I hear this term a lot. I use the term ‘bad canter’ a lot. Breaking down the logistics of a bad canter versus a great canter can have different meanings to different people.
When I say a horse has a bad canter and am looking at horses to buy for American hunter riders, I have to consider what an American rider can do with a bad canter. Not much. With the current gap in education we live with (and created), a bad canter is really just an undeveloped canter in a young horse and the balance is ‘on the head’, not the hocks. But a lot of people here want to ‘fix’ the bad canter by slapping on draw reins, a strong bit, even tranquilizer, and force the canter to something more comfortable for the rider. This leads to other issues down the road, creating a horse who will always need a severe bit, too much compression to the spine without the muscle to support it, and an association of pain with work, a huge pet peeve with me.
Keep in mind I am not simply describing the MOVEMENT of a horse in the canter. Good movers can also have bad canters, but many average moving horses have what I consider a weak canter. If you are lucky enough to have a horse with a good canter and it is a hack winner…yay! You don’t need this article. To me, it is a bit trivial to try to fool with trying to make an average mover into a 10 mover, and it is not the point of this piece, but rather to address what is in the caboose of a young horse. Those movement techniques can be discussed later.
Can a bad canter become a good canter?
Of course, with time. People seem to loathe the use of time in development, but it does actually work. If you handed me ballet slippers and a tutu, and demanded four ballet positions perfected in in ten minutes, I would ask you to share whatever drug you were taking and flail my way across the dance floor looking like a penguin rolling off a glacier and smashing into ten other penguins who were gawking at him. You give me ten weeks and it would be a different story. I would receive an invitation from the school for the arts I would be so good…. but probably for just those four positions.
I think horses are the same way. Their bodies can always improve with correct development, and we can give them cues and exercises to build the muscle for good gaits.
What does a bad canter feel like?
It feels horrible if you are not ready for it. The stride feels 25 feet long, there is no steering, going around turns is a battle with gravity as the horse leans in and braces itself to remain upright, and when you ask to shorten the stride, they trot, there is very little control. Riding in a small arena is suddenly a daunting experience. Your body wants to brace against the lack of control and suddenly your back hurts, arms hurt, and legs are like wtf is happening here? You both pull up winded.
Then you pull the tack off and realize there is no topline or back muscle under the saddle. You find yourself wanting to turn your horse over to a field hunter.
Riders tend to think the horse must be being naughty and willingly out of control in the canter, so in come ‘the hardware and tools’ to fix the problem.
The fighting begins.
Other bad canters feel ‘racky’, and it is hard to tell if the horse is trotting behind and cantering up front. They may do everything else just perfectly right, but the canter is not fully engaged. As a horseman, you have to make a decision as to what you feel can be improved upon and what the horse can relearn to make a full 3 beat canter. Maybe they can do the job without a normal canter, so it isn’t an issue, like this one in this video was a saint, a school teacher of sorts for a kid, but if I were to show it to a professional rider, they might balk at the gait, specifically the way it canters the first line.
How do you work with a bad canter?
My entire life is spent riding horses of all ages, sizes, shapes, breeds, etc. Some have better conformation than others. When you feel unbalance, the first thing to decide is exactly where that imbalance is coming from. Usually between the mouth and the hind end, you can spot a weakness. If my job is a 20 minute fix, I have to alter my methods to please the customer, but if my horse is a 6 month project, I can work more magic.
Dummy down the hardware. Snaffles only. I was fortunate enough to spend a good chunk of my educational years (early 90’s) in stables across Europe with an endless supply of three, four, and five year olds to break and start. There were tack rooms full of bridles of all sizes. and ONE selection of bit. The loose ring snaffle. No tricks, no gimmicks, no draw reins, and if you couldn’t make that work, you didn’t get to ride. You may have been offered a running martingale if you needed something to hang onto as they bucked and flung themselves across the ring or leapt six feet in the air over a pole on the ground.
I still use a loose ring snaffle, but my go to bit is a plain D-ring snaffle, and for funny shaped mouths I may have an egg butt to offer. Why can’t you use more? Well, you can, but the problem with using more is that it will never become less down the road. What works in my training for young horses is what makes them less resistant for an amateur rider in the future. Most of what I teach a horse is through the leg, not the mouth anyway, so the dependency for severe hardware disappears quickly. If I am preparing for a weaker rider, and that rider really does need more hardware the horse will end up with better obedience for that rider. I do own a pair of draw reins, but I don’t use them to correct a balance issue, because they make a horse fake in the mouth, or heavier in your hands when used too much. A horse has to be really strong or unruly before I pull them out, and more often it is a cold, windy day in February and I am about to venture on a highly anticipated trail ride with lions, tigers, and bears lurking around every which corner. Just kidding, sort of. We don’t have tigers.
Do the transitions.
No one ever believes me when I say this, (not that I care), but it is the number one most effective training technique for your horses, done correctly. There are days I never even get to the canter during a ride, and that is ok! Walking provides an astonishing amount of muscle building alone, but when you add on the walk trot transitions into the program, you set yourself up for more balance in the canter. Leg aides need to be accepted and understood, so if the horse shoots off your leg into the trot too quickly, do ten more transitions until the horse doesn’t shoot off your leg (nicely, not rough). If he won’t go to the trot the first time you ask, get him to a point he responds off the leg better. Don’t use so much hand in a down transition. American riders desperately want control of the mouth and the first instinct of just about every rider I see is to close the hand to stop or slow down. However, it is the riders thighs and legs closing on the horse’s back which tells a horse to slow down, not the mouth, so if you simply communicate to the proper area, you will have a very willing animal to work with. A good trot to walk transition shows absolutely no hand movement whatsoever, and is all performed through the seat of the saddle, sitting gently and squeezing your thighs together with a goal of never having to pull on the reins. If you really want to get a horse broke properly you will do 42 transitions a ride for weeks. And most of them in the walk and trot.
I coaxed Stacey into being the demo for this video, and luckily it shows a lot of different things. It is a minute long, but you can clearly see the first transition the horse hollows out a bit and disengages his hind end, and Stacey slightly falls behind the vertical with her body, but by the end of the video the transitions are drastically improving to where you can see leg acceptance, the hind end stays underneath, and the topline stays in one place.
On day to day riding, I would tell her go to 20 more minutes of those rapid succession transitions until they are perfect. And I would encourage a bigger and bigger trot step as the transitions get better. The harder they push into the transition, the more the muscle develops. The rider should never lean back for a down transition, despite your natural instinct. Fight the instinct! Think of closing your hip and relaxing more, stretching, not bracing and pulling.
This is where the draw reins can hurt. You will be blinded and not know if your horse is listening to your leg or listening to the draw rein. I want the horse to willingly do the transition without lifting its head or dropping the hind end, and the only way to find that consistency is with as little equipment as possible. I never ever tie a horse down with a chambon and expect good results. Actually I would never get on a horse with a chambon. ever. It doesn’t happen perfectly the first day, but one week of good transitions and you will see a difference.
Allow the canter.
This is hard and scary, and really the riders who have spent time at the track are the only ones with an advantage here. Letting go of the canter and letting the horse learn to find its’ balance is a mental and physical demand only a few are very comfortable with. If that’s you, awesome. If not, I feel ya, I had to learn it the hard way. Rodrigo Pessoa made exactly one comment about 30 years ago and it changed my life, thank you Rodrigo. I owe you.He said“take away the resistance and the horse won’t have anything to pull against.” It is true, where is the horse gonna go? Let go, stand up, don’t panic, and stay on a big circle. Don’t do too many laps. The horse will get tired very quickly. You know those first four strides where everything feels great? And then it all goes to shit around the end of the ring and you head down the straightaway like a train out of control and next thing you know you are trotting again? Ya sister, been there. Just try a few transitions on the circle where you keep feeling those first few steps correctly, and gradually four good steps will become five, six or seven. It will get there.
It is like building blocks. If you can perform one halfway decent canter circle where the two of you are not fighting, but communicating well, chances are the next time you ask for that circle your horse will WANT to perform. However, if you create the circle from hell and bully your horse into getting what YOU think feels comfortable, your horse will remember that you were an asshole, and maybe carry that resentment forward. Good luck buddy, you will need it.
Go outside the ring.
Do I really need to explain this? Find a hill. Use it. Yes, even show hunters can do this. There is laziness across the pond, too. Less and less Europeans are riding outside of their perfectly groomed arenas, and hardly any of the horses arriving here understand what a hill is, and watching them learn how to go down a hill the first time can be comical. Ok, I get some parts of the country are flat, but if you aren’t in that part, use the land God gave us. Don’t waste the opportunity while you have it.
ride out of the ring more to find the balance
Trot to Jumping.
For some reason we have this law in our heads that a proper school of a horse is walk/trot/canter each way of the ring before you jump. School horses are programmed. We learned it that way, no one has ever changed it up, and it would be confusing to rock the boat at this point, so no one teaches it any other way. It’s fine, whatever, but when you have a horse with an awkward canter, sometimes it is best to come from a different angle. After 42 walk trot transitions you aren’t likely to be risking injury from an inefficient warm up, trust me. He is warmed up. When horses land off of a jump those first couple of strides are correct and better balanced naturally, because they are thinking of the jump, not the canter. If you repeat a trot jump and set a pole one stride away they correctly can learn what a 12 foot stride is. This is why you see gymnastics.
There is nothing wrong with changing your routine, but do it mildly. Avoid a situation requiring a horse to jump through a grid of 30 cross rails. Absolutely not necessary. Developing a good canter for a hunter can happen with a combination of maximum 3 jumps and a few poles. I have had more horses needing to re learn how to properly trot a jump and miraculously end up with an outstanding canter on the backside, because I made him think about where his body is. I didn’t get in his way, or pull on his face on the landing, and voila! There it is. Pretty soon I could trot into a line and canter out without feeling the wheels fall off underneath me.
Bad canters can often indicate power in the back end, but the horse just isn’t educated enough to know how and when to engage it. They haven’t developed the muscle in the back and the strength in the hocks to support that power, so the result is uncomfortable at best.
Riders should try to manage and improve the canter without interfering with the long term quality of the gait, and keep them sound at the same time.
When you watch this video, you can see this horse doesn’t have the best canter, it is not the worst! But I have seen better, and what I like about this sequence is that you can actually see the horse processing the questions and thinking about how to change its balance. Will the canter improve? I would think it should significantly with repeating these types of exercises.
Maybe the only thing I would add to this is exercise is a cavalletti in the corner, after the line, to introduce a lead change, hereby preventing too many abrupt corners and having to halt on a straight line every time. It is lovely when you feel a horse turn the corner smoothly, especially when they haven’t been able to do so in the past.
Does age make a difference?
YES age does matter! In Dressage, classically trained horses are taught for up to 6 years to go forward. 6 YEARS. Collection does not begin until their hocks and knees are closed and growing is complete. 4 and 5 year old horses can have really awkward growth spurts putting their system way out of whack for a time, especially smaller ones, and what we demand out of young hunters in the show ring is a bit harsh in reality, when you think about it. However, we, as a society, have sort of shoved off the concerns by using excuses like well, you know, 2’6” or 3’ is not that demanding compared to a Grand Prix horse. Well, ok, whatever, it is our culture to behave this way, but true engagement of the hocks shouldn’t really be burdened on a 4 or 5 year old, unless you don’t care whether it passes a vet check down the road when it is finally ready to be sold. I am not a huge fan of being on the backs of 3 year olds and jumping them, but again, it depends on the horseman, and depends on the horse.
Most trainers have to do what is right for them, but I do appreciate our lack of available resources for young professionals and young horses in the hunter world, and strive to encourage good development of both, not just look for the easy way to make a buck. If you really are prepared to take on young horses, do it with help, do it with time, and do it correctly. Your peers will respect you more for it. I assure you.
There was a session at the 2019 US Equestrian meeting which I felt warranted an article of its own.
It is the Fundamental group of competing horse owners across this country who are being pushed out of sanctioned horse showing based on the rising costs of an interfering Federation with predatory characteristics and strict (some say over) regulation. This is the simple explanation of an evolution of hunter jumper horse showing across the nation, in my eyes.
In many places across the country you have actually already left, gone, vamoose, and you are not looking back….
Where are you going?
