Bullwinkle. My adventure at the Vermont Summer Festival.

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 a car, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ricky is the best. like why the hell isn’t there a hall of fame for these guys??  

 

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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.

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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.

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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 expecting bristly. 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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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….

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Bases loaded. The role of a chef d’Equipe in the hunter world and a bit more.. #CHAA2018

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.

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It is the third year for the USHJA Zone 3/4 Child/Adult Hunter Team championships, and they are, (for the third year), being held in Conyers during Classic Company’s Atlanta Summer Classic.

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.

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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??

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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.

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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.

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 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!!

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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.

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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).

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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 every suggestion, 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 days  at 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.

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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. 

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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 recognize these 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.

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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.

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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.

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Megan setting up the table while on a conference call. 

So many faces.

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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.

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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?

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.

 

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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.

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Sable and Tattered Lace. PC Allison Hartwell

 

Unsanction me – the Virginia Hunters and then some….

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.

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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.

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PC Theresa Ramsay, Jessi and Davenport 

I asked Jessica Lohman what she thought of the V Champs: big fan….

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. 
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Karyn Clifton and her Dash. PC Theresa Ramsay

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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!” 
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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…..

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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.

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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.

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for more info, click here http://www.vahunterchamps.com/home.html

Girl in the Merlot Coat

I posted something on FB. I thought it was funny, knowing what I know, but boy did I hit a nerve, which I didn’t see coming.

I saw something pretty at a horse show, like really pretty. I gotta tell you, just so you know, I am not a fashionista. I love Target long sleeve t-shirts, and hoodies, denim, and Merrills. At shows, I wear the same tan breeches, white show shirt and navy R.J. Classic show coat over and over and over again week in and week out.

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I love the R.J. Classics navy coat, and get this… you can machine wash it after every show, hang it up to dry and it looks amazing. Where do they find this fabric? It looks like the traditional wool show coat, but it isn’t. It is beautiful, smart, and conservative. It is my uniform, and sometimes I throw in a lighter blue or grey coat to the mix when I am feeling feisty, or grow tired of several days in a row wearing navy. 

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Anyway, I saw a pretty show coat, my initial reaction was that is may be completely inappropriate for the hunter ring, but pretty non the less. I have a thing about burgundy, wine or any deep merlot/maroon color. My barn colors are navy and burgundy. The colors suit me. No one associates yellow with me, I am never that chipper. But burgundy or any variation, yes. me. I imagined myself wearing the pretty merlot coat. I imagined myself getting all dressed up with no where to go, since I currently don’t own a jumper, chuckled to myself, sighed, and snapped a photo of the coat, placed it back on the rack. Maybe one day, I thought to myself…

Yeah right, one day on Mars, maybe.

People lost their minds over the merlot coat when I posted it on FB. I was flooded with private messages imploring me to buy the coat, be that girl! The trend setter, the courageous one. I laughed, technically I have to change the rule first in the rule book to allow the color to be worn in hunter classes, because right now only black, brown, blue, hunter green and grey are allowable colors. However, clown breeches are allowed. Oops, I meant Canary breeches. As if. So… until I (or someone) actually propose(s) the rule change, the color remains illegal.

If you had to choose between wearing canary and wearing a burgundy color, which would you choose? Add the flares in and yeah I am going to be distracted a bit. Because what once was a strong fashion statement in the flares and yellow, is…well……not really me. I do have a pair  I used to hunt in, if I can find them I’ll start wearing them in the Derbies again with my shadbelly and you can let me know how distracted you are….

This has been quite a revealing conversation. Just to be clear, I never said I wanted to buy the pretty merlot show coat, I just wanted to see what people thought about seeing it in the hunter ring. I have had dozens of messages over this coat as well as  conversations this weekend at the show, which is all very fascinating to me. I think, in general, women care about their appearance, and typically go all the extra miles to see their hair done, nails done, outfits unique, and goodness, I am sure many people have a civilian wardrobe which I would envy any day of the week……but don’t bring the uniqueness to the horse show for God’s sake!

Horse people talking about Tradition and Fashion reminds me of watching goats ram each other in the head.

Loads of people say we need to hold onto tradition, we need to exemplify what happens in the hunt field, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah.

So ok then, let’s consider what has evolved from the hunt field to the hunter ring for a minute and consider those ‘traditions’ and at the same time look at showing from a few decades ago.

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John Tabachka sporting many traditional looks we do not permit in the show ring today.

Our terrain has changed….we no longer have EVERY show in a field over natural obstacles. Today, the grass venues are considered ‘unique’ and ‘special’. Now the stress of bad footing is causing an existential crisis with horse people. There are approximately three horse shows left with any trees standing in the ring. Fox hunters gallop through mud, show people scratch in heavy rain.

It is common to find gates at the end of a ring.

We have crossrail classes……The only cross rail in the hunt field was once a four post fence line which 40 people obliterated along the chase. At shows in the old days, everyone jumped giant fences. I mean giant.

Our Safety concerns are different…. what we used to perform in a top hat or no hat at all has become a billion dollar industry for cranial protection and ASTM approval requirements, whatever that means. We now go through concussion training. Safety vests or jackets are honorable, commended and encouraged. Now there is a big push to change the way we wear our hair because a hit to the head in a helmet full of hair makes our brains bounce too much. Yet, the hunt field has disregarded ASTM requirements and basically could care less about industry standards or whether or not you wear a vest. good luck, don’t die, and keep up for Chrissake. We are wearing our unapproved, no chin strap, colorful, velvety helmets to our graves, thank you very much. 

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the traditional velvet cap Elizabeth Sponseller on Roanie. PC Theresa Ramsay

That was then, this is now.

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K. Moving on.

A medic is required at sanctioned shows….but in the hunt field, it is the good old 911 call that gets an ambulance (or helicopter)  to show up for some mishap. Or else you get tossed in the back of a pick up and taken to the Care First.

Our schedules have changed. We used to show on the weekends, now we are consistently showing five out of seven days, which makes zero sense to me. Most fox chasing clubs offer 2 or 3 days a week for their membership, which seems like plenty of horse time. 

