some time volunteering at the horse trials and other training activities where I couldn't ride because I couldn't afford it....then, I applied for more jobs. Through all of this, I have found a new sense of perspective and I have vastly re-evaluated my priorities. I would whole-heartedly advocate that every single capable person in this country, between the ages of 18 and 65, should have to spend at least 30 days "in between jobs" and see what it's like. There'd be a lot fewer people out there talking a good deal about something they know nothing of, that's for sure. Er....but, that is another rant for another day.
This is, essentially, what has brought me to wonder what has caused such a sense of self-centered-ness, dare I say: entitlement? in the lower-level riders of our sport that often manifests itself in animosity towards those individuals who are at the top of our sport, just because they get PAID to do what they do. Who says that anyone owes anybody else ANYTHING at all? I should be the low man on the totem pole, crying into my bottom-dollar beer (MGD....it's the champagne of beers!), because I can't afford lessons, or I can't afford to show, or I can't afford to even TRAVEL IN MY CAR to volunteer anywhere other than locations fairly close to where I actually live. I can't afford to buy a new/better-fitting saddle, I can't afford new breeches, a new vest, a new bit, a new bridle, or a new helmet (even though I banged my head pretty good in a fall in the one I currently wear and I know I need a new one). Should I not just throw my woes into the ring and also say, "What have you done for ME lately, eventing?" and then harumphf off and plop down to watch the next exciting, new episode of American Idol? I could do that, but I have never actually watched American Idol, so that scenario is highly unlikely. Anyway, I'm far more into Family Guy, and when FG isn't on, I would prefer to read a book. And yet, I digress....
What I have been thinking is, "You know what? I have a lot of time on my hands right now. So, who can use me to do something, contribute something, and make any kind of difference at all?" So far, I've heard nothing but crickets. I've thought a good bit about what it means to be a volunteer. I am a born-and-bred Tennesseean, and an alumnus of the University of Tennessee, so I know a little something about what it means to be a "VOLUNTEER." But, I'm talking about being a volunteer. Someone who gives something, while receiving nothing particular in return. Altruism? Most people have to look that one up in the dictionary. But, what if there were an 80/20, or 60/40 ratio of return on an investment? Or even 50/50? Would that take away the satisfaction of doing something just because it needed doing, or would that perhaps just get more people out there "doing"? I have considered a few times proposing a new initiative to the USEA that will increase volunteer time around the country and make it a concerted, connected network, not just "the 4 closest people to the dressage ring" who end up as scribes. That should not be how it works, and I'm not entirely even sure it should be the responsibility of the venues to find/search/scour for volunteers. I'm talking about volunteering anything from a few hours jump judging at a horse trial, all the way to communicating with the non-horseworld, current and potential key sponsors, and writing documents for organizers/riders/the USEA, and on into rider-to-rider relations (pros to ammies, ammies to pros, pros to pros, ammies to ammies) and so on. These are things I know many people get paid to do. But, right now? I'd do it for FREE. I used to get paid by an international company to research, write, market, propose, organize, and lead. But, if it meant doing something for free, because it would allow me to be involved in something I love and "give more than I take"? Heck yeh, I'd do it for free. And, I bet others would, too. And, after a while, maybe I would get noticed for doing such a good job at whatever my given task happened to be that someone might be generous and give me a free night of stabling at my next event. Something commensurate to the return on THEIR investment (I'm not suggesting a free entry for 2 hours of volunteer time). However, if I volunteer for free for 50 hours to do something you would normally pay another person $25 an hour to do? Yeh, maybe then I would get a free entry. That's $150 for you not having to pay out $1250 (ok, I used a calculator on that one, so just DON'T ask me to volunteer for an effort that will require me to do lots of math in my head). So, that would enlist a system of work/compensation that isn't *exactly* volunteering in all instances, when it's possible, but the desire for something worthwhile as well as satisfying (and that's not always monetary reimbursement) might pull more people in and create a stronger commitment to seeing things happen.
I've thought about calling this potential initiative something like "ONE." That's how we'd like to keep our sport, right? And to get there, maybe everyone (young/old, competitors/non-competitors, ammies/pros) can begin by doing just one thing, selflessly. Spend one hour grooming for a friend; one day volunteering at an event; donate one used item to someone who really needs it; or give $1 to support an eventing cause of your choice. There are people who have time, but no money: give some time. There are people who have money, but no time: give some money. There are people who have the brains, but not brawn: offer to scribe. There are people who have brawn, but not brains: offer to do some labor around a competition venue either prior to or during an event. Believe it or not, there is something that everyone can do, today, to contribute positively to the sport of eventing. I can't think of ONE good excuse that anyone would have for not being able to do at least one, small thing. Not ONE excuse. I challenge someone to find that excuse and prove me wrong. Because I. Don't. Think. It. Exists.
The debate that occurred earlier today on Eventing Nation had me alternately intrigued and downright angry. The thing about the Internet, as we all know, is that it's easier to say: "I'm not here to talk about me or MY job. I'm just going to sit here all day and criticize you and YOUR job." I don't have an opinion right now on whether PRO is right, or the anti-PRO voices are right. I'm not making a statement on right or wrong, ammie or pro, this or that. What I will say is that I just wish that every single person who cares (whether they have spoken out publicly or not) would just take a moment to look at themselves, -- themselves only -- and say, "What can I do to help eventing?" Don't look at your neighbor, don't look at your friend, don't look at the person down the road or the person across the street. I'm talking about looking at just you, people. If everyone could find one, simple thing they could do to help the sport today, then tomorrow would be quite another day, wouldn't it? I think the time for talking is over, and the time for actually doing something is here, now. You doing one good thing today for eventing is a great place to start.