Many of you are re-discovering the Thoroughbred. The wildly successful TB circuits are filling the gap at an accelerated pace simply by offering affordable showing costs, limited divisions and rules, and little to no overhead. I hear it everywhere, I am asked lately (well, more and more) to find my clients Thoroughbreds, a request I never thought my business would ever in a million years hear or experience again. Horse trading Thoroughbreds is still far from easy (because Americans are trying to recollect how to actually ride a thoroughbred), but the challenge has been accepted, and wow, a lot of you are in the game again. I experienced personally the mania last year in TIP shows, witnessed the Take2 TB classes, saw the checks rolling out to year end award recipients, and watched in awe almost the entire Retired Racehorse Project. It is all beyond impressive. The RRP grew so fast, in fact, the organization was forced to increase the application fee to accommodate the growing interest and also added a whole new day to the schedule to better serve exhibitors. What a great problem to have for Thoroughbreds…
You weighed in on your experience and left sanctioned showing behind and your wallet is heavier because of it.
If you are a fundamental rider who still has a warmblood, you also have made a financial decision to limit the amount of showing on the A circuit to accommodate an actual budget. So maybe you spend 3 weeks of showing in Florida for the experience, but that prevents you from showing for the next three months after February. Which is fine! You get to show in Florida!! …..in the sunshine!!! Yay you!! Go you!!
I think I have point in here somewhere…..
I guess I am watching both the USHJA and USEF evolve as well, but in oddly opposite directions. And in their own evolution, they are putting some heavy focus on recruiting new members, and one way to find them is through the affiliate organizations. The need for money coming into the organizations is exceptionally high right now, so these fundamental competitors are tasked with financing all of the other levels which cost a gross amount of funding. Exorbitant amounts of bonuses are paid to riders and horses at the very top of the USEF pyramid, for example. Ironically, these are often the wealthiest of the riders we have in America. What do they need the bonuses for? More fancy equipment? I am pretty sure the top 1% already has a support system to buy whatever they need, so the thought of the Federation writing a check to top tier riders because they were chosen to represent our team sorta makes me cringe. That money can be used better, in my naive and and cynical mind.
What else are you doing?
Choosing your schedule differently? Choosing your horse purchases differently? What has more meaning to you? A year end award/class or championship? Or convenience of showing close to home? Zone 3 has a healthy and robust non-sanctioned show circuit which I have repeatedly asked other Zones or states to follow, study and see if it is a formula which might work in their own area. The burgeoning unrecognized shows are not shrinking away in areas with intelligent, motivated people who have figured out how to run a mildly decent horse show. Some are better than others. Some you may have to bring your own food or contribute to a potluck lunch table. Some you have to pack your horse’s water. (you should do this anyway, but, oddly enough along the way, many people forgot this basic necessity)
From a typical East Coast Fundamental mom :
Our Goals with showing
Cultivating a Love of Horses
With Some Luck, a ribbon.
Local End of Year Awards (if we get super lucky)
Give a Young Horse some positive mileage
My son, 8 years old, is in his 6th year of showing at unrecognized shows, with the exception of Devon (once- won lead line in 2015), Upperville and Warrenton (again Lead line). He is a member of VHSA and the Battlefield Horse Show Association.
Right now, we solely do unrecognized shows in Short Stirrup and Pony Pleasure. We can do 3 divisions for $135 total. Up to this point, he has been uncompetitive in SS because he doesn’t know his diagonals and he is a laid back boy who is a loose goose in the saddle. My goal for him is just to gain experience and gain a love of the sport. As much as I love showing at the bigger shows, there is no need for me to spend the money when he is not competitive yet. I also have a non-horsey husband. He likes the shows, but if we were constantly gone for multiple days and spending lots of money, he may balk. I’m trying to ease him into things!
I had a young horse prospect 2 years ago that I started showing locally and she gained some useful mileage before being sold as a pre-green horse.
We ride with a number of other kids who solely do unrecognized shows. Their goal, in addition to improving their riding and horses, is to show at the VHSA Assoc. Finals in Nov. To show at that show, one must do 5 VHSA Associate Shows. From what I see, their parents are not horse people but support their kids in achieving this goal. But, I did hear complaints about the long days when we showed at the VHSA Assoc Show this year. They are not used to the long days or lack of scheduling (ie. hurry up and wait)
I really feel that people doing the one day shows are not looking to get USEF/USHJA points. Instead, the VHSA Associate Show proves that people want to have a “bigger” show experience (there were 60 Short Stirrup rides, and over 100 14&U Eq on the Flat riders!) Doing well at these bigger shows means more than the end of the year awards.
I preface this by saying I am not really familiar with the Stirrup Cup or the Outreach Shows. (Maybe these are what I am suggesting) Perhaps the USEF could cultivate the “middle” tier of riders by setting a goal that is not point driven. Chasing points does nothing to encourage these folks to show. Why not require AA show management to have a ring dedicated to opportunity classes or make Sunday a day for opportunity classes. That way trainers could bring all of their people to the same show, and other trainers may introduce their riders to shows that otherwise they would not know about. People could also watch the rated divisions and perhaps develop new goals. I live in Culpeper and many of the kids we ride with have never stepped foot on the HITS show grounds. Additionally, the fees should be lower/non-existent and this should pertain to show management/office/grounds fees. (I’m amazed how my stall at VHSA Finals was half of what it is at a AA show) The “opportunity divisions” fit this bill but are RARELY offered.
That’s all for now. In summary– we want a good show experience but are not looking for year end awards or points. We know that we need to step up for that level.
Courtney Frankhouser Myers
Isn’t interesting she didn’t even know about the Outreach Program?
Why does everyone always assume people don’t go to horse shows unless they are qualifying for some unknown variable? I can’t wrap my head around this logic. There are loads of people showing who don’t give a crap about receiving an award, but our institutions REFUSE to listen to that piece of it, so we create and create and create, only to wonder why no one is signing up for our creations. It is so dumb. Not everyone wins at the RRP or a TIP show, but the experience of competing at the Kentucky Horse Park is amazing!!
There are two kinds of people out there, people who like to show when they can show and people who show with a goal of a championship on their minds. The advantage comes from knowing how to please both people.
It used to be people could stomach signing up for a Federation and Affiliate membership in order to show at just one competition, because the fun of showing at a fancy show one time was just alluring enough to justify the extra expense. Those days are long gone! You try to convince someone these days? You are met with a look of jest followed by a litany of ‘over my dead body’ remarks. Why? Because the options are out there. Hunt Clubs solved this problem ages ago by offering varying types of memberships depending on how often you hunted. Hunt less than 6 times? No problem! Here’s a membership plan for you…. Got the bug now?? okey dokey, full membership for you!….Currently, we don’t have that option, but it would be nice if we did, and for once it would be nice if a Federation stayed current on the needs of the majority of members.
licensed officials struggling to find work
At the USHJA meeting I ran into a few people frustrated with the lack of available work for newly licensed judges with a small ‘r’. Managers tend to re-hire the same judges year after year, and breaking into that old world club is met with an insane level of difficulty and closed doors until those judges decide to retire. In the past the ‘r’ judge gained a tremendous amount of experience through one day horse shows which eventually led to bigger and better paying judging jobs down the road. However, with the sudden extinction of these B and C (or Regional I and II) shows in some areas, they simply cannot be hired because the work is no longer there. Many ‘r’ judges are amateurs who actually have other full time jobs. Some are not amateurs and have spent a great deal of time and money to become licensed, but lack the initial network to help them get started.
Is there a solution?
I have found that convincing a show manager to run a single day recognized horse show is met with much resistance. The costs to the Federations alone are staggering and it is nearly to impossible to run a single day show at profit. The risk is too great.I think incentives are needed for those one day shows, and the cost to the Federation needs to be greatly reduced, or some sort of short term (two year) incentive plan put into place. Say you have a viable facility and an ambitious show manager, could you not offer a package, say offering a series of 4-6 shows through the calendar year but you get to run a bonus show with no costs to the Federation? Or only pay the Federation if the show runs at a profit? Single day horse shows cannot run at a loss, period. You don’t need a business degree to see how that will not work with a show manager. I guess we have to take in the solution of the Outreach Program and hope it spreads fast enough across the country to keep the door open to riders and trainers showing primarily on a local circuit. Many show managers feel the Outreach classes are what is saving their horses shows all together, otherwise they would be running completely in the red. https://www.ushja.org/competition/outreach
Do you think offering an equal balance of points for any division up to the 3’6” height is fair? Or did we screw up by slashing points when you didn’t show at a premiere or national show even though the competition is basically the same. An adult amateur is an adult amateur is an adult amateur. So why should you get more points just because you prefer to write bigger checks and show at fancier places? Personally, I don’t see why any adult or children’s hunter should be on a different point scale when you all are the same level riding ability but maybe that is just me. Someone along the way (probably a show manager) saw more logic in awarding more points for higher rated shows, despite the competitors being the same competitors. I don’t know. I think maybe the point scale should be the same across the board, no matter how big or how little you write a check for your entry fees. Maybe this is why I found the Child/Adult Hunter Championships so fun, because alllevels of adult amateurs and children’s hunter riders were represented and enjoyed the experience.
Bringing back hunter breeding to one day shows…Actually, I got nothing here. I am sympathetic to the hunter breeding competitors, but even if any of us has a good idea how to breathe life into that division, we would be met with resistance. Just because. If you all want to show at one day shows speak up. And keep speaking up. In my eyes I see it easier to bring babies to a one day horse show, and having a little hunter breeding chaos at the end of the day would be fun I think. Do you want the Hunter Breeding to be on a Zone level or National level? Do you want to see hunter breeding at Zone Finals?
Preserving the land and whose shoulders would that fall on? Rapidly disappearing land is no secret in some parts of the country and someone brought up the fact that maybe the USEF should start helping preserve land our venues sit on, rather than milk the venues to fill up their pocketbook. This is actually a really good idea, and would be a nice gesture to a Federation who acts like Godzilla half the time. After all, what is the point of sanctioned horse shows, if there are no venues to show out of? Smaller show organizations cannot fight the land loss alone, so if USEF did a little ‘outreach’ of its own, it would restore a little faith in the members.
I think it is funny to watch the organizations chase their tails so much. The entire country shifts and changes and moves away from what those organizations set up and it takesyearsto cycle back. No one wants to stay ahead of the curve, and the slow process to implement legislation doesn’t help either. It is a shame, there was so much potential to roll with the tide, but we somehow lacked the foresight to actually ride the biggest wave to shore….
Someone told me this week during the annual meeting we might need a few more people really willing to fight for the programs we love within the USHJA. I agree, you need to really fight for what you want. At least for the time being. The two organizations go hand in hand, but membership involvement is clearly not as welcome in USEF as it is in USHJA.
I’ll continue to share the heck out of the USHJA programs, I’ll get behind the ones I like, and insist on changing the ones I don’t like, and I’ll explain to YOU what makes them good programs so when YOU are ready, they are there for you. I am going be an activist in my own way, not in a control freak kind of way. I am not going to collect any more data, I already pay close attention to the markets, and I already see what is happening out there, but I do want to hear about how people prioritize their competition lifestyles.
I don’t think either the USHJA or USEF will ever get ahead of the competition world and as we watch other turmoils start to unfold in front of us, I wonder if they will eventually end up paying the ultimate price. I hope not, our livelihoods do depend on their success.
Every year, at the US Equestrian Annual Meeting, we are bombarded with glorious presentations, pie charts, other graphs, and video montages, which all are fine and dandy, and it is lovely to feel like our Federation is moving forward, but some of us come to these meetings to actually learn, ask questions and get a feel for the people in charge and decide whether or not they really are working for us, or following a completely different agenda, only known to themselves.
For some reason, there always seems like a disconnect, but I don’t know. In Murray Kessler’s annual State of the Union, he said ‘people don’t understand’ approximately 42 times. I picked up on it, why? Because it is an easy cop out. If we don’t understand, then maybe you aren’t doing your job, buddy. Don’t tell me I don’t understand, it is an insult on the lowest level. I think most of us are understanding more than you think, so drawing a line in the sand isn’t going to help us here. It might seem like we don’t understand because we may not care as much as you do, but seriously….. I understand.
The Federation is currently very healthy, giving away a bunch of free fan memberships this year has boosted overall numbers and attracted sponsors. Yay. Slightly misleading, yet powerful in the remarks about gaining more ground across the board with horse sports. The USEF Network will be everywhere, and the gaps left by NBC Sports not taking up television coverage will be filled with our own network, so get used to loads more USEF Network programming.
He also brought up an opportunity which sickened my stomach, but maybe the AQHA people feel differently, now that the FEI has broken up with Reiners. I would certainly hope the AQHA won’t have to fall under the USEF umbrella, but it sounds like negotiating has already begun, unless this is a pipe dream he wanted to express out loud for the first time, and is salivating at the idea of gaining 200,000 new members ….ugh. Can you imagine? Poor AQHA members, having to sell your souls in order to return to the world stage again. How awful for you all. You have my sympathies.
