Safe Sport is a Bandaid over a Gunshot Wound

Let’s talk about safe sport.

The new initiative that has been taken by our governing bodies, while admirable, is seriously flawed.

Abuse, misconduct and sexual harassment are huge issues not only in our sport but in our world. However, I believe there is a bigger issue here that no one is addressing or really interested in talking about.

That issue is simply the treatment of our youth, young riders and working students, as well as our full time and long term grooms.

The fact that young riders are given the “opportunity “ to work as students in stables that have good reputations, essentially for free, in exchange for high class training programs- but in the end are barely given any rides on anything other than the new sale horse who may or may not be crazy and fresh out of quarantine.
Or they are working 16 hour days with ½-1 day off, and they live in room off the barn.

Don’t get me wrong I have no problem with hard work, earning your rides and living in a room. Learning and being a working student/apprentice is the way I believe things should be done.

But, if we want to talk about safe sport and force all members to comply to a standard, than we need to address the issues around the way we treat our students and staff.

It should not be possible for a working student to ever feel their opportunity to learn and train would be in jeopardy if they express a reluctance to work with or sit on a specific horse.

While jobs need to get done, horses need to get worked, and that is part of the job.

We can not have this attitude of, “if you don’t do it, pack up and leave because there is someone behind you that would take this opportunity”.  All this does is create fear and resentment.  

We are losing our talent through bottom of our sport because we are not keeping an eye on how we treat the next group of riders.

It isn’t just a matter of keeping them safe, it’s a matter of caring about their goals and supporting them through connections with influential individuals, rides on horses that they can truly learn from and passing down students and horses to them when they have become assistant trainers.

We can’t do this alone, and we can’t expect our youth to be used up and burnt out, and then somehow keep clawing their way to the top.I’m not against hard work, earning what you need, staying late and coming in early.

But, we can not use our working students and apprentices for the sole purpose of doing things we don’t want to do. That’s not why they are there. We must keep them safe by not over facing them, both by work load or over horsing them. We learn nothing of value from negative situations.

Challenge them yes, push them outside their comfort zones, but always have their safety and future in mind.

This is the way we will produce and achieve more talent with each generation. Each rider coming behind will have more training philosophy and true horsemanship than the one before because they will see it in their mentors.

Speak out to our governing body if you agree.
We must have a way to report abuse of all kinds, not just the kind that is agreed upon. Other sports have had athletes rights in training programs for 30 + years.

So why are we so behind?

Written by: Emily Abbate, Director of Programs

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