Our horse shows are more manufactured than boutique, corporations clearly focused on making as much money off of you in one weekend or season as humanly possible, with little regard for the tradition of fox chasing. Most show horses would freak the eff out at a horn blowing next to them.

Our Federations have changed. What once was the original American Horse Show Association became the United States Equestrian Federation, and has evolved into both the United States Equestrian and the United States Hunter Jumper Association. Be right back on whether the Masters of Foxhounds Association has changed. oh that’s right…. never. (MFHA was established in 1907). Apparently we ‘show’ people need several hundred pages of rules to keep us in order while fox chasers need just one rule – DON’T PASS THE FIELD MASTER.

Our equipment has improved….what used to be a plain snaffle, pelham, or combination of both (on an ugly wide flat double bridle) has become…. well, let’s just estimate a 500,000 bit choice in the current day and age on hand made English leather, carefully ‘fancy’ stitched with pretty patterns, rolled leather, laced reins, with pretty brass nameplates tacked on at just the right place (behind the left ear), which sparkle in that perfect photo op.

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OMG if I used this bridle today? I would be shot. Aren’t those braids huge? But again, what a gorgeous jumper, no? PC Hunters/Jumpers of the 70’s and 80’s

Saddles have become de-militarized and cushy. We have knee blocks, leg blocks, side blocks, thigh blocks, butt blocks, whatever blocks, really so many blocks we could build a gymnasium with our blocks.

We actually use saddle pads now, which were not considered appropriate a few years ago.

We don’t tie our numbers to our backs with white string or twine anymore, and I certainly hope no one is tucking their back numbers into the collar anymore….gross.

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I don’t know about you but the first thing I noticed was the horse. wow, impressive, right? I want this horse! Then I look at the jump. Yikes. Big! Then I kind of look at the rider and go hmm, where did all that come from? PC FB group – Hunter/Jumpers of the 70’s and 80’s

Our stirrups bend and flex and have fancy inserts to keep our feet in place.

Rowel spurs are not common.

The length of a whip has been regulated, and if you have ever seen a hunt whip used to control hounds you would understand that a show whip is considerably shorter than a hunt whip. 

Leg protection is prohibited, (except in the equitation), yet in the hunt field everyone wears boots.

Our drinking has changed. While riding on sherry might be taboo in the show hunter world, most fox chasers cannot arrive to a hunt meet with an empty flask, and commonly ‘toast’ the hounds at 10 am, (or earlier during cubbing season.) By the end of two hours, every flask is appropriately empty. Yes, there are quite a few people drinking at 10 am at shows, but hopefully not as a norm.

Drug use is not permitted. Before Ace Promazine was invented, the double bridle kept you from passing the Field Master in the Hunt Field. Now fox chasers don’t leave home without their Ace Promizine like we don’t leave home without an American Express card, yet show horses have a list a mile long of banned substances, and if you get caught using them you have to get involved in a lengthy and expensive law suit to get off.

Our horses have changed. What once was considered the Holy Grail of a mock fox hunter (the Thoroughbred) is now an impossibly slow, heavy, and often stupid Warmblood. Now we are scraping together a few valuable TB’s to show in a division or two at a USEF sanctioned show, when just a few years ago we scoffed at the idea of a heavy warmblood in a hunter conformation class. Talk about a scandal, geeesh. If we really wanted to hold onto tradition, we would ban warmbloods.

Hunt Clubs have Hunt Balls to celebrate the end of season. The show world mails awards.

You get the idea, and you could probably add to the list. The point is, why are we holding onto this one last thing? What is so important about the color of a show coat? What is the underlying fear? Are people worried we are going to go from the merlot coat to feathers in our hair? And should men have a vote? Let’s not forget wild varieties of tweed and colored stock ties are extra popular on informal hunt days, including ALL of cubbing season. For many fox chasers, this is the favorite time of year, when they get to show off their most treasured outfits.

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My smiling mum and Smitten, her mother’s blue stock tie, her favorite tweed coat, and Smitten wearing all the boots as well as a breastplate!

I am not sure people who are clinging to the ‘old school’ look are considering what is really ‘old school’ The look today I actually consider quite ‘modern’. I personally was never a fan of rust colored breeches, and my days in them were thankfully brief growing up. Other people love them, and probably wear them brilliantly, but it doesn’t quite work for me. The white linen show coat? I don’t think I would want to wear that either. In fact the 70’s seemed to be loaded with odd outfits all over the place, so hopefully we don’t have to return to ‘old school’ fashion in the show world. That would actually be a bigger detriment to our little bubble.

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I watched the Ladies Sidesaddle class this week at the Maryland National Horse Show. It was beautiful to see those competitors so fancy with skirts. There are so few Sidesaddle competitors left anymore and it is an admirable division to take part in, but I couldn’t do it. The funny thing is, a hundred years ago, I would have been forced to ride Sidesaddle. Riding astride was not allowed. It took a few brave and courageous women to overturn the tradition of Sidesaddle, march to Washington, and encourage women to ride astride. Women had to fox hunt Sidesaddle! You can follow Devon Zebrovious to see how challenging that actually is, and she is good at it. I wouldn’t even make it down the dang driveway.

The following pictures of Devon show an array of traditions the show world has strayed away from, see if you can locate a couple. 

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I have to say her first outfit I am thankful for because it pops out of the background. The navy is actually harder to see so I feel like I am missing something.

Ladies Sidesaddle classes have remained firmly rooted in those hundred year old traditions, and while it is nice to see an occasional resurgence of participants in those classes, we aren’t exactly splitting that division by age group. That is because riding and showing have evolved to be come less challenging, more comfortable, and easier for everyone involved. Values on tradition have changed, and will continue to change many years from now. And thankfully, we don’t have to ride Sidesaddle anymore if we choose not to. The tradition carries on in a lovely manner in the Sidesaddle division, so if you are married to tradition, maybe look there. But don’t forget tradition is not always practical. Or humane. The outfits alone are mind boggling, and stress me out.