You gotta give him credit, however, because Murray is ridiculously unwavering in his commitment to achieve his goals. You cannot mistake where he intends to bring this organization, and whether you like it or not, it is going there. His Strategic Plan is in full swing, and all the tea in China cannot stop him now. The budget is under control, no one is embezzling any monetary funds, and the Federation seems to flourish with his iron fisted tactics. No one has the time to be lazy in that office, that’s for sure. He expects results, and staff is producing results. Kudos to people who answer directly to him. He is not exactly a ‘people’ person, he seems to not understand how to talk with someone, only at them, and it comes off as aggressive and well, alarmingly crazy if he is angry.No one can accuse him of micro managing, however, and he expects the lowest level of governing committees to make the decisions to move forward rather than wait for issues to land on the desk of the Board of Directors. It is a completely different feeling than the governance within the USHJA.
The Drugs and Medication update is fairly simple. We are lucky enough to be able to outsource the drug testing to University of Kentucky and are currently setting up a new relationship with the new Lab Director there, so our future drug tests will not be overseen solely by Stephen Schumacher, thank the Lord. Also, it will eventually be an institution you will be able to have your own supplements tested, which is good. Pergolide users, as of last month you may fill out a Therapeutic Use Exemption and not disrupt your medication use for Cushings horses. You do have to prove your horse actually has Cushings, but it does alleviate the anxiety somewhat surrounding Pergolide. Never heard any follow up discussion on Depo. https://www.usef.org/media/press-releases/usef-announces-new-therapeutic-use-exemption
The affiliate meeting was probably the most contentious meeting, but the general public was closed out on it, so we missed the good stuff. Several breeds and disciplines are re-evaluating their relationship with the USEF and we all wanted to see the blood bath unfold, but were sadly disappointed. After two hours of negotiating, we were finally invited back to the room for an update, where everyone was calm, cool, and collected, and discussions on how to move forward as a group and save on bulk items such as printer ink and paper were being discussed. Also, group insurance to protect against the cancelation of competitions was requested. Alright. Well, the USEF really needs to hold to hold on to those affiliates, and vice versa, otherwise too great a financial loss will occur and we wouldn’t want a bankruptcy situation on our hands, now would we? USEF printed an official update here : https://www.usef.org/media/press-releases/consensus-emerges-from-affiliate-roundtable?fbclid=IwAR1cuhy4JhNAVhdmafs2cFM2CXDeEZqjqae0pM0Blfi0KynxFwXBCF7nd1Q
Safe Sport is still the front running topic. I swear sometimes I am more confused by the information the lawyers are telling us than what we learn on our own. I tried to point out we are all very nervous about the unknown more than being in compliance, as we are hearing more and more stories of the incompetence of the Safe Sport Center and the handling of cases. Sometimes I hear only 4 cases have been over turned, some say 13 cases, some say less than .5% of cases. Most cases haven’t been resolved and are waiting for further arbitration. I have news for you, that very first case which was overturned was the trigger to prey on our fears of false accusations. Sonja Keating swears that USEF is trying to work with SS in order to align due process more into what we have been afforded in the past as members of a riding club, so we really need to believe she is pushing back to protect us. For now I really want to believe her, but there is a lot more work to be done to get SS to stop effing things up.
We also have to admit there are a lot of unstable people out there not really understanding what makes a viable complaint worth reporting to the SS Center.
Murray admitted there were 25k-30k non-compliant exhibitors but he wasn’t going to sweat it, because only 16k exhibitors show in the first couple of months of the year, but wow, it seems like a staggering amount of people to still persuade to take the training. Double yikes.
If you are wondering about taking the training every year, we learned that the update is short, and once you take the initial training, you will only have to take 15 minute refresher test each year to stay compliant. This had never been explained before, so it was nice to hear, but left me wondering about what other information is being held back from us….
The more I thought about it however, the more I was intrigued by Murray’s insistence on USEF being the leading organization to fully comply with the USOC. See, Murray doesn’t like not being in control, or told what to do, so what are the advantages to having his organization be the first to have 100% of its members compliant? Will he use that as a way to wield an axe against Safe Sport? Is that even a thing? Is he using our compliance to negotiate with the SS investigators? I can see him or Sonja sitting there in a SS arbitration, saying look,we have complied fully, our members have complied, you all messed up this many times, and from here on out, we are going to ask you change your protocols so people don’t feel they are being nailed to a cross from day one. I know it is a stretch, but……can you see it?
Safe Sport is disappointing, there are loads of stories all over the country describing people suffering from false accusations, so we know it does happen, you really do not have due process to even know who is filing a complaint against you, the arbitration is whack, and the turnover of leadership within the actual SS Center is alarming. But until someone convinces Congress to axe the program, we are stuck with it. Obviously it is your choice if you choose to revoke your membership or use a show pass (until those are rendered extinct), but I don’t see where we can fix it through the USEF. yet..
The meetings were staged accordingly throughout the week. I was constantly wondering why the volume was up so loud in the main ballrooms for presentations (to keep us from talking to each other) and there always seemed to be a limited amount of time following each meeting open for public forum (15 minutes) or debate. This frustrated me to no end and was very calculated. I am sure they get tired of hearing us whine all the time, but too bad. Part of a good organization is to listen to the actual members. Meetings with panelists were dry and humorless, and, with the exception of the Golf Guy, I fought to stay awake. (Watch the Power of Media and Membership Part I starting at minute 13) I would recommend a voice coach to come in and teach everyone to move away from a monotone delivery when on stage, I mean seriously, we are freezing to death in these seats, at least make us laugh to keep us a little warmer. One thing the Golf Guy mentioned I found curious, the PGA Tour owns USA Golf…
From the PGA Tour, talented and engaging guest speaker Preston McClellan.
I really, really wanted to see the Endurance committee meeting, but even after their first three hours of closed door discussion, they refused to allow us in for the last hour, so I have NO idea how endurance competition is being discussed and am really disappointed.
I did see a little of the old adage ‘they do what they want anyway’ occurring… I feel for people who have worked hard on both sides of the new Licensing Officials Plan. In order to simplify the process for licensing officials, a new plan has been in the works all year. Most people were ok with the overhaul until the issue of confidentiality arose. From now on, there will no longer be confidential evaluations offered to those who learner judge along side an ‘R’ judge. I didn’t see anyone stand up for these opposing voices at the USEF meeting. Maybe it was voiced behind closed doors. No idea. This may or may not change the dynamics of learner judging but we won’t see the repercussions for quite some time. For years, the confidential evaluation forms allowed the person filling them out to give an honest assessment of whether or not he/she felt the learner judge was capable of earning a license. In a world of unstable people, will knowing what your mentor said about you cause you to be offended and retaliate? Hope not, but like I said, the world is full of unstable people.
Many sessions are available online. They are using their own resources to do what you have demanded, so I urge you to go watch a few sessions and educate yourself. Maybe you will come out with a different perspective than me. Maybe you will have better ideas than me. Maybe you will see a solution where I could not, and be willing to stick your neck out for what you truly believe in. Maybe next year Murray won’t have to say ‘you don’t understand’ in as many places in his speech.
It was with great reluctance I chose to attend this years 2018 USHJA Annual Meeting in Tampa. I was so reluctant, I didn’t buy plane tickets, because even at the last minute I had to force myself to go. Leading up to it, I told everyone I was dreading it this year, the long days, long week, and incessant vocabulary lessons….. which words will 88% of the horse crazy population understand? What order to put them in? And how can we make this rule slightly less vague than a Sumo wrestler on the 4th of July? gahhhhh.
Even worse, a couple of months ago I took a really hard blow when Tom Brennan (on the USHJA BOD) called me early one morning to tell me he was stepping back from all duties within the USHJA to focus on his business and family. I was speechless. I had already declined my own invitation to the BOD (still not even sure who put my name up), and tried to process what he was saying to me, as I stood in a field and watched as water spilled over the lip of a trough I had been filling and run off into the pasture. I just let it run. I eventually found a voice to say “no, no you can’t leave, that’s not funny, you are WAY too needed, this is what you have been excelling at for the last few years, your attention to detail is sick, and the reason I took an interest in the first place! I have totally depended on your guidance….” (not that it should be about me) but he cut the call short, wished me luck, reminded me to read the by-laws if I was ever going to be serious about governance and hung up. I stared at my phone, stared at the overflowing trough, sighed, and walked over to turn the water off… I will never forget that morning. I felt ill.
Tom Brennan might be the best analysist we have
I was so busy this fall, I basically squeezed a year’s worth of travel in the last three months before Christmas, and honestly, rule change proposals were so far from my mind after they originally came out, I was hoping my brain would deflate just long enough to allow some of that crap to sift back in and remind me what we were supposed to be talking about.
Instead of flying, I used the long drive to Florida to clear my mind of Russians and horse dealers, and instead concentrate on Zone specs and educational programs.
Sunday afternoon, hardly remembering how I got there, and following wicked rains and tornado warnings, I found myself walking through the doors of the Hilton hotel in downtown Tampa.
Our swag at registration included a giant orange beach bag filled with brochures, a few treasured pens, a calendar, instructions to download the meeting app, and sticky notes. Super, more sticky notes.
Zone education was up first, where we were listening to various Zone stories from around the country, complaints, more complaints, meanwhile being encouraged to give ideas to improve communication so more people understand who we are, what we do, etc, etc. People wanted shows to post signs which pointed out which exhibitors were there who were also Zone committee members. I rolled my eyes.
Shit, I thought, I am only here one hour and my eyes! my eyes!
Look, we have two early responsibilities as competing exhibitors. The first one (after you figure out which Zone you actually live in) is to properly identify your Zone Committee members. The second one is, IF you are a Zone Committee member, you need to broadcast that shit all over the place until people start to recognize you. Do NOT sit around and expect the shows or the USHJA to do your job. You signed up, and yes it is a sucky job sometimes, but please, for the love of all things poopy, I do NOT want to sit through one more meeting and listen to people who have NEVER even mentioned on Facebook that they are a Zone Committee member. Everyone has to get to the meeting each year, it is not a position you use on your resume and then do nothing, you have to work, create avenues for change, and organize Zone crap, which I love to do (don’t get me wrong), you have to be strong willed when you don’t want to be, and not let the chair person intimidate and bully you (which can happen, trust me) and you have to smile whenever an exhibitor mistakes you for a steward, and help them solve whatever it is they need solving. (YES, I am capable of smiling) THEN, you have to sort through materials for phone calls, and try to remember which rules apply to which organization. No one is perfect, I get that, but next year at the Zone Committee meeting I want to hear ALL about the cool shit, not the boring stuff, to get my week in gear. No offense.
By the way, I am currently a ZONE 3 COMMITTEE MEMBER. HI! HOW ARE YOU! bless you.
More instruction was given to us on how to ‘go after’ affiliate organizations. This frustrated me because I personally think we should leave state and affiliate show organizations alone, at least until the image of the USHJA improves. A lot. The local affiliates are local and and cheap for a reason. Swooning local state organizations with promises of grant money for their banquets might work in some areas, but certainly not in mine. I am aware of the movement to encourage the strength of the lower end of the pyramid, but there are other ways. Offering a 2’6” height in our Thoroughbred division for one… maybe.
I met up with Brooke Kemper and Kimmy Risser following the first intro meeting, and we gathered our giant orange bags and luggage, and headed off to our apartment a few minutes from the hotel. Thank the Lord for AirBNB. Just recently Brooke had been nominated for the BOD, Kimmy was on the Hunter Breeding Committee, and we mused about governance in our busy lives and how it was so tricky and time consuming, but at least we were all together. I wondered if Tom would be there and tried to remember the last time we spoke. He had called me a few hours after I landed from Russia to hear about my trip, but mostly I think he was just making sure I hadn’t been kidnapped or mugged (the latter not uncommon with me) and I had asked if we would see each other in Tampa for the meeting, but he hadn’t decided then, so, trying not to sound disappointed, we wished each other a good holiday just in case. I never had time to follow up so it was anyone’s guess if he would arrive in Florida.
MONDAY. 7:30 am…The big yellow book. Now, there weren’t too many controversial issues this year, as in years past, so there were only three or four topics I had any feeling for, but the point of these meetings is to offer perspectives and remind the room in general to make sure everyone is comfortable with the language of each proposal so we aren’t going back and making modifications when we didn’t get the language right the first time.
Sounds fun, no?
I think I first questioned the cell phone rule, and reminded people ring staff calls us to tell us how many trips before we show…which led to a flurry of discussion. This does not mean I am for or against, by the way, before you lynch me, I just like to see both sides.
