The Psychology of Inclusion

The clock is ticking. It’s almost time to bring horses back on campus. There is so much to do still: dragging the paddocks, fixing the fences, cleaning up the barn, writing grants, planning open houses and events, development and marketing campaigns, renewing old contacts, making new ones, and always, looking at horses.

I love it when the horses come back, for that is, after all, why the MMSC exists. But when they arrive, I lose my freedom. I am “grounded” on my 22 acre campus, taking all day to get through the day. Ideas, hunches, and wild hairs for helping more horses are, if not halted, harshly reined in. Creative thinking gets directed towards solving practical problems: a flooded barn, a broken tractor, a lame horse, a bounced check, a mountain of emails and phone calls.

So while I can, I do reconnaissance, which is why when I heard that Tim Capps, director of the Equine Industry Program at the University of  Louisville’s College of Business was giving a lecture on marketing in the horse business, I decided I should go. I knew it would be entertaining, for as I said in an earlier blog, Tim is “wry funny.” I also knew it would be time well spent because Tim knows his stuff.

And it was. Tim talked first about the shape of the horse industry, meaning, the industry at large: all horses, all breeds, all sports, not just the racing industry. It’s “a mile wide and an inch deep” he told us. Horses are every where. It’s mostly a
recreational/entertainment/female dominated/ “one horse at a time,” sort of industry. As a result, marketing efforts are often limited, disparate, and amateur.

Horse racing is an exception because of gaming, the rules of which are legalized and regulated state by state. Racing is big business, and therefore its marketing efforts are better organized, presented and studied. However each state sets and regulates its own gaming policies which are heavily influenced by the stakeholders--tracks, owners, trainers, breeders--who protect and promote their own interests, rather than those of their audience. As a result their customer base is shrinking.

Tim concluded his lecture with “Marketing 101” fundamentals. How to build and attract a customer base, something which I mused over as I drove back to Lexington.

I also found myself guilty of black and white thinking: recriminating the racing industry for self promoting exclusionary behaviors. Oh-uh. Time to get the log out of my own eye! Horse people are notoriously self interested and cliquish. Dressage queens turn up their noses at hunter princesses and vice versa. Event riders scorn them both. Western riders think they are all foolish. Arab people, Paso people, Mini people, Fresian people. Saddlebreds. Walking Horses. Paints. Drafts. We are all so immersed in our breeds, our disciplines, our ways of thinking and doing, which of course, in our minds, are the only and the best ways. We all practice The Psychology of Exclusion.  

Why? Because it is human nature. We’ve been doing it since grade school when we wanted to fit in, and when we did fit in, we didn’t want to lose our place which gave us status and security. So we follow group thinking. We mimic group behaviors.  We stay within the box. We look askance at those outside the box or those who chose to leave it. We belittle those we finding threatening. We resist change. We are all about preserving the status quo, and our individual status quo specifically.

Rescue/rehab/reschooling groups of which the MMSC is one, are no different. We might be even more guilty of the Psychology of Exclusion. We are a passionate bunch and passion begets emotional thinking. We are predominately women and women are fiercely protective of their “babies." And we are all scrambling for the same dollars. How easy is it, therefore, and how comforting to criticize the mission, the mores, the horses, the horsemanship, the decisions, the actions of another organization?! Cattiness makes us feel better about ourselves, more secure, more self righteous. Naysaying might win allies. Their loss is our gain. But who in the end suffers?

The horses, of course.

When will we learn that we are only as strong as the weakest link in our chain? There are so many efforts right now both in the industry itself and beyond to find solutions for the challenges of Thoroughbred aftercare. What if we all decided to practice the Psychology of Inclusion? Could we not find a way to join voices and forces in spite of different opinions and approaches to create a tapestry of change? How about starting one thought at a time (Thoughts become things, choose the good ones), finding the good that each organization and individual is trying to do. Applauding it. Reaching out. Building bridges. Sharing thoughts, efforts, yes, even money towards the common goal of speaking out for and improving the lives of racehorses coming off the track, one horse at a time. There is power in numbers.  And the clock is ticking......

Let's join hands to bring our individual efforts to help off track Thoroughbreds together and use the power of numbers!

Cheery bye,