“The attire/tack in the ss division is based off of traditional, appointments-style formal hunting attire that was standard back in the 1920s-1940s: Black or navy side saddle habit (consisting of matching jacket and apron, and the apron should be long enough that your right toe/foot does NOT show), typically made out of melton wool or cavalry twill (needs to be heavy to hang properly and not flap around); color-matching breeches under the apron; White or cream stock tie with stock pin; waistcoat/vest (buff, canary, white, unless a bona fide member of a registered hunt whose waistcoat livery is different and they have been awarded the right to wear it); tall dress boots (no zippers), with a spur worn high on the left ankle, and traditionally garters on your boots; Gloves are brown, wash, or cream (black gloves were for mourning, and one would not be so frivolous to go hunting if you were in mourning)”

Your preference of the merlot show coat should be your choice alone if you want to feel pretty. Go for it, I would never hold it against you for wearing one. I am going to look at the horse you are riding anyway, the outfit is irrelevant to me. I hope one day there will be room for the maroon coat in the hunter ring, maybe a solution would be to allow it for juniors and amateurs only, after all, they are the ones driving this sport forward, currently being the heaviest populated divisions in horse showing today.

Don’t give up ladies. And R.J Classics? Don’t give up on us drab and dreary hunter riders.  We are coming for ya, just wait a little moment will ya?

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BigEq.com proves that showing in maroon ain’t all the bad actually.

Poor Meggie wants to leave the hunters behind just so she wear the maroon coat. Shoutout to The Boot and Bridle Tack Shop for adding to the discussion.

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mom, dad, we need to talk. Parenting in the show world.

Guide to being a better parent in the horse world, coming from someone who isn’t a parent. Doesn’t seem fair does it? Like, what do I know? I don’t have children. Why should I address parenting? What gives me any right to think I know better? Maybe I don’t. That is fine. Just be aware I am not the only one out there with no children….. From what I have experienced, there are far more childless trainers in the hunter world than trainers with their own kids. So, there is that.

The relationship between trainer and client is always tricky when it involves kids and parents and VARIES with trainers all over the country. Every trainer has stories, some are good, some are horror stories, and everyone has learned from hard mistakes. Many times the trainers who have strict rules about parents is because of these hard lessons, not just because the trainer is being a hard ass. Let’s take it to the back to the early years, but these apply no matter the age of your kid.

Do you have a plan?

After you have (painfully, or gleefully) decided to invest in the world of hunter showing for your rosy cheeked tiny person, and found the perfect pointy toed, spawn of the devil, pint sized creature, we like to refer to as a PONY, what next? What’s the plan? What are your goals? What are you trying to accomplish here?

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Even if you are not quite on the level of assuredness to the commitment your checkbook will allow, the plan needs to be formulated WITH your trainer, not simply announced on a week to week, or month to month basis. Take it seriously, sit down, and think about your options. Is this a hobby? Is this a career? Is this a true commitment you are willing to give up soccer practice for? Your weekends? Holidays?

It becomes a lot less overwhelming when you think about your child’s junior career in four year increments.

Believe it or not, your goal of Pony Finals may not happen in the same year your child learns what a diagonal is. Nor should it.

Learning to ride and writing a check are two very different things. So, invest wisely. A GOOD trainer should be able to recognize what is a feasible time frame for attaining a goal, so listen. And make sure your trainer wants to go to Pony Finals. Sometimes the stress of getting there for one kid isn’t actually at the top of a trainer’s list when there are half a dozen other kids who have different goals, just because you think your child is extra special…. If you are going to be the one parent who causes stress and resentment, it won’t be a very fun adventure in Kentucky. I can promise you that.

Even if you are just stepping into the show world and a championship is not even on your radar, what do you see happening over the next four years? In Grade school, your kid will learn to read, write, multiplication, and form independent thoughts. You expect this and a report card will show progress, but in the horse world, we don’t issue report cards, because you are responsible for the financial obligation regarding the depth of knowledge your kid will attain. From lead line to the first cross rail, it all depends on your checkbook, and commitment. So, if you would like to see little Susie go from lead line to division showing, or lead line to Pony Club Rallies, it will be part of your four year plan. Write it down, say it out loud, and comprehend what this means. Each path is ok, and will work around your budget.

Are you living vicariously through your child?

There are many scenarios for this, but not really too many beneficial ones.

When I see parents struggling with the color of ribbons, I internally freak out. It never seems enough that your kid is happily flying around on Cheeky Sporty Firecracker with pink and green bows, finally remembering all of the courses on the same day, not dying in the ring, and now we struggle with “Why didn’t we win? I WATCHED the other ponies! Please explain now!”

Look, no one is judging you. No one is judging you based on the pony you purchased. We are all here in the sport together, knowing perfectly well it is subjective, it is tough, sometimes political, sometimes unfair, sometimes works in your favor, and sometimes it rains. Relax. If each show depends on at least one blue ribbon, you may not really be in the right sport. If you are demanding to know WHY the placings fall as they do EACH time your kid shows in the ring, but your kid is thinking about daffodils, your trainer will really start to get annoyed, even if they are professional enough not to show it. Please take a breath, you are in it for the long haul, the results this week won’t really make your child any less lovable. I swear. I’ll still like the tiny person who has daffodils on her mind today. I am good enough to see that there is still potential for success there even if we were last in every class. If the child is happy, why can’t you be? Happiness is not always the color blue. One of the worst feelings is disappointment, and over time when a child feels he or she is constantly going to disappoint a parent by being last in every class, guess what will happen? Can you guess or does someone have to spell it out for you? My heart breaks for these kids.

Trainer Solution #1 – The Parent Box. During competition parents are encouraged to watch from the other side of the ring. Or from the stands. Somewhere other than the in gate.  And be quiet. Trainers who have this rule have found improved concentration from kids and a closer understanding of the trainers’ instructions without unnecessary distractions. This allows a child to ride for the trainer, not for the mother.

Trainer Solution #2 – No Placings Discussions same day of competition. Implementation of this rule has shown 24 hours following competition, the urgency to know all of the answers fades.   

