Unless You Know Me, You Don’t Actually Know Me. (Or Anyone Else)

Photo by Jaye Nevins
Photo by Jaye Nevins

Last week I started my post by suggesting that I was the “world’s worst blogger” because I only wrote when I was inspired. Well, what a difference a week makes. I’m “inspired” now, I tell you. I’ve got enough material to last quite awhile.

It’s hard to know where to even start. What was intended to be a balanced approach with respect to “Congress Western Pleasure-Gate”, and a commentary on social media, somehow twisted into not just an even bigger bashing of western pleasure as a whole, but a good old fashioned bashing of me personally. Wow. That was weird. (And completely supported my primary point, to be honest).

So I learned a lot about blogging last week. And I learned that once you drop a video or somewhat inflammatory picture into a blog post, many people stop reading and start typing, even if it wasn’t your video. (It’s also sometimes bad when you mention another discipline, evidently, even if you’re trying to be complementary of it.)

I knew going in that not everyone was going to agree with my perspective given that it was pretty neutral (many people aren’t “in” to neutral. Donald Trump is living proof of that). I also knew that some people would flat disagree (my favorite comment: “best written article I still don’t agree with…”). But I was completely unprepared for the personal attacks, because unless you know me, you don’t know me.

My life with horses began a very long time ago, like many, with snotty Shetland pony types, and lots of books from the local library. I somehow managed to convince my parents that I simply would not survive another day without my own pony, and the rest as they say, is history. (I expect that by now some of you have gotten bored and left. Ponies aren’t that controversial after all, unless you’re actually dealing with one).

Through my youth, I participated in 4-H with a grade Quarter Horse type mare. We showed at the county fair, rode trails and subdivision streets, occasionally barefoot and bareback (both of us). My life revolved around horses, the fair, horse shows, and trying to qualify for the State 4-H Horse Show. I also dreamed of one day showing the AQHA circuit, and after I finished college and got a job, I did. Like most experiences, it made me a better horsemen in a myriad of ways. I was able to meet people that I had only seen in magazines, and sometimes, I even was able to compete with them. (Once again, some of you have left, I’m sure, since I said AQHA, but thanks to those who are sticking with it.)

Professionally I was like every other “horse show kid”. I went to school and wanted to be a veterinarian, because I didn’t know what other options there were, and I’m no horse trainer. (At least not intentionally, anyway.) Ultimately, I wound up with a Bachelor’s degree in Education and Teaching, then a Master’s Degree in Animal Science with a Nutrition emphasis. I decided that I wanted to work with people to help them manage their horses, and hopefully make things better for horses AND people. Fortunately, I have been blessed to be able to do that on a daily basis for the past 15 years.

After working for a bit, and showing horses pretty intensely for a bit, a couple of things happened. Number one, I got very interested in the psychology of sport, and how successful people become successful at anything, not just showing horses. Second, I started to see some things both inside and outside the show ring that I really didn’t like very much, and I decided that I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the well-being of my horse to fuel my own ego. Finally, I lost a beautiful yearling gelding out of one of my favorite show mares very suddenly, and unexpectedly. Life has a way of making decisions for you.

At this point I did what any normal person with a somewhat stressful full-time job and a competitive ego would do…I gave up the Amateur card, started judging horse shows, and worked on a Ph. D. in Sport Psychology. Because, really, why wouldn’t you? Plus I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to head next from a horse perspective. I was very interested in the things that people do with and to horses in the name of competition, because frankly, I had lived it. (Lady who called me “uneducated and classless”, if you’re reading this, while I can certainly be less than classy at times, I’m not sure that uneducated is really fair. Thankfully for both of us, I don’t think we travel in the same circles. ).

I also decided that it was as good a time as any to give back to some of the organizations that had given so much to me. I took on some leadership roles including president of both state and national equine organizations and I developed an appreciation for every equine breed…if I want a smart, gorgeous horse with a lot of heart, I’ll ride an Arab. If I want a smart, gorgeous horse that enjoys chasing cattle, I’ll ride a Quarter Horse. (They’re still out there.) Anyway, hopefully you get the point, and like it or not folks, we really are “all in this together”.

I’ve also developed a strong appreciation for the people BEHIND those horses (all of them), and the things that make them tick. Let’s face it, there are things that go on in every breed and discipline that shouldn’t, and those people should be stopped. But there are also some absolutely fantastic people in all segments of the equine industry…some of the very best you’ll ever meet, and they shouldn’t all be painted with the same negative brush any more than ALL dressage people should be, or all reining horse people, or racehorse people or any other kind of horse people. The vast majority of horse people that I know are passionate about horses.  Yes, our viewpoints may get a little foggy from the competition of it at times, and not everyone approaches things from the same direction, but we’re all pretty similar in the end if we actually get to know one another.

So who am I? I’m a kid who started with ponies, who loved 4-H,and  who went on to show at the highest level I could afford. I’ve lost some great ones, bought some less than great ones in spite of myself, and I have too many cats (relax blogosphere, they’re all vaccinated, spayed and neutered). Finally, I have chosen to give back to the industry in the hopes that it will continue to exist for years to come so others can experience it too. Our paths may not be exactly the same, but in many respects, I’m a horseman, just like you.

Thanks for reading, mom. 😉

7 Comments on “Unless You Know Me, You Don’t Actually Know Me. (Or Anyone Else)

  1. Keep writing Karen. You are a natural. I am not a horse lover but I love reading your work.

  2. Well said Karen, unfortunately most horse people are so passionate about their breed or their discipline they don’t know how to respectfully disagree on certain aspects of the industry. I do believe that the diversity and passion is what can propel us forward or cause us to shoot ourselves in the foot. That being said, some horse people should never carry a gun!

  3. What a wonderfully and very tactfully written article. Spot on. I would love for you to come speak to our 4h kids here in Madison County Indiana if your schedule would ever allow. Feel free to contact me via email.

  4. I could not agree more. I think we are much alike, you and I. I don’t understand why people who disagree about literally “anything” feel the need to degrade, and put down any view point, and not in person mind you. I stumbled across your blog and enjoy it very much. Keep up the good, sometimes tough work!

  5. I just found your blogs – as a 4-H leader, and 4-H alum, and cat lover….(hey, we need to stick together!) i totally agree with everything you said. I started out the same way you did. Riding ponies is not for the faint of heart by any means! My path was a bit different thought – my family was in the horse show management business, so i got to know many trainers and exhibitors through out my region and they watched me grow up. Horse shows and fairgrounds became my playground and i wanted nothing more than to show my horses just like they did. Well fast forward xxx amount of years (a true lady never gives her age) and i am finally doing this! Showing my QH is my dream come true – yes, i am still a 4-H leader and will be until i die. Working with the future of our horse industry has been a blessing and watching them over the years continue to grown and shape the industry has truly been inspiring. thank you for your blog – keep writing!

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