Show Jumping: Bringing Elite to Everyday

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Apparently, I’m a little behind the times when it comes to TV. I don’t watch television, primarily because it is mind numbing, but also because I have better things to do with my time than stare at a light box. The computer lightbox, at least, requires some interaction on my part, besides just sitting and shoving food in my face.

Too bad though, had I been a television watcher, I would have known about Animal Planet’s Sporthorse Cup that aired in March of 2008. It’s okay though; there is a Animal Planet Sporthorse Cup II airing in January 2009 – phew.

Seriously though, IF I had cable (yes I know – I’m a freak), I would actually watch this. It sounds fairly interesting, and potentially more “mainstream” than any other televised equestrian sporting event (outside of horse racing, of course). Animal Planet’s coverage follows one class inside the larger Syracuse Invitational Sporthorse Tournament in attempt to boil down the scope of a large horse show into TV friendly viewing (though not live; the actual horse show happened in late October of 2008).

One of Sport Horse Cup founder John (Beezie’s husband) Madden’s goals is to make show jumping “a household sport”. It’s a great idea; a “mainstream” sporting horse event could only benefit equestrian sports on a whole.

But there are a few problems with the Animal Planet Sporthorse Cup I see that will hinder it from ever attracting a mainstream/real American/Main Street (not Wall Street) audience.

Of all sports once on the fringe to go “mainstream”, each had a common, and required component: relatable athletes (see: golf, tennis, hockey, NASCAR, extreme sports, lacrosse, arena football, and hell…World Wrestling Entertainment).

Plus, of the seven riders qualified for the cup, the average age of six of them is over 45. The seventh rider is 23 AND JUST HAPPENS to be the daughter of New York City’s Mayor.

To compete at high levels in show jumping, especially for any length of time, one requires VERY deep pockets. All seven of those riders competing in the cup enjoy a combination of independent wealth and investor backing. And that isn’t to say they aren’t good riders; EVERYONE who rides as much as they do with the horses they have better be good.

The six elder/well known riders do have some followers; people that have watched them jump, have seen them win and lose, and will know the horses they have ridden. But to turn equestrian show jumping into a mainstream sport, a televised event positioned for “household success” needs something no high-level equestrian competition may ever have: an underdog

Watching these riders get through the courses and rounds will be interesting. But mainstream interesting? I’m not so sure. The drab, boring outfits worn won’t inspire many “mainstreamers” to go out and buy the colors they wear, and the competition “drama” won’t create a following so deep that fans will honor riders with clothing, patches, accessories, posters, and face painting.

Okay, okay, maybe face painting is a little more than even I want at a horse show.

Equestrian sports do have a lot to offer spectators and fans – even those who’ve never met a horse. But mainstream sporting competitions need more than TV friendly formats. And though Animal Planet plans to “connect the audience to the top players” through on course interviews and behind the scenes “showing what it takes to compete” segments, unless becoming one of the athletes shown onscreen is more “mainstream” attainable, equestrian sporting events will continue to remain on the fringe of American consciousness; a sport and pastime of regals.

Without real personalities, and a humanly relatable element, we’re just like sailing.