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I think a lot about ‘the need’ to always be winning. It is not really that healthy. Not only that, it doesn’t actually teach kids anything about the real world, where, as an adult, they are not always going to win. He or she is going to have struggles, bad bosses, bad roommates, better co-workers, and your child might lose a job or two as and adult. If you have spent years criticizing your child for losing in the show ring, how will they handle losing their first job? Gracefully? Tearfully? Will he/she have a complete meltdown and get depressed? Learning from fails or failure can be directly correlated to mental attitude in the show ring as a junior progresses through the ranks. First of all, what is really failure when you are on horse? I mean really, who is homeless here? Thank you. NOT WINNING is actually very useful, and key to development. No child should go through life with an urgency to win rather than learn. And sometimes learning means NOT winning. It means learning to do the lead change properly, learning to add in a line when the pony is strong, whatever.

One of the best parent interactions I witnessed was a dad who bought chocolate chip ice cream for a kid who chipped to the single oxer in all five classes over the weekend. He felt she deserved the best chips in all the land in the form of a tasty treat for the best chip performance. It was funny, she laughed, and was able to let it go. She would joke later she was more focused on earning another ice cream rather than missing at the single oxer and gradually her fear faded, and performance improved.

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When Denise Richards braids her kids hair. PC Daily Mail

Parent competition –  I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Some of the worst stories that trainers have come from parent competition which often can rapidly turn into parent bullying, a trainer’s worst fear. Save this crap for the reality shows on Bravo, honestly, what could be worse than parent shaming over a pony? What on earth will this teach your kid? My sympathies go out to all of the trainers having to deal with jealousy among the moms and dads of kids just trying to have a good time. There really are no words. I have seen parents refusing to allow their child to do the same exercises, lessons, share trailer space, share the same lesson pony, and on and on because of comparisons to another riding kid. “my little precious does everything on her own already, she doesn’t need to hear what the trainer says about show protocol.” What your trainer wants to say is where you can stick it, but again, the fear of losing yet another immature client usually brings silence, so these parents get away with it, while confident parents KNOW it takes a VILLAGE to accomplish these big dreams, not just the checkbook of one person.

Not a fan of “Sharenting” – It is great you want your kid to be a model of the pony or junior world, ambassador of this, ambassador of that, etc. etc, but is your kid actually a role model for showing or a role model for good horsemanship? BIG difference. And how many instagram pics are really necessary? Promote the good stuff, the important skills, and maybe spend a little more time showcasing the virtues of understanding colic versus tying up, rather than the amount of stripes on a show coat or bareback jumping. There is an awakening happening with horsemanship, be the parent who shares those skills, stay ahead of the curve to earn the respect you think you need. It will be better for everyone in the end.

Commitment. –  I have seen a lot of trainers struggling with kids who are encouraged to play every sport while keeping Pony Finals on the table as a real goal. Again, trainers have my sympathy. The route to these big championships is long, exhausting, emotional, and is compounded by an athlete who is a jack of all trades, master at none. Trainers are not easily turned on by investing all of their energy into a championship, like Devon, Indoors or PF, only to have really mediocre or poor performances when you all get there. It doesn’t make anyone look good. Trainers are hesitant to tell you to choose, when the fear is you are going to pull your kid away all together, so it helps to have the maturity to really think this all through. Whatever your goals are, on any level, try to level with your trainer and kid about what is the most important to your kid. Developing commitment to one sport will also prove to be beneficial to adulting, as most kids who have shown focus through to the end, will make better employees in the future.

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family day! 

Knowledge of the sport –  As a parent, it can be really confusing when the pony you just mortgaged your house for doesn’t place in a medal class, when you had no idea the pony wasn’t actually being judged in that class, the rider was. And the rider was on the wrong diagonal for three laps of the ring, which you failed to notice or even look for. And what’s the difference between a children’s pony and a division pony? Or, why do I need an equitation horse and a junior hunter and a jumper? Why can’t one horse do all of those divisions? Good questions, but taxing questions. I am actually considering writing a book called ‘Horse Showing for Dummies’ which would alleviate a lot of these questions, but there is no current manual, educational video or support group provided by the Federation, so TALK with your kids about these questions before attacking your trainer. There is a lot out there, but a lot can be provided at the dinner table in your own house. You might learn more about your kid’s dedication that way, too. Other seasoned parents can actually help with this, too, but make an effort, don’t simply pout and demand answers from your trainer without actually seeing if the answers are already right in front of you.

Bad weather riding, and paying for horseless lesson – One of my biggest pet peeves with Parents, HOLY COW, not kidding. Sometimes it is too cold to ride. However, it is not too cold to learn. If I have heard this complaint from trainers or instructors one time, I have heard it a hundred.

Trainer – “it is too cold to ride, but I would like to use the hour to teach important horsemanship lessons like tacking up, grooming, picking out the feet, bandaging, equipment, blanketing, shoeing, etc.etc.etc.”

Parent – “absolutely not. I am not paying for a lesson unless my kid is on top of that pony and jumps all of the jumps in the ring”

Worst Parent on the Planet. This is what makes trainers give up and not care. This is what makes trainers go “See? They don’t want us to teach anything important, not my job, not my responsibility, anymore, I’m done”. And then the trainer invests less and less until no one is happy and you find yourself shopping for a new trainer…. If there is a trainer out there willing to take the time to conduct a horseless lesson, do not be the Worst Parent in the World and say No. For the love of all things equine, DO NOT SAY NO. Allow your kid to learn the most important and vital part of being a proper horsemen so we can together turn this country around in it’s thinking. Whether you like it or not you are a part of it now. You are part of the horse culture in America, so here is a chance to be a better parent, take advantage of it.

Purchasing animals for your child without the aid of a trainer – Generally, with professionals, you won’t find a lot of support for this isolated decision making process. Nothing is worse than feeling excluded in a pretty big decision, whether it ends up a good one or a fail. I probably will never convince people this practice is a genuine disservice to professionals and trainers world-wide, but I can speak for most of them when I say – put yourself in my shoes for one second. You are going to ask me to develop a relationship with an animal and a child, probably for a few years, ask me to fix the lead changes, fix all the naughty things it does, bring it up the levels to a division pony because someone else convinced you it was a ‘potential’ division pony, but is maxed out at 2’3”, and meanwhile not allow your kid to shed a single tear out of frustration, but you won’t let me in on the decision?  All of which could be avoided if you just let me simply guide you down a different path with a lease the first year, and possibly an eligible green pony after that IF I felt your kid was ready. Now, who is happy here? In the end, the pony cannot be properly finished, the kid has outgrown it a year too early, and may not even want to do the hunters anymore because the struggle was all too real. Again, I can’t change every parent’s thinking, but it is super sad to see those decisions being made inside the family, and not work out. Maybe some of them do, but I think most often even parents cannot predict when kids lose interest in difficult scenarios.