Brooke brings questions to the table.
I am not a fan of the Regional I and Regional II shows needing a certified Course Designer, but luckily someone else was at the microphone before I could stand up, so I let her have the floor. She shared my view.
Reversing nomenclature for Pre Greens/Green Hunter brought some passionate responses. Points were made about the length of time for people to get used to the change and also losing Kimmy’s new favorite word, (lol, jk)“Tradition”.
A horse welfare rule was being introduced to the Equitation section –again murmurs on language; pony/horse shoe pulling was dismissed without discussion, having already been clearly disapproved from all committees, as was the bridle rule (Melanie Ferrio-Wise may carry on riding bridleless), no draw reins, martingales permitted in age restricted classes, so on and so forth. Then we get to the color of the coat….
I am gonna save more for later, because there is more for later, but the initial reaction of the room was priceless. So. Many. Groans. I did not stand up. I sat in my seat and watched closely as people grappled with how to deal with the one thing no one wanted to deal with. The damn color of a coat. I think everyone aged five years in that moment. When this current rule went into effect years ago, it was to offer clarification on what would be allowed to show riders with what was available at that time, when apparently loads of people were wearing plaid and pinstripes, linen and so forth, and someone finally had enough and was like, hey! we need a rule.
Several decades later, we apparently have hit an impasse. After what seemed like a gross amount of time, we were reminded the committees would have a chance to address this later, Kimmy told me this was all my fault (again), and moved on to more important topics like Amateur Owners versus Amateurs, Competition standards (UGHHHH),Measurement surfaces (no plywood please and thank you), Ambulances, paramedics, and a myriad of other topics to be discussed throughout the week. The debriefing took several hours but we got through it. Yay.
In the afternoon I attended the Young Hunter Round Table with Kimmy and we enthusiastically contributed our ideas on how to make it work better for our members. I was happy to see Tom Brennan at the table for the discussion, along with Geoff Teall. Kimmy and I were, honestly, both a bit surprised there was even a question as to why the Young Hunter division has not taken off on the East Coast compared to California, and tried not to be too snarky (me, I mean, I am the only snarky one) as we pointed out some MAJOR flaws for what is happening here. No prize money, no finals, no reduced entry fee, not too many shows even offering it, (hello Harrisburg for a final?) no conformation consideration, needed height modification, etc. etc. etc. In her brilliance, Kimmy suggested adding a Young Hunter Championship or Finals (or whatever) to the Sallie B. Wheeler Finals.We patted ourselves on the backs and moved on.
Round table questions
Later that evening, we hit the bar for a glass of wine before moving on to the welcome party, we attempted to mingle (sort of), and I made myself known to David Distler, because I had never done so before, and mentioned I would be on yet another committee for Zone 3 Finals. He was very courteous, but probably wishing someone would come save him. We chatted with a few of the USHJA employees, because at this point we had worked with these girls a LOT, and it was fun to see them off the clock, and catch up on their lives. I always make a point to give the girls who work in the office a lot of credit for putting up with us, horse people are nuts, and they deal with people with grievances on a regular basis, so it is nice when you can take a moment and let them know how much we appreciate the work.
TUESDAY. 7:30 am. State of the Union. Mary Babick. Pretty much full house. The three of us sat up front and were joined by Terry Young from Virginia, whom I have grown to really appreciate her dedication. She asks really good questions, and puts a lot of thought into what is happening. We watched a slide presentation and videos of the success of the USHJA and the programs offered through the organization…. EAP, HQC, TCP, Jumper stuff, team stuff, pie charts, graphs, statistics, more graphs, more statistics. Oh wait, another graph. Occasionally, I played solitaire on my kindle. I thought about stuff…..
The presentation finally ended and Mary opened up the floor for a Town Hall. I looked behind me at the couple hundred people in the room. many of them looked at me. Geesh. I stood up for my first question…. I asked her to go back to the pie chart and point out where the money from the Foundation was included and which slice of pie was designated to include it. I think she said Competitive Programs, since money coming through the Foundation was targeted for these programs. hmm, ok. She brought up the Gochman grant which is specifically for Pony Finals so I asked if Pony Finals was a USEF Championship, not a USHJA program and she said yes. So the Gochman Grant comes through the USHJA Foundation, but goes to a USEF event. Seems weird to me, but maybe it makes sense to someone else. I don’t even know and I am not sure if I care, but something in my head triggered the question, so I asked. I sat down and felt a tap on my shoulder.
I am pretty sure this was John Bahret’s exact expression when I was at the microphone.
I turned around to John Bahret, seated behind me who offered to clarify my questions later. Good idea, I thought, and said “I would love that.”
A couple of people asked various questions, but nothing dramatic, just clarifying parts of the presentation and what not.Pretty soon there were crickets. Why is everyone so QUIET?? Isn’t this a Town Hall? I was expecting a line at the microphone. There is usually a line. When did we all become so content? I must have missed something, I don’t know.
I stood up again.
Every time I stand up I start sweating, the room always feels hot, and I feel like a dork. I do it anyway, but it never gets easier. I hate it. I hate people looking at me, I hate how my voice sounds, I am sure my hair is a mess, and despite the last couple of years of practice, it does not get any easier for me. I know there are several haters in the room, obviously, (most likely from HITS) but this a chance to have the conversation. Not in the halls, not in the car, on the phone, not in the bathroom. This is it. I feel like there is one recent development which I really, really was hoping someone else would bring to the microphone….
In the last week or two, there has been wild activity on the internet concerning about five or six breeds and disciplines looking to their relationship with USEF. Another blogger has produced several articles criticizing the USOC, Safe Sport, among other things and seems keen on a possible separation from the Federation. The Arabian Horse Association is starting to study the relationship with USEF and consider options, which they probably can’t help. When your members decide to ignore sanctioned showing, refuse to renew their dues and seek shows locally, you kind of can’t operate. There are far less Arabian exhibitors than Hunter/Jumper exhibitors, so a mass exodus is a very good reason for concern. So, I asked. How does it affect us if half a dozen other breed disciplines leave USEF? What do we tell our membership? Will are dues be affected with the financial loss of that many people? If the USHJA is so connected with USEF, then we should have a right to understand the activity and expect our leadership to get ahead of this curve and offer some guidance, so when we ask our customers to sign up each year, they don’t pester us with WHY CANT WE LEAVE USEF, TOO?? Mary answered, but seemed to steer the answer back to Safe Sport and the value of the SS in our lives, but that didn’t please me, (naturally), so I said please answer the first question, to which she looked for Glenn Petty to step up to the microphone. Bill Moroney was right behind him. Glenn assured us it was ONLY a preliminary study to determine the relationship with the two organizations, which would be complete in August of 2019. And Bill Moroney said to not believe everything you read on the internet…..
The first of the smaller meetings.
Scheduling is a bitch. You are constantly trying to be in two or five places at once. You get a few minutes in one room, but have to leave to catch another meeting down the hall. The basic yellow book of proposals was furiously being discussed everywhere, but also each educational program had a meeting to discuss improvements. Like the TCP. On one of the crazy charts in the SOTU address, it was pointed out of the 7500 professionals listed in USHJA, only 500 had attempted to finish their TCP training. That program has never sat well with me. I hardly teach anymore, so I am expected to be certified to show horses instead? I show just fine, I don’t really need a certification for showing horses, and now that ‘mandatory’ is being intensely thrown around I am imagining being certified equally with anyone who gives himself an alias of a superhero or ties their horse up in a stall without water for 6 hours just so an adult lady can jump the cross rail division? I didn’t make any new friends in that meeting, and look, I am not opposed to certification, but not through a show association. It needs to be through Pony Club. Especially with teaching. Have the TCP go through Pony Club and as both organizations. For pete’s sake.
Competition Management meeting had forty five thousand pages of rewrites to review. Skip. I walk into a Young Jumper task Force and was the only one in the room besides a few people at the table. They were musing how to adopt Andrew Philbrick’s Hunter Farms format for Young Jumpers. Good idea, that should work, Next. Break. Candy. Walk around the building twice. Competition Standards again. Okkkkkkkkk already.My brain was imploding. The maroon coat was still on the table looking for a solution. Time was running out, still no solution. I racked my brain, trying to think of ways to rewrite the language, but nothing was coming up….yet.
We broke up for dinner, Kimmy scowled at us because Brooke and I hadn’t purchased fancy Awards dinner tickets so we were going to have to split up. But as I drove Kimmy back the hotel for the party and picked up Brooke, I pinky promised we would sneak back in for the After Party.
Just kidding, we don’t pinky promise.
But we did return for the After Party, and I forced them both to hit the dance floor with me so I wouldn’t be the only one showing off my outrageous dance moves, we dressed up in silly hats for the photo booth and begged some of the USHJA girls to come join us for some much needed stress relief. They had all been prevented from attending the banquet from their boss, which infuriated me, so Kimmy and I were super keen to get them into the After Party. It was cute, they didn’t last long, probably fear of being caught, but they put on some Santa hats and got their photos taken, then hurried away back to the coat room. Why on earth were the hardest working people in the building being prevented from having a tiny bit of fun with us? Seemed so wrong. It worries me.
Brooke, me and Kimmy at the After Party
In the last few months, there has been an alarming amount of turnover inside of the USHJA with nearly half a dozen girls quitting recently, and all I keep thinking is WHY? Why, why why? We need them so badly, they work very, very hard. One transferred to the USEF and is flourishing tremendously, even heading the licensed officials meeting where she has spent months hashing out an easier option to get more officials licensed on an easier to understand platform. Once she nails down the confidentiality crisis, she will have a very good product to bring back to us. Her passion for it is really inspiring. But is makes me very, very sad. In some dark corner of my head the one pestering thought is that damned anonymous letter. Whatever happened to the anonymous letter? Was the situation ever handled? We never heard another published word about it, but I cannot remove it from my head. Someone had to write it for a reason, otherwise, why bother? Maybe it was swept under the rug, maybe he went to some sort of employee training, but if we have to watch his picture get taken with every horse receiving an award at Derby Finals, then I want to know these girls are safe. Seems fair to me.
RETRACTION: I have been instructed by the USHJA President that this is not fact, and to offer a correction. The girls were indeed permitted to attend the party if they wanted. My apologies for the confusion.
Wednesday. Breakfast with a headache.
Well, that’s how it goes, sometimes. The first meeting was a joint Hunter/Jumper Working group meeting, and here we reeeeeeally needed an answer on the maroon coat. We had 24 hours left. We were still looking for the RIGHT language for this rule to prevent people from being eliminated for the color of a coat, meanwhile please the ’traditionalists’, and make a tiny allowance for the coat to appear without the fear of it showing up in Derby Finals with Liza Boyd. (when pigs fly)
By this point no one gives two shits what the color is, what we REALLY need is for HALF of the COUNTRY to STOP flooding the USEF and USHJA offices with calls and hate emails about being eliminated from the show ring because a steward is really taking the rule too literally, or IS MY MAROON COAT LEGAL???? In reality, the furthest thought from most judges minds is the color of the show coat, and every single judge in attendance (INCLUDING LINDA ANDRISANI BY THE WAY) was insisting they were looking at the horse when it walked into the ring. If you are a judge and disagree, but you were not in Tampa, sorry I can’t help you. Sorry, not sorry? Unbelievably, this was harder than you think. Kelsey (from USEF) was determined to get the line of ‘you cannot be eliminated’ into the wording, but dark muted colors also needed to get in there. Every time someone named specific colors, someone else threw out an example of a different color. Holy shit, what the literal phuck.
Linda whenever we had to address the maroon coat. jk
I went for a walk and tried to tackle it myself.
The best I could come upwith is a modern ‘sounding’ rule but was the closest to keeping the most people happy, in my mind. I thought it was ok, but maybe you can improve upon the language. you have until Monday to help. This is being thrown back to the National Hunter Committee for review, because it could not get resolved by Thursday…
Conventional attire following the tradition of fox hunting is encouraged and preferred with dark, muted colors. A rider may not be eliminated for choice of coat color, but the judge may penalize for distractions such as excessive adornments on helmets and coats. Shirts must have a choker or closed collar, or tie. Breeches may be buff, canary, tan, rust, or white.
As it stands after last Thursday?
The current proposed rule was passed with only a brief modification. I think they just removed parenthesis.
Attire. Riders should wear conservatively colored black, blue, green, grey, or brown coats which are free from adornment which in the judge’s opinion is overly distracting. Shirts must have a choker, similar collar or tie. Breeches may be buff, canary, tan rust, or white.
Now you see where all the brain cells went.
