I had an email exchange this morning with a long-time racing participant and advocate. He wrote one line that we've all heard before:
"Sorry for being cynical but I’ve been fighting the war much too long"
I think there's a line that's formed, behind and ahead of him in our sport.
A lot of people have a malaise in racing - good people - because even when they try to move the simplest of things forward, they're usually met with a roadblock of some sort. After doing that ten, twelve or a hundred times, they simply stop caring.
Colin Powell, the retired general and former Joint Chief of Staff once said:
"Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them."
I think racing has a lot of soldiers with no one to call.
Conversely, look at what happens when there is a leader, willing to say "we've heard your problem, we've studied the problem, and we've solved the problem. Here is the new policy, and this is the way it is going to be."
That's what happened several years ago when the Ontario Racing Commission made changes to the whipping rule.
After hearing myriad complaints, and seeing the writing on the wall that how horses are treated is a big issue for the modern citizen (racegoer or not), they moved forward to change whipping in the Province.
The outcry from participants was expected, and ravenous. "Horse's will go slow, I don't know how to do it, it's unsafe, how dare they change my life, handle will fall, we should strike" and on and on.
Just this week, young 22 year old driver Scott Zeron was interviewed at the Little Brown Jug in Ohio, where he won with Michaels Power.
He was asked "How do you deal with that whipping rule up there?"
He replied that it's no problem because it's second nature. He said the horse's do not go slower, and it's safe to keep the hands in the box, and it's just the way he drives. The hottest participant issue of 2009 or 2010 was now a complete non-issue.
No matter how you feel about the whipping changes, or where you're at
with whipping as a part of this sport in general, Scott is right. None of the bad things
happened. Even better, the new generation of drivers and jocks learn it from the beginning, and with it, the sport changes forever, in a positive way.
That one rule change occurred because one leader did not bow to the masses. They weathered the storm of criticism and yelling and complaining. They held firm and they lead.
That serves as an important lesson for racing, in my opinion. When an issue is brought to racing that makes sense that can help the sport, racing needs to think first about how it will lead to get something done.
No it won't be easy. It won't make everyone happy. It won't win you any popularity contests in some fiefdoms.
But what is much, much worse: If you don't lead, people will stop asking you to, and when they stop asking, you've failed.