 

Are there any good parents?

Oh my Lord, loads of good ones. If you sit down and take a moment to talk with some good parents in the show world, you will see they have a pretty broad picture in mind for their precious spawn. Little things don’t upset them. Lameness comes along with the sport and is understood. They are not bothered by little Susie being a barn rat, but encourage equal time spent on grades. They instill enough good values so they play nice in the barn and help others. They don’t make comparisons to other parents, but offer to make sure plenty of food and water is available on the weekends when it gets really crazy busy, or make restaurant reservations, independently take care of hotel reservations, and explore prize lists online without being prompted, teaching themselves the important shows, important divisions, and routinely make sure the often exhausted barn help has coffee in the mornings at shows. Good parents are at the ready for any situation – my favorite ones will show up at a new show grounds, drop the spawn off at the appropriate stalls, and scope out the facility for all of the important amenities. Potty, show office, Rings 1-5, concessions, coffee shop, and photography booth. They don’t need to be prompted to pay their bill in the show office, and even understand what stall splits are. These parents are revered, and part of the reason members in our state show association (Maryland) introduced a Perfect Parent Award to honor those parents who show constant support throughout the show year. I love this award. The MHSA Perfect Parent Award was initiated by Tracy Magness and Wendy Leibert in honor of their amazing parents John and Barbara Bartko, who I don’t think ever miss attending a show and supporting the team throughout Tracy and Wendy’s entire careers, and as far as I know, still do. Hopefully, other states across the nation have something similar in place for the good parents, the solid, supportive parents, the good role models we need in this difficult and challenging sport.

 

Adorable blog by a kid from the AQHA here. http://www.unbelievab.ly/the-reality-of-showing-horses-with-non-horsey-parents/

 

Even Michigan State University puts out information for parents of horse kids, detailed articles, and a webinar which provides logical information to help. This speaker brings up an article which points out that Americans have the worst record for Parental Sportsmanship in the WORLD, in every sport, compared to over 20 other countries, and wouldn’t it be nice to turn that statistic around?

“It’s ironic that the United States, which prides itself in being the most civilized country in the world, has the largest group of adults having witnessed abusive behavior at children’s sporting events,” Ipsos senior vice president John Wright said.

Maybe we could lead the way for change in the horse industry…

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Jim Bridges, ultimate horse show parent

 

 

 

 

An elephant I named Murray, my take on the 2018 US Equestrian meeting.

It is a long week. A long week I am not making any money. In January. It is not a good week. The drive over the mountains from Baltimore to Paris was timed unbelievably with luck to be edging out a snowstorm creeping across Kentucky. The first flakes were falling as I crept down the dark roads to Paris and found my residence for the week, Hickory Manor. Kimmy Risser’s farm was just north of Lexington, a 20 minute drive from the convention, and she had graciously put me up for the duration of the meeting. Without her, I could never had afforded the week.

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Carefully following a snow plow the following morning, our 20 minute drive was nearly doubled from the impact of the storm. I imagined it would disrupt other people’s travel plans as well, and on the drive, we wondered who might be attending the meeting.

The “Pre-Meeting” meeting was named a Competition and Member Summit: Facing Challenges Together. It was not officially part of the big week, more like a bone thrown out to attendees to say here “We discussed things here, see?” But the title was alluring enough to get me there, it sounded like something I should attend. Looking back, it may have been the only meeting worth attending.

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Panels of four people were placed on a stage, a man named Tom O’Mara was placed behind a podium with a book of questions, and he deliberately moved discussion around with handy topics like Calendar Management, Competition Standards, and the Cost of Showing. Each topic afforded a new panel, each representing a different discipline. I realized most of the attendees were actually members of the panel and a few other curious spectators. Some big players, some regular people, and me. I couldn’t quite figure out who they were actually presenting to, per se, but we were assured the event was being recorded and would be offered to members later. There was some recognition that horse shows are getting too expensive, and clearly competition standards could be stripped and realigned, but little move to actually pull out pen and paper.

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Maybe the most exciting moment was watching Tom Struzzieri indicate he had beautifully created the perfect horse show facilities, only to see the numbers drastically declining in the hunters and that he would like to know where the clients are. I squirmed in my seat. Was he serious? I squirmed some more,and groaned. Someone in front of me raised a hand…. the exchange was the epitome of an ostrich versus the cheetah while the lemurs pulled out the popcorn.

 

 

But the elephant in that particular room was still lurking in the corner, which seemed to be the inability to address multiple levels of financial backgrounds of the actual people who want to horse show, and how it is drastically affecting the horse show community, our livelihoods, and the Federation.

Tuesday morning started with what I considered two very important meetings happening simultaneously, the Vet Committee and Competition Standards Committee. I was going to have to split my time between both somehow. I started to walk toward Competition Standards, but Stephen Schumacher caught my eye inside the Vet Committee room, and I changed course. At that moment I thought hmmm, there is a touchy subject floating around the hunter community, maybe I could find answers here.

Fifteen minutes into the meeting, bored, and scrolling through FB,  I found the press release from the USEF describing the results of the arbitration ruling in favor of Larry and Kelley. I froze. Then I squirmed. I showed Kimmy. Every expletive went through my mind. I couldn’t focus. The conversation continued.

I sat there and listened to the discussion of various rule proposals being put forward (collapse rule, willful toleration of abuse, and some other random thing) and also the depo update, how 4 or 5,000 forms had been submitted since September, USEF had to hire a temp to sort through them all, and wouldn’t it be nice to require all members to file electronically by February 1st, to get out of this quagmire of paper? Bill Moroney reminded the group that people might only be filling out the paperwork at the horse shows when they actually see drug testers on the grounds and my head began to spin. Another exhibitor fail. Now the results will be forever skewed. great. Exhibitors might never get it together.