Next meeting, next meeting, next meeting. I was frustrated with overlaps of important ones and I was missing some areas I wanted to hear. I also started noticing fewer committee representatives at the tables. Some had one chairperson, and one other member, maybe two. Some never met a quorum to vote on stuff. hmm. I darted around, trying to absorb as much as I could but it was really a lot of information. I spoke up on things I had no idea about but asked anyway based on logistics. Charlotte Skinner-Robson offered to hug me in the halls when I questioned the logistics of the FEI Course Designer rule and felt it was discriminatory against foreigners, and by the way Americans are never asked to maintain multiple licenses when working in Canada, Mexico, or Europe, so wtf dude? Welp, I might have lost a friend in Steve Stephens today, but yeah, well, it needed to be asked, so I did. The day continued like that, and it was exhausting.I am passionate abut the child/adult hunter team championships, but the program is on the chopping block because it cannot take off like the jumper champs, and the few suggestions I had seemed to fall flat. I hope not, they were good suggestions, and this is one of the few programs I happily endorse. The pony task force met with two committee members, again, couldn’t meet a quorum so they held a round table discussion. I asked (for a friend) why it was not possible for a professional to show them one day during the week but subsequently only allow the pony to show in the green ponies that weekend, not the regular division, since every other junior/amateur division allowed professional riders to show beforehand during the week except green ponies and was met with a barrage of exclamations, good and bad. This is actually a very concerning issue, when there are very, very few pro pony riders available, but maybe for another day.
We each have our own need with the programs in the USHJA. The hardest barrier is the size of this country. The models have to work from Maine to Alaska and Hawaii to Florida. Instead, the reality is each part of the country has a different dichotomy and piecing it all together is welll…. hard.
I was darting back and forth when I heard my name called. It was John Bahret from the first morning wanting to know if I still wanted to talk about the Foundation. Of course I did! It turns out he is the treasurer for the Foundation until this week, then he transfers his duties to treasurer of the USHJA, hence resigning from the Foundation so no one sees him as having a conflict of interest. Got it. He assured me the Foundation was up and running again, they had wisely decided to lie low for a year following the dramatic resignation of nearly the entire board over a major discrepancy of the by-laws, but were organized, happy and healthy and looking into the future… that word again. What is with the by-laws lately? A post resignation interview regarding the by-laws immediately came to mind, but I pushed it back for a few minutes so I could think.
This would be my third attempt to sell my idea to a Foundation board member and my last attempt for sure. The first two failed, I think, but I wasn’t ready to give up.
A few months ago a braider in Texas, Cat Wolstenholme was severely injured when a horse she was braiding swiped at a fly, caught his halter on her ladder and flipped her over, breaking her leg. She had little or inadequate insurance, and was forced to start a Go Fund me account which eventually found its way to my inbox, so I reached out to her to apply for a grant from the Foundation.
But it got me thinking, what are we doing for all the braiders, grooms and farriers with little options on insurance, and are not members of the USHJA or USEF, but help us every day? Could they not be a member of the Foundation instead, for like $35 a year or something and if they got hurt, be able to apply for some financial aid? There is no braider’s or groom’s union, so maybe we could hash it out and come up with options.
I have to say John relished the idea and made me feel very comfortable talking about it. He went to great lengths to inform me of the layout of the Foundation, it’s relationship with USHJA, along with everything else, and we tossed around ideas on how to make something like this available for the future. I couldn’t believe it. He was amazing, genuine, and forthcoming, and I was truly impressed with the time he took to give me a chance, which very, very few people had displayed before. It was the first time I was seeing just a little tiny spark of hope.
I wasn’t sure what to think after that meeting, but I was definitely in a lighter mood already.
The final meeting for me was the Sport Integrity Task Force meeting which drew a small but curious crowd. I noticed Tom was a bit late to the meeting, not unusual, but out of the corner of my eye, thought maybe he was hanging by the door, unsure where to go for a few minutes longer than normal. He eventually took a seat at the table. He looked really tired. I remember Mary announcing a couple of years ago this committee and at the time, she and Tom Brennan were the only two members. I distinctly remember not receiving an invitation, but also thought maybe I was being arrogant.
Cricket Stone Morris
Eventually she recruited a few key people, including Cricket Stone Morris, who has really flourished in this area. She has done a TON of research from all over the world, and come up with a workbook which may work on the future of sport. My hand raised for the final time that week to suggest paying more attention to young people receiving sportsmanship awards across the country and maybe it will be useful to connect their ideals of Sport Integrity to Sportsmanship, especially with young people. Honestly, I don’t know where that came from, but Tom immediately raised an eyebrow, looked at me, and said you are on to something there. We carried on for a few minutes with that idea and the room came up with some other ideas how to connect it all. The conversation drifted a bit to judging somehow, and before long Sissy Wickes and Tom were sharing funny stories about judging fails, and we were all giggling about everything from bathroom breaks to exhibitors winning a blue ribbon but still wanting to ask the judge why they won a blue ribbon, to discussing the New England Equitation Championships. It was unbelievable. And Mary was at the head of the table as the Chairperson.
Thursday. The Drive Home. The Board Meeting..
I just couldn’t stay any longer. Things were falling apart at home, I had horses to ride, appointments, and I was seriously bummed to leave but I had to. Thursday is the final board meeting for the Directors, and the last chance for submitting the proposals to the USEF for approval. This year there was no further discussion allowed past Thursday since the USEF annual meeting is held earlier this year in West Palm beach in just a couple of weeks. Starting Monday the USEF committees would be reviewing all this week’s revisions.
I wished Brooke and Kimmy luck the night before and was awake and driving before they woke up, slowly processing what happened during the week while staring at white lines on the dark road.
It took me a few hours before I started thinking something was really weird about this week. I couldn’t put my finger on it exactly, but something wasn’t adding up.
Why did it seem so different?
Why were there so many committees unable to conduct business?
Was it intentional? The meeting was held in Florida, Tampa is really a good place to have a meeting for horse people, and many people who left before their meetings… were in Florida…
What am I missing?
I drove on.
My phone buzzed to tell me the nomenclature on the Greens didn’t pass. Fuck. My first thought was Tom was going to be so disappointed with that. He really had hopes of restoring the original names and had the entire room agreeing the day before by describing branding processes, and this is one area which he strongly felt a should not be modernized. Damn it, what changed overnight?
I thought about that. What changed overnight? What did I miss?
Phone buzzed again. Coat rule was not reworded. Fuck. Square One.
Ban of cell phone use in schooling areas passed. Good. Now everyone will buy an Apple Watch and be flipping their wrist over every five seconds.
I drove on.
Kimmy finally called me at then end of the meeting and seemed a little breathless. Alarm bells started going off.
Apparently departing BOD member Shelley Campf had dropped a bomb at the end of the meeting and had made an eerily creepy demand for the first order of business to the incoming board to investigate the real reason Tom Brennan was left off of the ballot for the 2018 BOD.
I actually had to pull over.
Fuck me, nothing was adding up. My head was spinning too fast. No wait, actually lot’s of things are adding up. My mind flew back to to the Foundation by-laws when everyone on the board resigned except one person.
My mind also flew back to Tom’s warning of reading the by-laws.
I hung up and pulled back on the highway, more determined to get home and pull out the by-laws of both organizations.
If Tom was really not pulling back from governance because of time, like he told me, that must mean it was something else. But what? A forced resignation? What on earth for?? I have known this man a very long time. I was at his wedding. When I broke my leg in Gulfport and was carted off on a stretcher, he packed up all my shit for me. When I ask the dumbest questions you can imagine about governance, he patiently explains every single angle so I never get confused again. He is one of the most respected judges in the country. He also is not easily influenced, which at times has made him a threat to others.
Something was really wrong.
A threat. Wait a second. The only reason you wouldn’t fight to have this man on your team is if he posed a threat to your position……
Shiiiiiiiiiiiit. My mind went straight to where it really shouldn’t have.
My dad taught me about his law of re-occurring frequencies. It’s kind of his way of saying he doesn’t believe in coincidences. And I am my fathers child through and through.
Remember when the Plaid Horse interviewed Mary Babick following the disintegration of the BOD on the Foundation? I do.
Why would she say ‘There should be no gun trained on Kevin Price” ? Why does his name come up again? Why is she protecting him of all people? I mean, if I were president, I would seriously be looking for a resignation from him as top priority. Wait, is that it?
I pulled out the Foundation by-laws and found what I think, though I am not sure, the original and then corrected parts.
I started there, but something told me I wasn’t on the right path. Then the article about the meeting came out, and at the very end was a VERY weird and flimsy explanation regarding the nominating procedure.
Cripes, was I looking in the wrong place?
So, all I could find about the nominating committee was that Tom was on it and had to resign when he submitted his name. It says immediately, but what does that mean exactly? There is no specific time frame, like immediately as in rush to the hospital? Or like immediately, where like over four years then ten days would seem immediate to me. Dang, the Sumo wrestler has returned on the Fourth of July.
So, what exactly is up with these modifications from November 19th of 2018? That was only a couple of weeks ago. Something isn’t adding up, Here is the link.
Why would Shelley Campf be so insistent? I cannot wait for the video of the meeting to be published. I expect it will attract quite a few views.
Why do I have so many questions??
WHY did I leave the meeting?
I am still not sure where to look, what to do, or what to think. It is going to take me forever to pick apart by-laws because let’s face it. I am only so bright. I wasn’t trained for this and the ironic thing is – very few horse people are. We ride horses, show horses, clean up after horses. Who has time for all of the rest? I seriously hope I can find an answer, or if I can’t, maybe someone else can. Maybe you can. I now realize I was dependent on my faith in the leadership, but honestly, my faith is severely shaken right now.
This year I was invited to the 25th Anniversary of the Vermont Summer Festival to help a client set up horses. Uh, sure, I thought. Why not? Only a week away didn’t sound too bad. I entertained the idea of hauling my own horse up there, but hesitated, I couldn’t quite embrace the idea of bringing my good horse to a show 7 hours north of me, a show I hadn’t attended before, and a show which received an ungodly amount of bad press on the internet in 2017…. for (of all things), bad footing….
So, I left him home and decided to judge for myself what the heck was going on up there in the mountains while riding other people’s horses.
The drive is not difficult, especially in acar, but there are parts where you simply cannot time yourself out of a bit of traffic, unless you choose to drive overnight. Night driving is not a fun option for me, because I constantly want to know what I am missing in the dark, so I just left at 6 am Monday morning and by the early afternoon, I was already in a lovely scenic, mountainous part of Southern Vermont, known as Manchester. A couple of miles just north of Manchester, in East Dorset, the show abruptly appears on the side of a road, 1/4 mile North of the General Store, with very little fanfare on the approach.
No signs, no flashing lights, no highway beacons screaming “Event Ahead Use Caution”. Nothing, nada, you just know you are there because of the dozen or so iconic blue and white roofed tents which makes it look like a circus has come to town and planted itself in a random valley between two mountains in the middle of a field, with three entrances, one by tent 12 and a couple more further up by the show rings. I am reminded of Upperville, with a vastly more narrow framework. The whole horse show is a rectangle, long and sloped, with a paved road one side and a railroad on the other side. It is soooooo much smaller than I expected. I immediately started to feel cramped in, the spaces between most of the barns were minimal, and I soon realized we were lucky to be in tent 12, a good 15 minute walk to the hunter rings, but more spacious to work in. There was no other tent too close, only paddocks and the hay trucks behind us.
when one of the crew guys saw us making our tack rooms, he came over to help us move some walls. No one prompted him, he just showed up to help. (he is on the left) Dave is on the right.
Later, after the horses arrived, I found the house, one of those perfect summer homes, a duplex, complete with a deck, a creek, and air-conditioning (thank the lord) just bordering the town of Manchester, which I soon discovered might be the whitest of white towns I have ever seen in America. I am not kidding. I have never seen so much whiteness, I felt like I needed to make a poster starting with the phrase, “Dear White People….why is it so white?” I mean I guess it’s fine, whatever, I don’t know a lot about Vermont, but damn, this girl comes from BALTIMORE, I like a little diversity. Nope, not here. This town is all about Lilly, Talbots, Orvis, Antiques, J. Crew, and all other little fancy, boutiquey shops chocked full of items I cannot even come close to affording, or basically, what I would surmise ’Nantucket on the mainland’. It is pretty weird.
Golfing, Fly Fishing (wtf is that?), shopping, and eating at expensive restaurants are apparently what people in Manchester like to do before the skis or snow boards come out of the garage and everyone basically freezes to death for six months.
Fancy Lincoln property. A son, not Abe.
