This is the third installment of a new series titled, “State of the Industry.” Each month, we will be examining some facet of the horse industry. We will ask tough questions, invite your participation and input, and seek to discover what is working and what is not. The entire horse industry is going through painful changes as we compete with a changing and increasingly urban culture. Our hope is to establish a dialogue and look for innovative programs that are working.
by Cindy Reich
This month, in the third of our series “State of the Industry,” we speak with Raymond LaCroix — a member of the family that changed the Arabian breed forever in the 70s through the 90s.
Recently, Ray posted an essay on Facebook about the Scottsdale show which intrigued me, and I wanted to further explore the topic of showing horses with him.
Ray and his family re-wrote the book on the Arabian horse industry from the 1970s into the 1990s in terms of breeding, showing, training, and marketing. At the time Ray retired from the Arabian show arena, he had won over 200 National Championships in a variety of disciplines. Currently Ray is active in riding dressage, and his current dressage horse, Half-Arabian Chipper One (HF Mister Chips x Rita) was Arizona State Champion Third Level Dressage horse, and Ray was 2017 Third Level Rider of the Year. Ray teaches riders, coaches, and conducts clinics at his training center in Arizona. He and his wife Cindi are preparing to do a trail ride across Monument Valley with their dressage horses.
To become viable, the Arabian horse industry has to acknowledge that it is necessary to find relevance. What was relevant 20 to 30 years ago is no longer true, yet the Arabian show horse scene hasn’t realized that practiced evolution is necessary.
Twenty to 30 years ago, it was necessary for breeders to show horses that exemplified their bloodlines in order to establish a winning show record, thus proving the value of their breeding programs. Today, this business model is only valid for a select few. This means that the only value to showing, now, is to win a ribbon.
For horse trainers who own training stables, it is still necessary to show and win in order to attract new clients. New clients, however, are becoming harder to find, as it is now common knowledge that there is little, if any, money to be made by the average consumer. When the incentive of making money is gone, the only participants left are those who truly love their horses. Unfortunately, this is where the real problem exists. Showring activities have to be worth the actual expense of time and money for continued participation, and for many people, this is the disconnect. Why?
The ribbon represents value that is vanishing. While our show horses are highly-refined examples of stylized disciplines, the horsemanship that supports the training and showing is lacking. Let me explain. I have changed my definition of horsemanship. What horsemanship means to me now is “human and equine interactions where both parties benefit.”
When you apply the above definition to today’s showring activities, given the prevailing training practices, most readers will get the idea. Most show horses today are trained and shod in such a specialized way that beyond the showring, they can do little else, and John Q Public is losing interest.
I believe that the future of horse activities lies in the relationship that develops between owner/rider and the horse. If that is true, and the horse truly becomes a partner, some of the training practices that occur will increasingly become a turn-off. People don’t want to see their pets suffer.
I believe that there is an intrinsic value to activities where the horse has an actual job to do, such as working western, jumpers, carriage driving, trail classes, etc. These activities will survive. I also believe that disciplines that have an Olympic venue will also survive. Dressage is a fine example. Activities that are individually scored against a standard will survive.
The first to disappear will be events where the horse has no clear job and there is no individual scoring. Disciplines where harsh training practices are employed will also disappear.
Change is gradually coming to the Arabian show horse scene. Witness Ranch Riding and Western Dressage classes. These are classes that everyone can do, are relatively inexpensive, and build horsemanship skills. Varied equine activities that include those three components are the future.
I would encourage the leadership of the Arabian “industry” to expand their horizons and look around the world for all of the ways that people are enjoying time spent with their horses. This would be an education in what the word “value” truly means with respect to equine activities. What will continue to have “value” in the future is what is relevant now.