One positive topic was the use of Pergolide or medication for Cushings horses…. Following the direction of WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency)  and the use of TUE’s (Therapeutic Use Exemptions) these forms would allow all users of Pergolide to file just one time and show their ponies on the drug. There was acceptance in the group that this allowance would be fine under the Federation’s Drugs and Medications policy. So it was a good step for those ponies….

I was just about to give up on the rest of the topics, however, (even leaving the room to visit next door) when the lurking elephant finally came to the table. Thankfully, Kimmy pulled me back just in time and I heard Susie Schoellkopf’s recognizable voice coming through the telecom, asking when we were going to talk about the real issue. This was it! And it was awkward. So I will just leave this right here….

(Sadly, I cannot share what I witnessed through the blog. Video had to be removed)

 

Still mildly fuming, and internally frustrated, I moved back into the Competition Standards meeting……. After witnessing the summit the day before, I was prepared to watch the committee members to be hard at work deciphering exactly what needs to be on the list of requirements for each level of showing. I was disappointed…. extremely disappointed. Instead of breaking apart the requirements there is actually a Super Premiere show option up for debate. How is this even possible? Another level beyond Premiere? How can you fix what is broken by inventing another avenue? I already have HUGE issues with the idea of reducing the amount of Premiere shows from 250 to 25 per year, and now this.

If this is hard to follow, it is, but it is crucial that it doesn’t happen, simply for the welfare of the horses, which few people seem to remember in these meetings. There are members insisting that National points and Premier points are the same. (they aren’t) Those same people did not predict that 250 shows per year would acquire a Premiere rating (they did). Feeling like that is saturating the market, these people would like to see all those shows reduced to a National rating (how?) and see this country only offer 25 Premiere horse shows per year. (which ones?) First of all, circuit showing will be greatly affected, but have you seen how many points it takes to get into Devon and Indoors? Without a cap on how many shows ponies can show in per year, to get the points needed these ponies would be subject to a horrific show schedule. This is in direct conflict of horse welfare. You can’t do one without the other, and this is beyond over regulation of a Federation.

I am not sure what the hesitation is to address the actual standards, but start there first, and give the stewards the same checklist to review. If the stewards aren’t aware of how the shows actually qualify for their rating, how can they report properly? And how can improvements be made?

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The amount of people seeking out unsanctioned shows is on the rise in many parts of this country, and they are sacrificing amenities to accommodate their budgets, time, and energy to have a simpler, shorter, and more gratifying experience. I know this to be true, and not just because I polled the public.

 

That afternoon, we were subject to some more theatre. The forum on Safe Sport I feel has been hammered into us repeatedly, with much the same affect each time, and yes I get it, the gymnasts fucked us all, but really, our horse community is not wholly on board. I am not personally opposed to the training, it is not that, but when I asked the speaker to tell me how many of the 150 grievances reported in last year were actually equestrians? She had to think. Maybe 5 or 6. And of those 5 or 6, only half had enough evidence to substantiate an inquiry or investigation.

Maybe we are too early into the process, maybe we will see more, and maybe this is out of our hands, but that elephant has yet to leave the building in this discussion.

The irony of the next speaker did not escape me, and although she was quite capable, and a talented speaker, I felt Sarah Hamilton’s forum on Crisis Management could be directed solely to the Federation and it’s employees. She thoroughly explained how to get in front of a crisis, and the tools needed to save an organization from a complete break up. I looked at Kimmy… was this for us? or for Murray?

I skipped the Coaching Register, which may have been a mistake, but I was cooked. I had to hear later how USEF will eventually be moving forward with much the same requirements for Coaches and Trainers that USHJA will be implementing, Safe Sport training, certification, and another background check. The only problem (a big one) is that the requirements are not aligning with all of the organizations, and certain background checks are not acceptable to the USOC, USEF, USHJA, and other affiliates. The certification requirements are vague. So this might be getting tabled until the details can be scrutinized a bit further. Yikes.

Moving on to the Ted Talks.

Thursday morning came quick. I was slowly losing hope on any sort of forum to vent frustrations, but tried to enjoy the nice breakfast anyway. I wanted a front row seat for our Murray Kessler presentation, so we finished quickly enough to make our way to the ballroom a few minutes early. When the minions outside the closed doors told us we couldn’t go in until everyone else had arrived I was like what? Why? Is this high school? I thought they were kidding, and didn’t feel much like standing around like an idiot, so entered the room, finding a table closest to the stage.. Jesus Christ, get over yourselves. Kimmy followed me.  I looked around, bewildered at the Las Vegas style stage, house music blaring, and an intense light show. Within a few seconds of sitting down and pulling out my notebook, Murray Kessler was hurrying to our table in dramatic fashion to inform us we had entered the room too early. I stared at him, trying to comprehend. It was 8:26 am. He didn’t want us to panic that we were the only two people in the room. I looked around again. I hadn’t noticed. Nor cared. I suggested he open the doors, and he left us. I looked at Kimmy. What in the actual Fuck?

 

What followed for the next four hours was painful. We were berated with an ongoing celebration of US Equestrian patting itself on the back and films or slides describing the steps they were taking to move ahead. I pulled out my phone and used FB Live to put the whole craziness online. I sympathized with his staff. A young staff. Dozens of wonderfully endearing cheer leaders clearly dependent on their income to celebrate and sell the Joy of US Equestrian. In fact, it seems he has cleverly and deliberately positioned young people in their 20’s and 30’s so maybe they can not and will not call him out on his mistakes, or warn him of his narcissism, and they somehow enable him as he continues to stabilize the Federation financially, at seemingly great cost to its members. It is almost too clever. The clash of a corporate leader with a fan club in an emotional and draining sport is almost too much to bear. How in the world did we get here?

The USEF ‘Ted Talk’ left me stunned and sour. No bigger disconnect could easily be described. The zoo this organization has become has turned to blatantly burning cash for no more than a fancy slide show, while all of its members, (including all of my friends) are on show grounds all over this country cleaning the shit out of their horse’s stalls, braiding, bathing, prepping, learning their courses, and actually working to make a living with the creature who brought us here in the first place. The horse.