Houses which were often summer homes for people coming out of NYC or Boston, are organized carefully through the town, there is no trash on the sidewalks, teenagers scoop and sell you your ice cream, and a dozen traffic circles replace the need for stoplights, of which there is only one, and it switches to a blinking light from 10 pm to 7 am. There are no loiterers at the Rite Aid (soon to be Walgreens), and every one has a favorite restaurant, of which there are many. Maybe my biggest shock was discovering the town had a Starbucks. I like to think this mega company hasn’t hit rural places like a small resort town in southern Vermont, but I guess progress knows no bounds.
I finished exploring and went to bed.
Tuesday brought around very warm temperatures and the rest of the horses to our barn. It was busy all day. I jumped in every hunter ring and every schooling area, and waited on pins and needles for a horse to trip and fall down. I was guarded, to say the least, but nothing happened. The water trucks and drags were running around without breaks, consistently hitting every area, and to my genuine surprise I suddenly caught sight of one of my favorite tractor operators sitting atop one very large green monster…. Ricky Rollins. I’ve never been more excited to see a tractor pilot in my life! I have watched him all up and down the East Coast (including Gulfport) working his magic (mostly with Alan Reinheimer) to get the desired cushion level for us picky show people. And I am not being a creepy stalker, so don’t report me, but I damn well know a good footing expert when I see one. Never take for granted someone who has years of experience listening to all of the complaints from horse people and works extra hard in the toughest conditions to keep those complaints non-existent. This man has more knowledge about footing maintenance than almost anyone I know. He is tireless. A close second would be Johnny Barker, III. I could actually relax and ride now.
Ricky is the best. like why the hell isn’t there a hall of fame for these guys??
2 water trucks in the ring with 2 other tractor drags
In between classes Wednesday I sought out Ricky to ask questions…Of course I wanted to know if he was staying through circuit and if he had plans to return next year. He told me yes, so I hope it works out for him. I already knew about the overhaul in all of the rings, (not just one or two rings but all of them), and the 750 tons of sand hauled in and the re-grading that happened earlier this year by Alan, but I wanted to know what else was different. All the drivers had to be trained up? Amount of water changed? What exactly was it? One of the things Ricky pointed out was knowing when to seal or roll the rings. Leaving rings ‘open’ overnight could cause a disastrous morning, and if there is one thing I have seen in Gulfport (where it freaking rains more than any other place in the country), if you tighten those rings up overnight, it won’t matter if some crazy down pour dumps 2 inches of rain, or 6 inches of rain, you are showing by 8 am the next morning. With no puddles. I learned a lot in Gulfport, and I don’t think there is any more exemplary team than what Alan Reinheimer and Bob Bell have created down there.
Andrew Ryback and his team took some stunning pics
Throughout the week I watched every ring, hunter or jumper, and saw a sh*t ton of horses going around and around. I saw falls everywhere, equitation, hunter, jumper, GP ring, but I did not see any fall which was not pilot error. The footing simply did not cause a fall. Riders repeatedly made bad decisions, or, worse, no decision, like when I watched a girl creep into a 2-stride in an eq class on a 17 hand horse and he tried, but couldn’t get out and crashed through the oxer, or when I watched a .9 jumper rider attempt to leave a stride out and go flying over his head when he was like ‘not today Susan’. I watched a jumper rider in the open class make a really bad call and his horse tried and failed, but not one time did I see the footing slip in any way which would have caused a more dramatic end to any of those falls. The base never showed, the horses stayed up on the turns, and the take off and landings were constantly being monitored, stayed tight, and kept the horses afloat. The child/adult jumper classic proved to be the most dramatic class of the week, but when I asked the trainers of the kids who fell if they felt it was footing or pilot error, they all said ‘unfortunately, pilot error’.
I counted three trips on my rides through the week in the schooling area. They all tripped the same way, slightly catching a toe and stumbling forward for a step before recovering. Whether this was the horse or footing, I couldn’t actually tell. Three different horses, three different places, but identical movements. The thing about the middle hunter show/warmup rings, is that they slope. There is an uphill and a downhill which follows the natural path of the mountainous terrain, and while I actually like the challenge of keeping the horses balanced, the horses aren’t accustomed to it on their own. So every once in a while you feel them lose track of where they are because of the slope. Capable riders can manage this, green riders have to learn it. The tripping I experienced is not enough to warrant real concern, but it was duly noted. It will be interesting to see what four more weeks of showing brings.
What does concern me is other parts of the show. I have a built in safety radar which I can’t turn off, and when the radar goes off my head goes bananas.
My immediate observation of the grounds was the simplicity of it all and the massive amounts of temporary enclosures, for everything, including the rings. But the lunging areas and most schooling areas were not enclosed. So I started to ask myself why, there must be some sort of reason this is not a normal set up. Trailer parking had to be a few miles off premises, hidden in some small corner of Manchester, where no one could see the blight of vehicles parked in a field. It was all very weird. So I pulled out the tools in the Google.
Holy Over Regulated Restrictions On Land Batman.
Vermont is whacked. What started out as legislation to stop developers from sneaking around mountain roads and building houses with no septic or sewer solutions (other than a plastic pipe into an open ditch) turned into one of the most highly restrictive development plans I have ever seen in my life. Act 250 was passed in the 70’s and it contains well over 200 pages of what you can and cannot do in communities and basically if I chose to live in Vermont, I would just find a trailer or a cave dwelling and keep my fingers crossed. Harold Beebe’s farm, which John and Dottie Ammerman lease for the circuit, has to basically be turned back into the field it was prior to the show and look the same until the next year. No permanent fixtures, no buildings, and IF you apply for a permit to change the code, every property under that same owner, regardless of where it is in the state will be affected and pay a penalty. As far as the water goes? Vermont is about as obtuse toward groundwater management as a Sumo wrestler is to playing baseball. You wouldn’t think Vermont would never suffer from wells running dry, but apparently denial leads to harsh life lessons, even in Vermont. So now it was all starting to make sense, but I wanted to verify what I found out with John himself.
Walking into a show office and announcing you have questions and want to write a piece about the show can go one of two ways. Bristly or not bristly. I was expectingbristly. I actually received the opposite, and within a few hours all my questions were answered and more helpful information was provided. I had only heard rumors about what John and Dottie were like to work with, but I set my predisposed assumptions aside and simply asked for what I wanted. I could not have ended up with a nicer reception. I had done my homework prior and it was appreciated. No one was defensive, and I was quite relieved, to say the least.
I learned that John had worked for the horse show for years supplying jumps before taking it over (with partner Eddie Davis) from Stadium Jumping. It used to bounce around to different venues from Killington to Sugarbush to Stowe, and finally John decided enough bouncing, while it is nice to have the circus travel from town to town, this place needs a permanent residence for 6 weeks. Manchester boasted enough various activities, restaurants, and shopping to satisfy the most people. There is an estimated 20 million dollar economic impact to the community, which I would imagine the area is pretty tickled about.
I also confirmed that the state of Vermont does offer exemptions for horse shows which clears them to operate under Act 250, as long as the land is properly secured to it’s original format once the show leaves. There are still many restrictions, but the state tries to be compliant with our desire to show in a pretty atmosphere.
John has complete confidence in the overhaul, and I have to say I was impressed with his actions after last year. He didn’t disregard complaints like other show managers have become famous for, but actually did something about it. An hour and a half south in New York, it is a very different story. His remarkable staff is incredibly cohesive, and I listened all week as the ring crew kept track of trainers throughout the show grounds, never got upset, never made rude barn calls, and seemed generally proactive and smart. John does say if there is something which get missed or overlooked it is because he doesn’t know abut it and encourages people to help make suggestions.
Well, I may have something there, and hopefully he won’t take offense to me blurting this out in my blog.
There are so many options out there for temporary fencing, I would love to see more of an attempt to stack portable post and rail around at least one side of the lunging areas. It is so scary to see a loose horse run out of the lunging arena, jump INTO the jumper arena, and proceed to jump the jumper jumps…. Even the smaller portable dividers are a good idea so at least you are providing sections of a big area, and not letting people lunge into one another. I know you can’t regulate dumb people, but I just think that anything there on the edge instead of railroad ties would be an improvement.
I am not a big fan of those metal stakes with clap boards around the show rings, but if that is the only option, so be it. I just wish it wasn’t the only option. I know you can get the post and rail on platform stands, which is so, so much nicer looking. And safer.
The corners of the rings are lovely but don’t match the clapboards. Bike racks are a nice touch though.
Also, no one knows what a horse path is, and the teeny tiny sign marking the horse path was far from helpful. People need neon sings these days to pull their heads away from their cell phones, and big arrows pointing to the path “GO HERE DUMMY” so golf carts are not sharing the same road would be most valuable.
The train to me is not so much an issue, it comes twice a day, same time every day, creeps slowly adjacent to the show, and everyone stops what they are doing to make sure the beast they are holding doesn’t freak out and run away. Some people smartly dismount and hold their beast. You are not required to show in the ‘train ring’ (Hunter 3), or any ring really, when there is a train passing, you simply wait 2 minutes to enter and complete your course.
Irony in the lack of brush. Coming from Maryland and Virginia, I am obsessed with brush. We all think making the jumps all brushy makes the horses jump better, makes the rings look better, and gives an overall appearance of hunting through the woods. So when you are literally in a valley surrounded by forests of pine and the jumps don’t have brush, everything looks stark and weak. I am sure there is some permit required to obtain brush in Vermont, but the derby courses would greatly benefit from some more foliage. I might look into how to obtain brush, but that’s just me. I do know you cannot simply take an axe to the trees out back, you would be slapped with a fine within the hour.
(I am sure there are other people with suggestions, but hopefully they will file them in a competition evaluation form, but these were my own thoughts throughout the week I was there. I try to pay attention to chatter, but it was really challenging for me to find bitter comments, and believe me, you attend a shitty show, and the bitter chatter is unmistakable.)
The prizes were beautiful, and Jane Gaston’s artwork was prevalent everywhere, on the cover of the program, on the awards, and I cannot think of a better way to celebrate a talented horsewoman within our own community.
There are people who stay for the entire 6 weeks, and those lucky people have the distinct advantage to take part in the best part of the VSF…..the exhibitor parties. These parties are not normal.
When we pulled into the Week 2 venue of the exhibitor party, I was like omg what in the literal heck am I going to do now, besides explode. Rock climbing, swings and omg there is a mountain slide! My inner child busted out and I basically ignored every other activity except eating to gain access to the mountain slide. I was insane with excitement.
So was Greg Best….
Each week offers a different location, hotels, restaurants, and ski resorts, and every party is exceptional, you lucky dogs, I may return just for Wednesday of week 5 when it returns to Bromley…no one will notice, right? and taking that Land Rover ride up to the top of the mountain was super sweet. good times.
Big Sponsor in Land Rover
looks like a space ship to me
I never saw Bullwinkle, however. I even got up early every morning to roam through the hills looking for him, but other than a close call with a deer and near death experience for two chipmunks, I drove in vain. One morning, Mary Babick wisely quipped to me it is almost impossible to find what you are looking for when you WANT to find it. so true.
I did find a covered bridge however!
Apparently the day I left, one of the mom’s viewed a momma moose and a baby coming down the hill toward the horse show and hurried to the grounds to collect the girls and drive back to the spot she saw them. There is no photographic evidence of this sighting, but I am happy at least one person may have caught a glimpse Mrs. Bullwinkle.
My experience in Vermont was a pleasant one. I would for sure return, and I do regret not bringing a horse with me. There are generally cooler temperatures with a few hot days thrown in to keep you humble,but the horses seem to fair well there. I don’t know if other exhibitors shared similar experiences, but there were not a lot of people complaining directly to me, so I can only pass along my own thoughts. The combination of John and Dottie Ammerman, Doug Russell, Ricky, William Aguirre, and the rest of the talented staff they have pulled together seems to be working incredibly well, and it is obvious no one is being lazy about his or her job. The numbers show they are at capacity and have a couple of weeks likely maxed out and a waiting list utilized. Even though there was one more empty tent behind us during week 2, this was all pre-arranged to drop the numbers slightly to give exhibitors time to enjoy more than just the horse show, and allow for some shorter show days. I can understand why. There is a lot to explore in Vermont. Best of luck to the summer exhibitors, I am curious and remain anxious that it all fares well.
