Playdate shows (very long)
NOTE: I have used a few hobbyists' names here because they have (a) posted in multiple public or semipublic locations about their views and (b) have become, through their length of participation and their popularity as artists, for all intents and purposes "public figures" in the hobby." I have kept other hobbyists anonymous here, linking to their posts rather than using their names on my blog. If you are one of these unnamed hobbyists and would like me to edit this post to include your name, I'm happy to do so. Just send me an e-mail stating this preference. Similarly, if you are a hobbyist mentioned here and would prefer to be anonymous in this post, please let me know and I will edit this entry accordingly.
To sum up the situation, as I understand it, so far: One shower in NAMHSA Region 2 purchased a horse that was advertised as having earned 14 NAN cards. It ends up all the cards came from the same show in Region 10, which had multiple judges, some of whom may not have been "qualified" (I'm not even going to try to define this term here) in the eyes of many hobbyists. In addition to this horse's NAN cards having all come from the same show, the hobbyist who purchased it was disappointed with its quality, and was concerned that the value of a NAN card—which qualifies a horse to attend the North American Nationals held once a year—was being eroded when so many cards were handed out at a single show and given to models that may not meet hobby standards (as contentious as these may be) for live show winners. The hobbyist brought her concerns to her NAMHSA representative, who in turn presented the case to the NAMHSA Board of Directors for their consideration.
In order to facilitate discussion about such shows and formulate a proposition to take to the NAMHSA board, concerned parties started the NAMHSA Rules list. I first learned about the Rules list from reading posts alluding to the controversy on a Blab thread addressing the assignment of horses to divisions. At some point the thread veered into a discussion of playdate shows.
But first, a bit of background on these types of shows: Lesli Kathman, who claims to have held the first playdate show, explained the format on the NAMHSA-D list:
1) The show was hosted in her home.
2) Several divisions were placed in the show ring (her dining room table) at once.
3) Each division had its own judge. Accordingly, there were multiple judges working the table at once.
It's not clear to me if Kathman's show was NAN-qualified (or if it even preceded the formation of NAMHSA), but it is clear that subsequent shows using a similar format have been NAN qualifiers.
Reading the lists, it's become evident that some hobbyists either have not read Kathman's description of her playdate shows, or they are referring to shows with a similar format. Specifically, people have repeatedly referenced a show (perhaps a hypothetical one) with 20 judges, with each judge handing out placings for every "class." (I put "class" in quotes because technically a playdate show could, as explained above by Kathman, have several divisions on a table simultaneously—which means several classes are taking place at once as well, one per judge. It's also possible, of course, to have 20 judges place a single class—whether that should be legal under NAMHSA rules seems to constitute a large part of the debate.)
EDIT: See Dr. Steggy's comments on this post for clarification of these points.
Earlier this month, Karen Gerhardt compiled Blabbers' comments into a petition asking the NAMHSA board not to limit the format of shows. In the minds of these signatories (in the interest of full disclosure, myself included), what's at stake in this discussion is not so much the value of NAN cards as the freedom of showholders to innovate show formats.
Here are excerpts from that much longer petition:
To: The NAMHSA Board of Directors
This is a formal Petition. All the people whose names are listed below agree with the statements in this Petition.
We the undersigned, do not want NAMHSA Member Show formats to be restricted in any way with regards to the number of judges performing judging duties at one show. Further, we don't believe that NAMHSA should be in the business of restricting how many people could judge a given class simultaneously and award NAN cards.
We have come to this conclusion because:
1. Entrants in regions with few shows in a given year, would welcome more opportunities to show and qualify models, with less travel expense.
2. Multi-judge shows encourage more entrants to try their hand at judging in a friendly, social, and non-threatening atmosphere. It demystifies judging. While not all entrants will go on to judge at other shows, everyone at small multi-judge shows get a better understanding of just what judging is (and what it is not) in the hobby at present.
3. NAMHSA does not now have any standards, rigid qualifications, or requirements for judges. We delude ourselves about judging when we say that shows with multiple judges are "bad" because the judges may not all be "qualified"—because there is no requirement now that shows with even ONE judge must use qualified people. We don't even have a definition of what "qualified" means for judges. So it is illogical to stipulate that 1 judge for each class is OK, but 2 or more is NOT.
4. The hobby community has become overly reverent about the value of NAN cards. This has served to skew the concepts of quality in model horses, and insinuated the deceptions very deeply within our community, particularly amongst newcomers. Every time a mediocre piece earns a card, the issue gets cloudier. Our community is placing value now only on horses with multiple NAN cards and is lying to itself, because there are no standards for judging or judges.
NAMHSA has historically taken a "hands-off" approach to show structure. The rules were very restrained. To disallow multi-judge show formats would be penalizing the latest innovation in show crafting, and stifling other innovations with common structural elements. And for NAMHSA, that is going backwards in the one area where its decisionmaking has generally been faultless.
To decide that these things aren't the "right direction for the hobby" is for the NAMHSA board to consciously make the arbitrary decision to skew the entire community to one agenda and direction. And one which can shut down something that can provide so many necessary benefits.
We need more local, intimate, multi-judge shows to train judges, to make judging and showholding more accessible, to increase camaraderie, to offer a better environment for discussion of ideas, to help beginners get their feet wet in a non-threatening environment... Every single thing we critically need in this community can be directly served, and beautifully, by a local backyard show with all the entrants also judging, at very little cost. We need this sort of show to be accepted under the NAMHSA umbrella to help ensure their continued success and growth.
Change comes with inclusion. With opening up the arena to different experiences and opportunities for exhibition and for folks to explore ideas and then to find accessible, friendly ways to apply them within a supportive, non-threatening atmosphere.