For the rest of the day I wandered in and out of meetings, challenging myself to pay close attention, but missing reality outside the walls. Sure, some moments were important, and I was happy to share any experience with others, I utilized my phone to broadcast to members, because why not? The more that time passed, the more I realized what I actually wanted. Needed. Was desperate for. I wanted answers from Stephen Schumacher. I wanted a conversation with the Chief Operating Officer of the Drugs and Medications department of US Equestrian. I couldn’t find him. He had mysteriously vanished. I sent an email to him. I asked Murray and his assistant where he was. I asked more minions. I got nothing. I gave up, hoping to hear from him by email. I returned the next morning to wait in the halls for him. Most of the meetings were closed to the general public, so I waited. I snuck into a Closed meeting and watched some more boring and depressing discussion. I waited for a few more hours then returned to Kimmy’s farm. I suspect he doesn’t want to talk to me, but I have these questions for him…..

Who was responsible for the broken chain of command in the Glefke/Farmer case?

What will happen to that person?

How will an ‘Outsourced Audit’ of the Chain of Command within the USEF Lab help?

How will the Drug Testers be educated from here on out?

How do we report bad Drug Testers?

Can we ask them to wear gloves?

Shouldn’t they be wearing gloves? Hospital workers wear gloves.

Can we report to you how vials are handled?

Is it ok when Drug Testers open vials with their teeth?

Is it really ok to have a Drug tester demand to test a horse between rounds of a class? (Yes this is actually happening.)

Do Drug Testers get randomly drug tested? Should they?

How come you cannot outsource the Labwork?

How long will it take to see improvements with Drug testing?

What actions are being taken to restore faith in the members regarding Drug Testing?

Will it be enough?

Proposed GR414.6 is on the table which will Prohibit the Possession of Magnesium Sulfate on Competition Grounds. How do you plan on enforcing this? Will you be giving the authority to Drug Testers to raid tack trunks looking for bottles of an illegal drug?

If this rule passes, will it open the door to other random inspections of possessions?

I am still here in Kentucky, I want to go home, but instead, I am going to walk through the convention doors tomorrow morning and wait one more time for that interview. We’ll see if I get it.

Drug me.

The Monday morning hangover.

Why do Americans seem so attached to pharmaceuticals? A few decades ago I pondered this question as I learned more and more about how the rest of the world ‘deals’ with their daily lives, the good, bad, and ugly.

Our culture is vastly different, and alarmingly attached to items which make life easier for us, or remove anxiety, or inhibit feelings all together. When I watch Netflix dramas about how crazy fast drug cartels were getting their product into ports and over the borders in the 60’s and infiltrating schools and streets across the country within just a few short years, I was fascinated by ease in which those cartels worked, but I also realized how long we have been accustomed to drug use because of those cartels, and how TOLERANT we have unwittingly become of the current drug culture. So many of us are constantly exposed on a continual basis and we don’t even realize it. The drugs are just there. All of the time. We read about it everywhere, we hear about it every day on the news, in our social media feeds, it never ends. Every facet of society is exposed to it in one form or another. I personally find it is really difficult to find one person in society who has never taken any form of drug or narcotic. Can you say you know someone who has never put a drug or narcotic in his/her system?

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Maybe one of the biggest impacts for a lot of society was watching Lance Armstrong get caught using drugs, flat out lie about his usage, only to later admit he actually was one of the biggest abusers in sport. It was impressive. But not all that surprising. Possibly the only other country which comes close to similar habits is Russia. The weird thing about Russia, is that drug use (in the form of steroids) seems to be clearly pushed from the government on its own athletes rather than cartels from Colombia infiltrating children, which is a whole other can of worms. After watching yet another Netflix drama Icarus, I was shaken by the extent of government involvement. Maybe I should stop watching Netflix, I don’t know.

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In this country, compared to others, doctors are brazen about prescribing medications for alleviating pain, or attention deficit/eating disorders and whatever other ailments out there. Prozac is a household name. In fact, there are four horses with the name of Prozac listed with the Federation. We know, or think we know, a LOT about pharmaceuticals in this country. Commercials for pharmaceuticals outnumber the amount of Starbucks stores found in this country.

Each person has his/her own interactions with drugs, and our tolerance for them has led us to become woefully abstract on what is an appropriate point of view toward them. For example, medicating dogs before travel is not an atrocity. Other countries might feel different about our acceptance of drugs, however.  And while some Americans are gleefully popping Prozac or Valium, other Americans are trying to wrap their heads around losing family members to heroin and Fentanyl, and if you asked a family in Germany to discuss pot or Adderall, you would get a lot of confused and surprising looks.

Adderall was nearly impossible to obtain in Germany for many years, and Ritalin not much easier. Pot usage is not as common with high school students as it is here, and generally experimented more in college and adulthood, rather than the age of 12 or 13… Remember, many kids in Europe come HOME for lunch during school, a luxury Americans cannot seem to comprehend, like riding a bike to work. (Alcohol, on the other hand, might be a different story.) So meanwhile, back on home ground, we have to read articles like this one. https://nowtoronto.com/news/why-is-fentanyl-showing-up-in-street-drugs-/

So what does this have to do with the horses?

Well, I think it correlates immensely with culture. If you were to ask me why so many people use pharmaceuticals on horses, I would probably respond “Because they can.”

 

I am not entirely sure why people are so shocked, either. Drug use among horses is nothing new. We just hear about it more now because of Facebook. But the USEF did not decide last week, or even last year to start drug testing horses. Drug testing came into fruition because of a MASSIVE abuse of product in the early 70’s. Reserpine (officially developed in the 50’s) was wildly rampant in the horse show world, because we were desperately trying to SLOW EVERYTHING DOWN. We were creating divisions which exemplified poise, brilliance, and tactical coordination, on horses coming directly from a racing career. Well, how the heck do you think that worked? Think about it for a second…… It only took one person to be brilliant at Madison Square Garden on a horse six months off the track before jealous tongues started to wag. And without any strict State or Federal regulations regarding veterinary medications, Reserpine (and eventually Acepromazine) bottles started popping up in tack trunks all over the country. The prestige of winning at Madison Square garden far outweighed the risk of being caught. Long before The New York Times was publishing articles about collapsing ponies at Devon, they were publishing articles about winning at horse shows, I mean really!

http://www.nytimes.com/1970/10/18/archives/hulick-captures-horse-show-title-junior-takes-hunter-seat-trophy-at.html?_r=0

If you go back and take a look at who the presenter was that year for the AHSA Medal Final, you may or may not recognize the name as being connected with something else. Yes, Dick McDevitt was closely related to the Devon Horse Show but also the person responsible for implementing the Drugs and Medication protocol within our current Federation.

