What is the definition of grass roots? According to Webster, it means “the ordinary people in a society or organization : the people who do not have a lot of money and power.”
I am discouraged with my USEF membership. Due to poor health and injury, I have not competed for nearly two years; yet I felt compelled to keep up my membership for the good of the order. But what has the order ever done for me? Not much. A Girl Scout and Pony Clubber, I am self-reliant and don’t look for hand outs or ask for help, even when I need it.
I’m an old foxhunter that occasionally likes to doll up and take my horse in the ring. It’s not about ribbons. I’ve got plenty of those in dusty boxes and stitched into faded quilts. It’s not about points. I left that road to a younger generation, who for the most part don’t know what it means to be up at 3am braiding your horse and the mounts of the hunt staff as well. When it comes to grass roots—I’m it! I’m no Olympian, never will be. I am not a wealthy investor with part-ownership in a superstar horse or one who can pour money into prize purses. I don’t own a prestigious breeding barn or land connected to Wellington or Ocala.
I repeat. I’m just an old foxhunter. I’m long of tooth and plagued by injuries from all the falls I’ve taken in the course called a lifetime. I’m too anxious to face a three foot fence any more. A pole on the ground is my puissance. I’ve faced my four- and five-foot questions at full gallop in my youth with no regrets. I can exchange tales with the heartiest of horsemen over a pint, but I am—by no means—ready to cover up my saddle for good. However the only competitive divisions available for me are full of ponies as old as I am and rosy-cheeked cherubs who aren’t even close to puberty. I’ve only recently seen the addition of the Long Stirrup division, which excites me! But I wonder if it’s too little, too late. The true grass roots went without watering, kept in the shade, unfertilized, and there’s little to no hope for it. So it would seem.
My injuries are catching up to me, and while I remain stoic, posting the trot is debilitating. I’ve been in rehab for a year with chronic knee issues. My doctors and my physical therapists know another fall might further damage me, but they encourage me to kick on because riding and competing are my only true motivation. I don’t walk very well or far. Can’t stand for long periods. Can’t post one time around the arena without losing my breath to pain. My knees are taped up more often than an old schoolmaster, but I persevere.
I will never return to the heartiness of my salad days, but I had hoped for a small place to continue competing. I learned about the USEF dispensations and was delighted. There was hope. The grass roots over in the corner behind the real green stuff might get a bit of sunlight after all. Fortunately, I learned that I did not need that degree of intervention. I was pleased because I would never claim the right to ride in the ring with the heroic para-equestrians, who simultaneously inspire and shame me for their fortitude.
With further research, I learned of something called a Presidential Modification. It required a letter stating my needs and documentation from my doctor. The warm reception and friendly customer reception from the CEO’s assistant was a delight to this old foxhunter. Finally, I might get something truly, personally useful for my membership; thus, I gathered the required information and passed them along to the USEF.
That caring customer service did not last long. Having dealt with dressage people since my youth, I should have expected a steely reception. My first contact with the dressage part of the Federation left me feeling like an ice cube at sea. You’d think that my request to sit the trot, rather than post, read more like asking permission to wear a double bridle in the Introductory Level, the level at which I was hoping to compete until the knees can last the Training Level movements. (Who asks to sit the trot these days? Used to be the bane of the show ring in my day.) I’m fearful of what the Hunter/Jumper side of things will say. Haven’t heard from them yet, probably a trainer holding up a ring somewhere and can’t get an answer.
I understand due process, but I wasn’t expecting the need for an act of Congress to get some consideration. It has become quite apparent to me, though I suspect the writing has been on the wall all along, that the USEF is no longer a grass roots organization, not about the grass roots of people on the fringe…just the core.
My paltry membership fee means little to a multi-million dollar company. I know this, but it's downright offensive when that organization acts as if the true grass roots folk matter, when in fact, we do not.
I’m an old foxhunter. I will fight through the pain to ride and to show, maybe even jump again someday. I will do this because in my grass roots can be found field masters and hunt staff, 4H mentors, Pony Club coaches, and clinicians (a few famous ones) that taught me self-reliance in the face of enormous odds and encouraged me to kick on no matter what the obstacle…because at the end of the day, ribbons don’t matter and points don’t matter. What does matter is the process, getting there, being there…in the moment…with no one else’s expectations save my own. Ribbons can be bought. The proud smile of a trainer, a nod from a judge, a sense of accomplishment for making it through a test, the final slap on the neck for a good round at the end of the day? These things are priceless.