How the West was Promoted

Sirius XM Rural Radio host, Alexis Bloomer wrote an article recently (read more)  that really got me to thinking, not only about rodeo’s inability to get a star in the mainstream spotlight but also the horse show world. Why don’t we have our 3 million dollar riders gracing the pages of Sports Illustrated or as Alexis mentioned in her article roughstock riders glossing up the pages of a Head & Shoulders commercial?

 The summation of the article was why rodeo and its athletes were not making it on the mainstream stage. She pointed out the stereotypes we face (rednecks, uneducated, and un-athletic being the main ones), the need for organizations and events to get social and update results in a timely manner and she gave a quick highlight of some rodeo connections to the rich and famous (Disney and several team roping actors). She pushed for athletes to get “Verified” on their social media accounts and to respond to their fans.

Matt Cohen of Matt Cohen Photography wrote his own blog post in response to Alexis’ article weighing in on why he thinks things aren’t happening in rodeo (read more). He pointed out that the governing body has “outlived its usefulness”. That the PRCA seems only to value ex-contestants instead of building a successful working organization, “Successful organizations value competence and results,” he wrote. In his closing statement he pointed out that “Rodeo demographics are aging out every day, and with those demographics go any hope of success.”

Now that’s a hard pill to swallow.  As a casual rodeo contestant, horse trainer’s kid and all around lover of all things agriculture I just had to give my take. Horse shows and rodeos have been my greatest teachers. I want to see continued success for the athletes and to see both sports grow.

As a parent (I’m not one but hey I know some), I would want my children to learn responsibility and seek out positive role models. What other major sports have such remarkable and inspiring athletes? Think about it. How many times have you seen a news outlet spouting about a recent domestic violence case, drunk driving accident, or use of illegal drugs from a paid professional? Now turn the table and look at your favorite rodeo athlete or million dollar rider. I would say the vast majority are God fearing people. They wake up every day and work hard to achieve their dreams. You won’t find them messing around with drugs because quite frankly they don’t have the time (or the money). They are focused on the next big event or working to save money because they don’t have a guaranteed paycheck. Their money is earned only in the winner’s circle.

There are countless tales of the “comeback-kid” in these equestrian disciplines. If you are going to make it on these time-honored stages you have to have resilience and a strong belief in your own abilities. Confidence is built on the back of horse. Work ethic is built in the care of your animals and in the care of yourself. Dreams and desires are forged in the late night hours spent in the practice pen.

Have you watched an interview with the likes of Sherry Cervi or Trevor Brazile? They are well spoken, educated and HUMBLE. They thank god, thank their sponsors, and thank their animals. The majority of contestants at the NFR have a college degree. Can you say the same about your favorite football or basketball star? Most cannot string together a coherent sentence let alone take the time to think outside of themselves and they play a TEAM sport.

On top of that equine sports are family oriented. They have every age and every stage competing. How many times have you heard “my horse show family” or “my rodeo family”? Too many times to count. That’s because there is a large clan helping to raise responsible adults and help out those who are struggling. Fathers compete against (or with) sons, mothers against daughters; family bonding at its finest.

I mentioned every age, look at the age of some of the greats in both industries. Many are 40+. How many other sports have that kind of span? June Holman was 70 when she competed at the 2014 inaugural American Rodeo and she held her own. Utahn Nancy Hunter competed this year at her first NFR at the tender age of 58. AQHA and APHA have full 45 and over classes at their shows. NRHA offers Prime Time Events. Both rodeo and show industries offer outstanding youth programs with scholarships galore. (Perhaps this is why so many are so well-educated at the top level.) Sure other sports have youth programs and scholarships but so few of the competitors are actually awarded them. Not many go on to compete at a college level, let alone professional.

So how can you (or I) help promote our equestrian disciplines and help forge a brighter future? We can all start by introducing our friends outside of the “circle” to come to an event. Explain what’s happening in simple terms that they can follow without making them feel like an idiot. It’s important to realize you are an ambassador of your discipline whether or not you are competing at the highest level. “Every professional was once an amateur.” If you spark the desire in one person or help get the correct information out to the general public you are growing the sport.

Get social. Tweet about it, post about it, share it, share it, share it. You might think it’s a small event but we all have followers. If you write about what’s going on you never know who you might inspire to come watch or participate. How many times have we gone to an event simply because we heard from a past exhibitor or spectator how great it was? For me the answer is more than once.

Perhaps you are the professional, my advice, don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. That’s how you attract clients and sponsors. If you can show that you are doing something great for the sponsor, chances are you’ll get more sponsors. Take the time to write thank you’s. Show staff appreciates it, sponsors appreciate it, friends and family appreciate it. If you don’t like to talk about yourself, ask your significant other (they have to be where you are anyway and chances are they are bored in the stands) or a teenager that admires you to be your “social media manager”. They can write posts and share pictures. It’s a win-win for all. Talk to local universities, there are so many students in public relations that are looking for something to add to their resume, and an entity that they can practice their skills on.

Talk to your local club or organization, volunteer to help calculate results and get them posted at a faster speed. In the information age, we want knowledge and results and we want them now. If you look at the organizations and shows that are doing well right now it’s because they are not afraid to get social and toot their own horn. They post daily, take pictures of exhibitors and promote their social pages in their print advertising. Timely results make us all happy.

There is so much more I could write in this article but perhaps I’ll save it for a later date. I would love to hear your personal input. Let me know your thoughts; the good, the bad, the ugly.

- Paige Morgan
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