Richard E. McDevitt took the helm in 1976 and began developing the regulatory structure for the Drugs and Medications program. After just two years as head of the AHSA, McDevitt met one of his greatest challenges when he approved a rule requiring that show horses be tested for reserpine, a powerful tranquilizer. His leadership paved the way for equine welfare discussion and protection for years to come. One of his greatest contributions was in his steadfast commitment to keeping a fair and just process for all cases brought before the Hearing Committee. McDevitt also established the model for individual memberships to the AHSA.

Above was taken from the history page of the US Equestrian website

Once pharmaceuticals took a stronghold on the American hunter system, the need for horsemanship skills started to slip through the cracks. Now a whole new world was opening up into which socialites could earn titles without having to do all the hard work. Many big show barns depended on these socialites to bring in business. These show barns were not interested in going to the Olympic Games. They were interested in going to the Hampton Classic. Think about how WEF gained so much popularity. A winter retreat, not exactly a gateway to the Pan-Am Games. The USET Headquarters was located in Gladstone, New Jersey, not Wellington.  Winter retreats require perfectly set up horses for the weekend traveler to hop on a plane on Friday, show in the sun for a couple days, then return North. No one was really thinking about horsemanship skills, trainers were trying to appeal to their clients, and eventually horsemanship simply waned. Well, then the next generation learned from those same trainers, learned those same habits, became comfortable using needles, because that is what so many people were actually doing. Using drugs. Now this generation is seeing a return to basics over the pharmaceutical option, and is struggling with where to learn those essential tools. Pony Club was never popularized by the most influential figures on the covers of horsey magazines, and soon even the extremely knowledgable and dedicated Pony Club Organization was forced to take a seat on the struggle bus, with membership numbers falling with atrocious ferocity.

During the 80’s when Americans started discovering the discarded warmbloods in Europe and found an insanely simple use for them in the multiple Hunter rings, we went WILD for them, importing them like mad because our jobs were suddenly made even EASIER! The slow was being bred into these fabulous creatures from the getgo  and we could achieve stunning results with no reserpine! Slower, steadier, creepy, crawlier canters prevailed! They could jump five times the amount of jumps without breaking like those spindly Thoroughbreds! Prices soared through the next couple of decades, further separating the gap between the wealthy and not wealthy, and we formed a society of superb competitors, but again, with fewer horsemen. The hungry, less well off candidates, often applying for working student positions just to be around the horses quickly soured to what they were witnessing happening in the show world, frowned on the constant collapsed veins, nerved feet, injected tails, dehydrated and otherwise maligned creatures taking top prizes in this country. Instead of reserpine, we were oozing painkillers into the horses because somewhere along the line, we missed how many jumps is too many jumps for a horse and never educated ourselves on longevity. Horses inherently became incredibly disposable. Those valuable working students, with loads of compassion, vanished, and were replaced with the grooms of today.

So fast forward to current day status and we see the USHJA tries to come to the rescue with the EAP program. Maybe that will hold for a few individuals, but not all. Then we also have TCP, or Trainer Certification Program…. meh. We have a Federation seemingly hell bent on instilling the fear of God into drug users at horse shows. That’s great. Members pay for that by the way. And we have hundreds of young aspiring individuals in this country with precious few role models to look up to as exemplary drug free equestrians. The winningest ever derby rider our country has ever seen is currently being ostracized in the media, and even three top Eventers are being penalized for “amphetamines” by the FEI. Some of these positive findings quite possibly could have been doctor prescribed. That thought is terrifying to me, and it has angered hundreds of people in our society. A doctor in this country who was PRESCRIBING a drug to HELP a patient has caused the World Doping Agency to freak the fuck out. Who wins here?

So yes, I think our American society is extremely conflicted in the world of pharmaceuticals. I think some people feel strongly they are HELPING the horses feel better doing these jobs we have created for them, and no science has proved otherwise. Some drugs are tolerated while others aren’t. The idea of a completely drug-free environment in the hunter world is hard for me to envision, but if that’s the goal, then yay for us, I guess.

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I think this conflict started several decades ago, and will take decades more of education to resolve, and in the meantime? Our Federations will be forced to tighten the screws on horses and people alike, whether we like it or not.

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Withdraw me.

If you have actually ever experienced a high from a drug, or alcohol/narcotic experience, you know firsthand that those highs can be so super fun. However, the hangover is not the same fun. It is dreadful. It hurts. It is scary. It is borderline deadly. And guess what? The drug/alcohol/narcotic is still in your system. But you feel like death warmed over. You may have peed or puked most of it out by the morning, but it is still there in your bloodstream.

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When a positive hypersensitive drug appears in a horse’s system, it is likely that the administer was looking for that ‘hangover window’, not the actual high. Cocaine likely leaves a horse much like it leaves a human, painfully, and with a massive headache.

Steroids have a similar effect. Pump a horse full of steroids over the period of a month or whatever, then suddenly pull him off, and voila, you have a seriously incapacitated but beautiful looking creature to work with for a few days. Like at Derby Finals.

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What happens to compassion? I am not sure what happens to love and compassion. Horse dealers are a tricky bunch. You have a few who really seem to value every moment of their horses lives, and treat them as their own children, then you have those who don’t see why horses can’t be a commodity.  Our society has created these two different species, and now it will be up to you and the next generation to decide which one you would like to be, and hopefully influence those around you to choose the better path with you. Good luck to you, it is a harder and longer road toward clean living and better horsemanship. It is steeped with disappointment and fewer magazine covers, but I think, at least in my own mind, worth it to you and your animals to be that better person.

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