Many years ago, I was a young person getting established in the horse industry. I’d worked as a riding instructor for years and had recently taken a job as an editorial assistant with my favorite horse magazine. I was full of the exuberance and energy of youth and excited about the prospects for the future, both for myself and the horse world in general.
My rosy outlook was soon put to the test when I found myself sitting in meetings where elder industry leaders repeatedly painted a bleak picture of the future. The problem, I was told, was that young people no longer had an agricultural background, and we didn’t grow up watching Westerns on television. We were physically and culturally distanced from farms, the argument went, therefore we wouldn’t connect with horses. And even if we did, how could we possibly care for them, not having had the appropriate rural upbringing?
This problem, it was explained, would lead to a decline in horse ownership and eventual collapse of the industry. All because the next generation was raised in the suburbs and more comfortable with computer screens than heavy farm machinery. I don’t remember a lot of solutions being offered. Maybe there were, but all I recall is the handwringing.
I’d sit silent in those meetings, not agreeing but also not objecting. Part of my silence came from the realization that it would not be a prudent career move for a 20-something new hire to butt heads with industry leaders. But, frankly, I was also a little bit confused: After all, they were talking about me. I don’t have an agricultural background. I’m not from a farming family. I did not grow up surrounded by open land and horses. And I never watched Westerns. Yet, there I was. I’d managed to connect with horses as a child, absorbed every bit of information I could about them and I was ready to dedicate myself to the industry. Was I the exception? Would I be part of the last generation of horse lovers, enthusiasts and caretakers?
Fast forward to today and I’m no longer a young person in the horse industry. Quite the opposite. It’s been nearly 30 years since those meetings and now it’s my turn to pontificate. I’m happy to report that the horse industry has not collapsed, the doom prophecies were not fulfilled and my generation of suburban horse girls (and boys) has stepped up to keep things humming. We own horses, pay board, purchase supplements and way too many saddle pads. We hire veterinarians, show on weekends and trailer to National Parks.
We may not know how to harvest hay ourselves, but we are glad that others do and we seek out and support those farmers. We have used our computer skills to promote and support our chosen breeds and sports. We are engaged and involved. Even better, I look around and see new generations—the youth of today—finding horses, loving them and caring for them. The industry may look very different compared to 30 years ago and it will look different in another 30, but the drive to connect with horses is so powerful, that people perpetually find ways to forge their own path to fulfill it.
Don’t get me wrong, the horse industry still faces a host of challenges. Among them is ensuring that we welcome and encourage people of all ages, income levels and backgrounds to become part of the horse world. But, unlike those horse industry leaders long ago, I don’t worry that young people will stop connecting with horses—the horses will take care of that. Instead, I think we need to focus on ensuring that newcomers have the opportunity to pursue their equestrian dreams. That means that horse industry veterans like me will accept that the next generation will make the industry their own and choose new paths, ones very different from ours. And that’s not only ok, but a very good thing.