The response to the petition
A few of those arguing against this petition see it as "a couple artists getting a petition going for some friends," and have implied that many who signed the petition did so because they want to curry favor with these high-profile, generally well-respected artists and hobbyists. Those of us who affixed our names to the petition have been dismissed by more than one anti-petition hobbyist as ill-informed.
The fallout from this has been intense. For example, believing that all her and others' hard work to establish rules governing the distribution of NAN cards at multiple-judged shows was being challenged by people who did not fully understand the history of the dispute and were addressing the issue through the wrong channels, the most vocal proponent of these restrictions resigned her post as a NAMHSA regional representative.
Here's where I put my training as a cultural studies student to use:
On a material level, this dispute is manifesting itself over NAN cards and which horses qualify to attend the big show. However, the debate transcends the material and gets at much deeper issues in the hobby.
The dispute is, at heart, about balancing bureaucracy and innovation.
Hobbyists* of a bureaucratic bent want to see the national organization—with its attendant rules and regulations—strengthened because they believe NAMHSA is the best way to bring together the hobby's diverse constituencies of live show participants. By narrowing the scope of what counts as a NAN-qualifying show or by limiting the number of NAN cards distributed at a single show, these hobbyists hope to improve the quality of competition at a national level. In theory, restricting the circulation of NAN cards might ensure that only the most competitive, best horses make it to the tables at NAN. Hobbyists who espouse this viewpoint see NAN cards as a way of winnowing out the wheat from the chaff. NAN cards, in their estimation, are a marker of a horse's value, a stamp that says the horse meets certain hobby standards. These hobbyists also tend to be the ones most concerned about the apparent shortage of qualified live show judges, as a NAN card from an unexperienced or otherwise unqualified judge would not be as meaningful to them as one from a knowledgeable or more experienced judge. These showers value serious competition, and see such competition as a primary method of improving the quality of horses in the hobby.
Of course, there's a competing theory: distributing more NAN cards allows for greater participation across the board, which means more horses at NAN, which means even greater competition (at least as far as numbers of horses are concerned). And those of us who live show have all seen horses we believe have no business showing at NAN earn NAN cards at qualifying shows merely because the class held only two or three horses, and the top two horses in each class earn NAN cards. From this perspective, NAN cards don't so much separate the wheat from the chaff as harvest large sheaves of wheat. For these hobbyists, the NAN cards are "tickets" to the show, not indicators of quality in and of themselves.
Those hobbyists who take this latter view of NAN cards tend to believe that a horse's solid performance at NAN is notable, yet campaigning for a Top 10 rating at NAN or a Register of Merit award doesn't drive their participation in the hobby. They prefer local shows, even if they have nonstandard formats, because they place more meaning on the community engendered by the hobby than they do on that community's conferral of awards and status. These are the kind of showers drawn to the forums at Model Horse Blab, where seasoned and novice showers discuss issues in a distinctive manner: thesis, antithesis, and then, through a long discussion, a synthesis—if not a consensus—begins to emerge. This process should, in theory, also take place on the listservs, but I have observed this synthesis- or consensus-building is far more effective on the forums than on the lists. I can't explain why this is the case; maybe some of you could hypothesize here. (Update: since I first wrote this paragraph, the NAMHSA-D list does seem to be building slowly toward consensus among those posting most frequently in the debate, but mostly around the issue of show fees, not show philosophy.)
It appears those hobbyists who see NAN cards as entrance tickets rather than awards of merit are the ones most likely to advocate for alternative show formats, such as playdates. These hobbyists tend to be less invested in NAN, for these or other reasons: they lack the financial resources to attend the show, the show is far from their homes and they don't wish to travel such a distance with their fragile collections, or their horses have performed admirably at NAN for several years. Hobbyists in this last category may be looking for new challenges, and because these winners tend to be longtime participants, it's not surprising that they imagine the healthiest hobby innovations to be those that hearken back to live showing's roots in backyard and home-based events. Driven in part by nostalgia and in part by a desire to democratize the hobby, they want to put showing back within the reach of the next generation of hobbyists: the young shower without the money or transportation to attend larger, more distant shows; the young mother who can't travel to shows because she can't leave her kids for a weekend; the new adult hobbyist who has not yet invested enough money into the hobby to acquire a show string and accessories worthy of NAN participation. These hobbyists are willing to experiment with show formats, to introduce what some see as drastic innovations in judging or class structure.
For others, a return to local, largely unregulated, backyard-style shows is a step backward, a turning away from NAMHSA, an organization that many hobbyists have built through a huge investment of time, energy, and financial resources. These "bureaucrats," as I have termed them (though I don't mean to use the term disparagingly here), see the hobby's strength in its national solidarity rather than in its local and regional networks.
As individual hobbyists, it's not necessary for us to place ourselves firmly in the camp of the bureaucrats or the experimentalists. Rather, we situate ourselves on a spectrum between the two extremes. Some hobbyists want to both innovate and set national standards. Witness, for example, Sarah M-B's Live Show Quality Guidelines (link downloads a PDF) document that set off such a flurry several months ago. The document aims to set national standards, yet in recent discussions on Blab and NAMHSA-D, Minkiewicz-Breunig has been one of the most ardent proponents of the experimental, playdate-style show.
Well, there's my attempt to encapsulate and make sense of an ongoing dispute that may eventually cause a major rift among live showers and showholders in the hobby. I'm sure this entry will go through many revisions, or will be updated in future postings. If you have corrections, comments, or other resources on this controversy to which you'd like to point me, please email me or put them in the comments. Libelous comments posted to this blog will be deleted.
* I've been amused, by the way, by the common misspelling of "hobbyist" as "hobbiest," particularly in the context of this discussion. The misspelling hints at the superlative, as if a "hobbiest" has more status in the hobby than a mere hobbyist. Ah, but I am an English major nerd... :)