I wouldn’t say I won a big nomination here. In reality, I put myself up for the position because I didn’t want to see the position left vacant and, (like last year), be stuck to search out and beg an unsuspecting victim to fill out the paperwork and play the role of Chef d’Equipe for the USHJA Zone 3/4 Hunter Team Championships, and I have to admit, I wasn’t all that excited at first, maybe because I wasn’t sure what to expect, maybe because my reluctance to travel to Atlanta in the summer, the distance, the heat, (did I mention a 12 hour drive?)….I guess there may have been a few reasons.
I have an adult client who put it on her bucket list at the beginning of the year, and has been super excited ever since for her new experience. She has never seen anything like this, so her enthusiasm kept me motivated, and I could at least assure her she would love the Georgia International Horse Park, if nothing else. We also had other Marylanders representing Zone 3, including a close neighbor who seemed to share Sable’s excitement for the team Champs, Morgan and her horse La Sandro, who stabled with us.
Marylanders Morgan Geelhar and Sable Fetty
I memorized the format, and memorized the rules on the drive down. However, I wasn’t sure who would be actually participating until we sat down before the jog and counted the riders who showed up. It was a bit lighter than we were expecting, but we had enough riders to make enough teams so we did the math and got the ball rolling.
Thursday night was the rider’s meeting and ‘draw’ for the teams. Some teams share riders from both Zone 3 and 4. This concept drew some blank looks at first and caused some confusion. Are we competing for our Zone or our Teams??
It took a little while to figure out you were actually competing for your team first, Zone second. Each team was awarded by a color-coded armband, and if you had a little flair and courage, you could incorporate a little color into your braids. Like green. Like green pompoms to match the green armbands? Well, why not?? You get the idea.
PC Megan Lacy
With the jog so close to the riders meeting there was no chance for everyone to actually meet each other and this became my one major disappointment in myself. I will never ever forgive my ignorance to take advantage of a potential party.
The ‘Jog’ on Thursday night started around 6:30 pm, so once it was finished, everyone headed back to put their horses to bed, and that was that.
Mia Bokotic with her mount No Doubt About It with PC going to Megan Lacy of the USHJA
I failed you. And I take the blame.
We had a noon start on Friday for the first class, so the ONE THING I could have asked my Zone 3 committee for three months ago was a ‘Team Breakfast’…. had I known. You see, I am on the Zone 3 committee and the way it works is that you have to ask for funds for special events through a proposal, get approval from the USHJA and then you can eventually receive the funding to pull off your ‘event’. However, I think I am the first chef d’Equipe who is actually also on our Zone 3 Committee, and this was my first Hunter Championship, and admittedly, blind as a damn bat going into it. POOOP. POOOP. POOOP. I will never forgive myself for this epic fail. Every single exhibitor wanted to meet their teammates without having to worry about the Jog, and I was not prepared.
I will now consider writing a manual for future Chef d’Equipe’s because let’s face it, not too many ‘hunter Chefs’ exist out there, and we need all the help we can get.
NOTE – to other Chefs across the country as your Zone Team Champs are close to occurring– MAKE a ‘meet and greet’ happen BEFORE the first class. LEARN FROM US!!
Heidi Kurpaska and Shelly Nelson from the USHJA explaining the event to the Zone 3/4 riders. PC: Megan Lacy
Anyway, I have to say we were blessed by an absolute astoundingly friendly group of child and adult equestrians, who proceeded to take the initiative and walk around the show grounds introducing themselves to each other, to me, to the other chefs, sharing ideas, learning names of horses and stories, contact info, friending on FB and starting conversations left and right.
Alex Vernon Tart, Ellison Beaver, Elizabeth Ragsdale and Mary Ragsdale came by to visit me, super cute, no?
I have never witnessed a more congenial group of horse people in my life. It was incredible. It gave me goosebumps. Everyone was on the same level, most everyone was new to the Championships, and everyone was patient with it’s growth, (again more or less).
Discussions happen. As per every show I attend these days, people like to talk to me. Go figure! Lol, but really. I did try to listen to everysuggestion, and in turn made everyone listen to my ideas for the future and kind of got the feeling some of these riders (if not all) would sign up for these Championships again… but the feedback is real, so let’s see at the end of the summer how many other Zones might agree with this list of 8…..
1.Team Competitions: Some concern over format. The Drop Score I am not sure I am in love with. Each team is supposed to have 4 riders, but if the total number of people doesn’t break evenly into teams of 4, then Teams have to be made up of 3 with all scores counting. Teams with 4 have a distinct advantage with allowing a drop score. Meh, leave it at 3 per team with no drop score. We aren’t a jumper team. Maybe need more feedback on this one, because the drop score DID work for the winners, right?
2.Understanding you don’t ride for your Zone first, and Team second.You ride for your Team first, and consider riding for your Zone a bonus. This might sound counter productive, but makes more sense when some teams are combined with riders from Multiple Zones. I am not sure that message ever got across from the USHJA when this program was created, but I am here to tell you, Team first, Zone second.
3.Location. Location Location. I’ll just be honest here and hope I don’t get killed. Location makes a difference. We need show managers willing to place bids on these championships who meet the requirements for holding them, and fit a location a tad more central. This isn’t about the Georgia Horse Park. Nor the Show Management, we all love the Horse Park and Classic Company, but it is a major haul for a lot of people, and if it keeps getting held down here in the lovely south, it won’t be a program which flourishes with Zone 3 riders much longer. Once the idea was put into my head about the October Raleigh Show, (now supposedly under the management of Joan Petty), I asked other trainers to give me their opinion, and they said sure, they would all be happier giving that a go. Maybe next year? I’m coming for ya Joan, look out. Someone forwarded me your contact info, lol. I know how to beg, for real.
4.We have so many USHJA members who really don’t understand all of these ‘blossoming programs’ coming out of the USHJA. If I heard it one time, I heard it a hundred. Not enough people can find information on the programs, on the website, and are depending on random word of mouth from kids to get the idea planted into a trainer’s head. We are three years into these Championships?? Should we be at all alarmed? Sigh. I told the trainers I talked to just hearing about this program for the first time you have to give a program five years to develop…K. Maybe they believed me, maybe they didn’t. I also could have made a world of difference handing out info packets on other programs within the USHJA – set the booth up! Set the booth up! I don’t mind talking about the programs, but I need crap brochures to hand out.
5.Four judges for a child/adult class? Really? I don’t mind two panels, but I do not see the logic behind four judges in a normal size ring at a normal horse show for a 3 foot division. How complicated do we need to make it? Is the 3’ division seeped in controversial politics and I am that oblivious? I don’t think so. These judges have turned down a full week of work in exchange for 1 1/2 daysat a show where they cannot also work when they are finished? Does that make sense? We suddenly have so many judges in this country that we have a surplus? Where have I been? Can we save that $5k in our budget for something else? Like a party? I am more than positive that two judges are sufficient for a child/adult division. Nothing against the child/adult division, but really. I can’t wrap my head around the lack of logic on this one. Maybe someone else can explain better to me.
6. Running Commentary, because no one knows what the heck is going on. Which team is in the lead after the hack? After round one? Who needs to get their sh*t together? Where is the dramatic finish? Just hand me a mike, I’ll do it. And if you don’t trust me, I’d at least like to hear the announcer give a brief rundown of teams between each round so the parents and trainers can boost the next kid going in the ring, and keep the spirit moving. I’ve taught at schools, I know what team spirit is like when managed well…..
7.Number of teams sent to Championships. What is too long? I mean we only had 11 children riders and 18 adult riders and we were whipped. I mean, downright exhausted. I am still tired. I don’t even know what day it is, and I didn’t even have any horses showing in the regular horse show. What is really a healthy number here for this event? I think max 15-16 each, but that’s me. I am ok with around two hours per section, but over that, man, it gets tough.
8.Children’s Hunters don’t always have to go first. Like both days? Swap it out, one day kids go first, and the other day adults go first.
The feeling of contributing to your team score… Sable Fetty pulls in a top score for her green team.
Back to Day one… Shall I digress? To the stress?
Stress, stress, and more stress. Bad timing for additional stress, right?
Nothing like an extra long road trip to Georgia from to Maryland only a few days after an equally long road trip home from a horse show in Kentucky, and trying not to feel like a dimwit, attempting to learn the ropes of a formal position, keeping a smile on my face, remembering to eat occasionally, and then BAM!
Hello to waking up one morning to your phone exploding with a bombardment of questions from all over the country regarding a social media controversy dropping out of thin air regarding the VERY organization hosting the event you just left your farm and family to attend……
Lap meet dilemma.
I don’t know about other women, but even a slight rumor of workplace misconduct makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and I find myself almost instantly suffering from a queasy stomach. Maybe because, (like most women I know), it reminds us once again of our own #metoo experiences which I keep trying to bury down the rat holes beneath my barn.
I felt all the things resurface.
Disappointment, frustration, and helplessness, and in a 24 hour period I had to shove all that sh*t aside and focus on the ladies in Conyers. They didn’t travel all the way down here to compete only to be sidelined by a situation beyond their control… They certainly didn’t deserve to lose any of the spot light. But the stress was silently searing through my mind, I was really irritated, and had to force myself to bury it all even deeper. No doubt it will resurface, and no doubt it will be handled, (by someone else) but what incredibly poor timing. I don’t know what goes on inside the walls of the USHJA, but damned if I immediately didn’t start paying close attention to the three incredible women who showed up to deliver a home run, (or at least a triple play), with the Hunter Championships for our Zone 3 and 4 riders at the Horse Park.
Heidi Kurpaska, Shelly Nelson, and Megan Lacy may be three of the most competent women in the USHJA, that I know of.
Heidi, Shelly and Megan, from the USHJA.
You may know them more for what they do instead of their actual faces, but I think you should start to recognizethese ladies.
Shelly organizes the Champs all year long, sends us emails, and does the score keeping during the event (I tried that – never again).
Megan? You see her photos social media posts and press releases.
Megan’s work on social media is brilliant
Heidi? She set up all of the awards, swag bags for the riders, and not one ribbon was forgotten at home, and starting with the set up of the first rider meeting display to the last exhausted horses who waddled back to the barns on Saturday, they showed a constant enthusiasm and spirit you will never ever see from me unless you pay me a million dollars.
It might have to be two million. Honestly, I couldn’t keep up with them.
Heidi and Megan
Their hard work is being noted by me, and should be noted by everyone else, too. And not just because without them we would totally be f**ked, but because they are genuinely superb people to boot. I started to think about all of the times I had questions and called or emailed people at the USHJA, versus attempting to contact US Equestrian, and am somehow thinking although they may be neighbors physically, they are worlds apart in manners. We are so lucky to have these women, I just want them to be safe now.
Megan setting up the table while on a conference call.
So many faces.
I loved hearing the rider’s stories, it was honestly very good for me. I get a kick out of being engaged with riders, trainers, parents and friends while at an event like this. I saw familiar faces, new faces, happy faces, faces fighting their way through tears when disappointment was mixed up with exhaustion, and I wasn’t even irritated when I saw the tears, because I know the feeling when you are scared you let someone else down, or your horse. One girl had a helluva first round in the Individual only to come back to have a communication fail and end up in the dirt quite suddenly. Shaken, but not hurt, she sobbed into her horse’s neck with her arms wrapped around him genuinely devastated she had made him look bad or traumatized him. Aww gurl, we know, but he’s ok, and we all love him, too. Tomorrow is another day.
I think these kids will be stronger for it. It’s hard, it’s new, and a real challenge.
Zone 3 Gold Medalist Shelby Edson and Barbie Burns with mom (Maryland)
I also think the more these championships grow, the more competitive they will become. It is fabulous these first few years to give riders maybe in their first year of showing on the A circuit a chance to experience something quite special, and equally as rewarding. The mix of riders is actually a bit refreshing. It is not simply the top tier of each division, and yet somehow, it’s still anybody’s day, right?
Alex Tart, Ellison Beaver, Elizabeth and Mary Ragsdale
I met Lindsey Irvin when we were both in Holland together. Different circumstances brought us together on a farm where we worked, rode, ate, drank, played games, and well… lived. It has been 7 years, but here we are again, re-united in a totally different setting, but with horses once again the common bond. This weekend, she and Matias won the overall Adult Individual title and I could not have been more proud to know her. She may not have been from my Zone, but I didn’t care. She was fantastic to watch, and seemed to really love being here.
