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Crowds or No Crowds, Supporting Sports is Vital

Crowds or No Crowds, Supporting Sports is Vital

By Erin Gilmore

At Ireland’s famed Dublin Horse Show, weaving one’s way though the deeply packed crowds that streamed between arenas was an art in itself. If you intended to get from one vantage point to another, a plan had to be made and generous time allotted. At no point could you rush it and try to push through. It was better to just enjoy the crush of people and ride the wave of the crowd.

I sit here now thinking about those crowds. Standing among thousands upon thousands of people who shared the same passion for equestrian sport gave me energy. The roar of the packed RDS Arena lit the riders up, and if an Irish rider jumped clear, well, the place vibrated. At any time you could turn to your neighbor and strike up a friendly conversation, never knowing whom you might meet. I once looked to my left at Dublin and found that Pat Parelli was walking right next to me in the crowd, cowboy hat and all. I was so surprised that I asked him what he was doing there (horsemanship demonstrations, duh). That was the magic of the Dublin Horse Show.

Standing room only on Ladies Day at the Royal Dublin Horse Show.

Like so many landmark sporting events around the world, the 2020 edition of the Dublin Horse Show is cancelled because of coronavirus concerns. The show takes over city streets and requires months of planning, as do the qualifiers that take place all over Ireland. With everything still shut down, its mid-July date simply became unfeasible.

Right now I can’t really see how any sport, equestrian or otherwise, will take place this summer. The fall season is questionable as well. Even CHIO Aachen, the giant of equestrian sporting events, has been cancelled entirely for 2020. But if and when sports do make a return – are we ready to support sporting events that are sucked dry of the energy a crowd brings?

The answer is yes, we have to be.

Back in early March when the pandemic started, basketball players immediately rejected the idea of playing to empty stadiums, and I understood that. Professional athletes who are used to playing for crowds couldn’t imagine the same kind of game taking place in front of empty seats.

“Are we ready to support sporting events that are sucked dry of the energy that a crowd brings? The answer is yes, we have to be.”

I wonder what those basketball players are thinking now. With at least a month or two of full lockdown measures still to go, empty stadiums are the best-case scenario, so it’s time to wrap our heads around this new doozy.

Equestrian sport should ace this one though, right?! I can easily see a show taking place with only the participant, coach and groom at or near the field of play. That’s called a normal Friday afternoon at many horse shows in the USA.

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Jokes aside, we are blessed with an open-air sport and huge fields of play, so we already have an advantage over those pro basketball players.

It’s more the business of horse sports that I worry about. Exhibitors will pay entry fees, sure. But I can’t imagine how to tackle the hard sell of getting vendors and sponsors on board at an audience-free event. Can you? Will zero revenue in ticket sales at large venues such as Spruce Meadows (as of now, still on the calendar for September) mean that holding the event isn’t even worth it?

The crowds in Aachen, Germany are legendary.

Let’s hope not. In one, two, or more months when our sport starts to creep back to life, it will be up to us to support the effort. Maybe you’re not an exhibitor, or you can’t head to the show to watch, but you can pay a small fee to watch online (side note: I seriously hope the times of complaining about paying for a livestream are over.) In kind, perhaps the shows can do us a solid and invest in improving their livestreams (here’s looking at you, WEF livestream.)

People are adaptable and ingenuity runs high in the horse world. Just see the virtual events that were quickly planned around this year’s cancelled Land Rover Kentucky Three Day Event. Expect to see a lot more virtual this and that to support and promote horse sports, and plan to react and respond to all of it. Support at all levels will be so vital to hold our sport up. We’ll virtually get back in the game, then we’ll make a responsibly distanced return, and hopefully, one day, we’ll relish the energy of a sold-out crowd once again.

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