Heidi, Shelly and Bob Bell with Matias and Lindsey Irvin, PC Megan Lacy/USHJA
Matias is in his late teens, although you would NEVER guess that watching him go around, he looks great, but a few months ago she didn’t even know if he would see the New Year. He stopped eating hay, lost interest in eating his grain, and then one day insisted on drinking heavily out of the liverpool in the ring. Lindsey called the vet. When the blood came back, the vet called in a mild panic, and she came back to help save his life. Round the clock fluids for his failing kidneys and a complete diet change including switching to Cavalor feed eventually brought back the spunky warmblood to his normal self again, and here she is seven months later winning a championship. Talk about goosebumps. I had to know what she felt about the weekend, and knew she could be honest with me
“I would definitely do the championship again. It was unique since it offered something different than normal horse shows or even year end shows. Which made it a lot fun. I had a wonderful time getting to know new people that I maybe wouldn’t have meet or interacted with at a normal show. I had a blast this weekend and look forward to next year.”
Lindsey Irvin, Zone 4
I also know Sable will want to sign up again. She learned so much, and embraced the team concept immediately. She actually led the way with her enthusiasm, and as I looked around at all the other ‘Sable’s’ gathered at the in gate, I thought well, damn, I hate to admit it, but this might be a worthwhile program after all.
What if I told you there was a working championship model which could be replicated across the country, is an easy format, fully supported by the community, and, to me, kind of sets the stage for a secession from both the USEF and USHJA?
The brilliant brainchild of Chris Wynne, from Virginia Beach, Virginia is evolving into one of the area’s most treasured events, and it is not hard to see why. With an unsurprising desire NOT to attend any of the Florida winter circuits, but still wanting to qualify his horses for Devon, Indoors, etc., Chris worked on an idea he had percolating around in his head to breathe life back into struggling winter shows in the area, which would help the shows, and help HIM at the same time earn valuable points. Then he sold the idea to the area horseman. It was not a hard sell. He placed a few key people in place, including the Queen of all show secretaries Sue Tallon, secured the Virginia Horse Center as a venue, and blew our minds.
The Virginia Hunter Championships.
The Mission statement is simple: A program designed to foster, promote, reward and encourage hunter competition at independent horse shows located in Virginia.
Enrollment is $250 for one division, and $400 for two divisions. THERE IS NO ENTRY FEE TO COMPETE AT THE FINALS. Do I need to repeat the last statement?
THERE IS NO ENTRY FEE TO COMPETE AT THE FINALS.
oh, there is one more thing – there is $60,000 in prize money.
Eligibility is simply showing at enough selected horse shows in Virginia (Culpeper is NOT on the list) and those shows are held at favorite venues in the state.
A rated shows have a value of 1.5 shows
AA rated shows have a value of 1 show
Professional & Ponies need 4.5 Qualifying shows
All other divisions need 6.5 Qualifying shows.
PC Theresa Ramsay – Chris Wynne
More about the Finals.
The Virginia Hunter Championships are not sanctioned. However, because of the current timing of the Finals for the Horses (held the Tuesday before Lexington National) it is unlikely anyone is breaking too many rules since they usually are staying for the A show which starts on Wednesday. Ponies do their finals at Rosemount in July to avoid conflicts with Pony Finals in Kentucky.
The finals have a real feeling of accomplishment for attending. They are special. They are fun. The coliseum is dressed all fancy and it is a ONE ring dog and pony show. What interests me is how people are starting to look at the V Champs as an event better than other major championships in the country. Certainly friendlier. And have you seen the horses down there? We have some seriously fancy beasts floating around Zone 3. And riders in the Mid-Atlantic region ride a hunter like everyone should ride a hunter…. properly. In other words, it is an impressive feat to walk away a winner. I would not be surprised in the least if more Zone 3 riders became less inclined to do anything other than the Virginia Hunter Championships. Marylanders are becoming hungry for them, North Carolina has a piqued interest as well.
PC Theresa Ramsay, Jessi and Davenport
I asked Jessica Lohman what she thought of the V Champs: big fan….
“What I love about the Virginia Hunter Championships is that it showcases the quality of horse showing in Virginia on two levels.
First, it highlights the fabulously-run, high standards of excellence, non-cookie cutter shows held in Virginia all year long that are run BY horsemen FOR horsemen.
Second, the Virginia Hunter Championships provides a platform for some of the best hunters in the country – ranging from ponies to professional division horses – to have a high-end “finals” without the pressure, travel and expense of indoors. The prize money at this is AMAZING thanks to generous sponsors who are passionate about the Virginia show hunter industry!
And the large, flowing, natural courses that were built in the coliseum for this event last year were breathtaking. It’s a wynne-wynne when you have people who actually train/ride/show for a living putting on an event of this caliber.”
I also asked Karyn Clifton:
My favorite thing about the Virginia Hunter championships, is while yes it is an investment, it’s not a “break the bank kill your horse” type of thing. You can qualify without losing your sense of Horsemanship or sportsmanship to do it. If you get there and win – bonus. If things don’t go as planned, it doesn’t leave you feeling humiliated or bad about yourself, because the point of it all was to participate. You were part of a year long quest (an attainable one) to toss your hat in the ring and give it your best shot. For a lot of us, that’s a huge accomplishment in and of itself. Beginning the year and ending the year without letting life derail the journey or force us to quit.
The social/ fun aspect is a big draw for me. I bring my family (as do lots of people) and it’s only 1 class to force non horse folk to sit through (with 3 boys, you definitely have a clock you’re running against). It’s not a full division, so I actually get to spend time with them. 2 years ago there was a small low key band with dancing, and it was a blast! Zone 3 has a bunch of dancing fools. We all had fun at that party, including my husband and my boys. They want to come back to a horse show, Lol! Not many non horse men ever say that! Basically, the whole day feels festive and fun. It’s competitive, but light hearted.
The courses have been BEAUTIFUL each year. Flowing and natural, and challenging without crushing your soul, Lol! It’s nice to have a day devoted to one “class”. It makes it special; a little like an old school classic and Prom, combined.
Karyn Clifton and her Dash. PC Theresa Ramsay
Let’s go back to the ‘not sanctioned’ topic for a minute.
During the spring Lexington horse shows, also held at the Virginia Horse Center, USEF decided to decline the request of the show to hold a USHJA National Derby during the second week, despite an approval from USHJA. The reason is entirely vague and probably incredibly short sighted on their behalf. Assuming that the show would simply not hold a derby, they basically said to try again next year. Bad idea. After a general poll was issued among the trainers, it became abundantly clear not too many people gave two poops that the Derby was unsanctioned by a governing body, they just wanted to put their fancy outfits on and show in the Sandy Gerald Ring with all of their friends, meanwhile celebrating Tony Workman’s 60th Birthday.
The outcome was the same, and get this – NO MONEY was given to either organization for the class! What a win! Again, not surprising. Virginians may have little regard for the national governing bodies, and I believe Virginia even refuses to be an affiliate member altogether of the USHJA. (USHJA charges state associations to be affiliate members but it is unclear what the USHJA gives in return)
Now, moving forward, there seems to be no legitimate reason to involve the USHJA or USEF in the Derbies, so the horse show has one less bill to pay, which means more than likely the exhibitors will benefit once again, as that saved money can trickle down to us.
The rapidly increasing popularity of unsanctioned horse showing in the Mid-Atlantic region is alarming. Our regional professionals are seeing the swelling on the already full local circuits and shows are not ending at 2 pm. Some are going close to 10 pm. A few even later. Schedules are being revamped to accommodate exhibitors. Circuit stalls for regional shows are sold out way in advance.
The multiple local circuits in Virginia are of equal quality with venues as the sanctioned shows, Maryland, too.This is a problem because as more and more people experience unsanctioned showing, the desire to write a bigger check for a sanctioned event wanes (obviously).
Madeline Lohr, an avid supporter of the A circuit found herself at a schooling show at Fox Chase Farm, so I asked her what she thought.
“So the reason I went is because I have a young green horse who has gotten away with a naughty habit – refusing to go past the In gate (he’s stubborn and was spoiled and started late so he is very entitled and opinionated). I have been taking him to local shows because the judge and the in gate crew are much better about letting me work through this issue than they would be at an A show. It’s also so much cheaper to take him and it’s not such a huge loss if he acts up. He’s just about ready to go to A shows but there’s no point in spending all that money until I’m confident that he will be good. Fox Chase is a really nice show – very well attended (I think people were using it to prep for Upperville) with decent competition. Sometimes the courses and the jumps can be a little strange at unrated shows but Fox Chase shows are always reliably good. Where I live (Warrenton) there are unrated shows every weekend within an hours drive so it’s so great to have that option to bring young horses along without spending a fortune on unrated hunter divisions at rated shows.Oh, and the footing was great!”
Madeline Lohr and her young horse
And when a Championship offers $60,000 in prize money, doesn’t have 150 per class (i.e.: hello Green Incentive), and is free for the exhibitor to attend??? You can do the math.
Stewards are still hired, judges are still hired, staff is in place, so are there any downsides to holding the Championships? No worries, I’ll wait…..
Paul Mathews PC Theresa Ramsay
The model can be copied everywhere in the country, but the New England region would have to look hard at what they can offer in the winter and maybe recreate some shows which have vanished in the area. Or even utilize the snazzy new Syracuse facility and apply for some winter dates.
So, just a guess, but if these Championships take off the way I think they are going to take off, and perhaps eventually include North Carolina and Maryland, does the Mid-Atlantic region start to entertain the idea of pulling away from the Federations for support? Clearly the area knows how to run a horse show. Would people still attend the Upperville Horse Show and show under the oaks if it was unsanctioned?
Have you met people in Virginia?
Showing at the Upperville Horse Show is like showing in the Dixon Oval, a very unique and breathtaking experience. The trees and natural obstacles exemplify the true hunter discipline, the rings have an uphill and downhill, and with the addition of modern footing, it is safer, cleaner, and ten times more horse friendly. Even when certain years have left exhibitors with bad weather, questionable schooling ring footing, no power, or even no water, people don’t give up on the Upperville Horse Show. They keep coming back, without massive complaints, and they keep selling out the horse show. Improvements over the years have contributed to the success of the show, and the grounds continue to grow and evolve. I really think if you strip the WCHR, or even strip the rating of the show, the Upperville Horse Show would carry on without interruption.
I am not saying it will happen either way, but the importance of Federations involved in our horse show community has less relevance each year, especially when people are realizing the main reason for the Federations to tighten their grip on horse shows is because they each make a helluva lot of money off of them. If shows believe they can pull in the same results without being recognized, then what?
In more cases every year, I see people opting to show where they want to show, and put less importance on the actual rating of a show, and this could be really fateful for the Federations if it continues. You cannot legislate human nature, and people do what they like without feeling obligated to a Federation. If it is too hot in Tryon, for example, the summer shows won’t sell out. And look how nice that venue is! But it is effing hot!Even after the disastrous footing conditions in Vermont last year, guess what, people STILL want to go to Vermont, because who wouldn’t want to be in Vermont for the summer? People go where they want to go. There are very few who calculate anymore where they can best win. Those days are long gone. Values have changed. The importance of being a winner has changed.
After watching what has unfolded under our noses from decades of sexual misconduct, who is going to send off their kids to some legend with hopes of making an Olympic Team?? Children will be closer to home, more protected. Healthier upbringings will prevail over winning a medal or a circuit championship. Our future will be VERY different than the past. Watching what the U.S. Olympic Committee is doing is making me ill. We will all be affected. We cannot escape it. I wish they wouldn’t post an Interim List of people under investigation. It is cagey and confuses people. What allegations are to one person are very different to another person, and we are unable to process the scope of these allegations, because we weren’t there. Some people have even already served their time for infractions and are being pulled back into the spotlight for further review. Are we sure that is ok? Is that not Double Jeopardy? In general, people will jump to conclusions even if the investigations prove someone’s innocence. Horse people consistently have demonstrated to be the judge and jury even over minor habits….like smoking……
The USEF sees it very differently, however, and I think it will take years to pull out of the quagmire it is creating. Each cornerstone of our industry will suffer a major fracture and where will people eventually turn? To unsanctioned shows? Maybe, maybe not, but this storm that’s brewing will unleash a wrath of emotion we may not be ready to cope with.
I am truly happy with the success of the Virginia Hunter Championships. The concept was so clever and made so much sense, I am only really surprised it wasn’t thought of sooner. And I would be lying if I said I am glad I wasn’t the person who thought of it first. Good thing I like Chris Wynne. However, it does leave me wondering, what ELSE have we not thought of yet?
I get that we need Federations for oversight, to strive for an even playing field, and to calculate “certain” points, but I hope I am not the only one really seeing the writing on the wall here. Every time I look at the USEF website, I start to worry about something new. The list just keeps getting longer and longer. I still can’t even get on board with the motto….Share the Joy? Share the Joy literally means nothing to people who are constantly sharing their pocketbook with USEF, and I don’t think people are that stupid, you just have to look to the Virginia Hunter Championships as proof.