Regard-Less

If you are looking for a conventional recap of the USHJA Annual Meeting this year in Denver, please refer to the Plaid Horse and/or Chronicle articles. If you are home for the holidays, have nothing better to do, and feel like taking a walk inside my head, by all means, let me entertain you with my own perspective. It is long, not that interesting, and covers a lot of material…. If you are going to read it, read it all, answer the questions at the end, or turn back here. No judgement. My opinion is not law.

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December 2019

Alarmingly naive and unprepared, I started regularly attending these USHJA Annual meetings a few years ago in hopes you would share the experience with me, learn with me, and be left to help develop the sport after I was gone. I cared, but I was really hoping more people would care alongside me for the sake of the industry. We all need the work, after all. No work, no purpose.

I realize now how broken our system really is, and I am standing on the edge of it, wondering if it isn’t better to simply embrace the broken. After all, when you look around at horse show people, we are often …. broken.

Over the course of the first decade of the USHJA, circa 2004, it seems like ten thousand committees were formed to keep people (like us, but more famous) busy with a variety of ideas, proposals, thoughts, and whatever else to launch the newly formed Association into existence. The ‘think tank’ of equestrians came up with some brilliant plans and took advantage of the wave of prosperity in the horse world, remarkably joining an incredible group of stubborn, hard headed, and independent individuals – the horse show equestrians. These dedicated horse people created programs within the USHJA, catering to just about every known individual who could balance on the back of a horse, and many of us know about those programs.

We know Derby Finals, Green Incentive Finals, EAP,  Child/Adult Jumper Champs, Hunterdon Cup, HQC, Gold Star Clinics, and maybe a few others right? The more involved you are with horse showing, chances are the more programs you are familiar with, correct? Correct. I would spare a guess the average trainer can name 7 of the programs offered within the USHJA without looking it up on the website. There are not merely 7 programs within the USHJA, however.

Equestrians, as a society, were starting to feel overwhelmed; information, and opportunities were coming from all directions, and we had to learn social media at the same time, (lol). No one said STOP! We have enough programs, let’s hit the pause button so we can grow those programs specifically. If some one did say STOP! then his/her voice was drowned out in a flurry of commotion, confusion and creation of more programs, more activity,  and more money.

USHJA meet Icarus.

Being overwhelmed can be a really big deal for people. I know it is for me. I hate it. I basically become a giant asshole and lose friends. (I guess I spend a lot of time being overwhelmed). Some people lose more. When an Association becomes overwhelmed, good creators simply leave, lose hope, become tired of hitting the same old red tape, hearing ‘no’ one too many times, or ‘be quiet, this is confidential’ and return to their horses – fingers crossed they still have customers at the end of the day, maybe try to stay partly in the game with the programs they helped to create, but truthfully probably just want to simplify their lives.

After all, no one was compensating them for their time ‘thinking or creating’.

The ‘creating of new programs’ becomes more of a deterrent to newer up and coming good thinkers because it is no longer a fun environment to be creative in, it is fucking work. Regular people start looking for explanations, start looking for answers, and start wondering what could be different. Whenever I wonder why this blog took on a life of its own, I keep coming back to my initial motivation. I wanted clarity about why my dues were being raised. When I started seeking clarity, I discovered others looking, too. I found a lot of commotion, then created my own. I also realized the time people spent explaining shit to me was staggering. If I had to make my own pie chart it would look like this:

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The State of the Association. and SPC. 

You can see for yourself, the pie charts are all on the USHJA website.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/fm59o7j0rnunh4e/State%20of%20the%20Association%202019.pdf?dl=0

The slides all at once aren’t clear. We had a lot of material thrown our direction Tuesday morning. I started to take notes, but gave up. It was tremendous. Overwhelming. I vowed to sort it out later if the materials could be made available. I looked around and saw most people were starting to check their phones.

Now, one by one, looking at each slide is a little easier to comprehend, yet I am not sure what I am looking at. Or, why. Or who for. I think some of these pie charts are dangerous to share with ignorant people, because assholes like me start asking inappropriate questions, and next thing you know a staff member gets fired. Just kidding, that’s not how the world works.

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Here is another link to take you to the presentation, in case you missed it the first time : https://www.ushja.org/about-us-and-news/annual-meeting/presentations-handouts

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I should applaud the efforts of the strategic planning council for spending a gross amount of time this year working out how to simplify the erratically built USHJA. Andrew Philbrick, Sissy Wickes, Britt McCormick, and Cheryl Rubenstein set aside their families, horses, and whatever else to conceptualize an easier and stronger Association. Maybe the issue in 2004 was that the USHJA was desperately needed, but fabricated by equestrians, not business people.  What was not known about forming a new organization was filled in with the same bullshit we use to sell horses. It worked for a time, but eventually the drugs wore off and the horse went lame. Years later, we really need to restructure…. something.

After the new Strategic Plan was revealed to us, the audience (that’s us) was invited to contribute feedback.  Some people said thank you, we can’t wait to see it all work out!  It was almost a slow clap moment. Like, maybe this should have been accomplished already. I mean, I get it now, but, I am not sure what was expected of us directly following the presentation. No one won anything.

Eventually and rather inadvertently, one person changed course a bit by mentioning the absence of thoroughbred programs on the West Coast and literally like ten people jumped up all at once to talk about thoroughbreds, their personal experiences with thoroughbreds, the success of Thoroughbred programs, the insane wildfire of activity in the nation surrounding the thoroughbred, what about this for the thoroughbred, has anyone seen my program for thoroughbreds?? etc. etc. etc. You get the idea. People like to talk about subjects they are comfortable with, right? Maybe it was twenty people who jumped up, I lost count.  If it wasn’t so upsetting to see the look on the faces of the horsemen on the stage, it would have been more humorous than it was. There was a small attempt to stifle the conversation, but no luck, it only fired up more people. In the blink of an eye, it went from the future of the USHJA right to the future of the thoroughbred. Sigh. and LOL.

I stifled a laugh ( I couldn’t help it)  as I remembered I have been working for the last two years to bring a lower height to the Thoroughbred division we offer on the Zone level, hoping to bank on the shift of the people, but was met with more resistance than I anticipated. Meanwhile, off the rated circuit, we all watch a 2’6″ Thoroughbred height flourishing like gangbusters, and I have to wonder if our ship has sailed once again. Oh well.

(Just for clarification, I was not the one who brought up the topic of Thoroughbreds at the State of the Association)

 

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It’s a joke, everyone should know how much I love TB’s.

 

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Hunter Champs for 3′ riders (.90-m riders).

Since early this past spring, I have pushed nearly everything concerning national horse governance out of my mind. My priorities changed, I was forced out of work to recover, I barely wrote a word or paid attention, and even though I never assumed the USHJA was in good hands, I certainly didn’t give it much thought. The only time I remember finding the urge to climb out of bed for a volunteer position was when I didn’t want the Zone 3 Child/Adult Hunter Championships to be without a chef d’equipe for their finals, but we couldn’t find anyone to volunteer for the position, so I took my very first road trip following my heart surgeries to Tryon, North Carolina. It was stupid on my part to commit to a long trip three months following hospitalization, but I did, despite my doctors raising all of their eyebrows (I’m kidding, I didn’t tell them), and for many reasons, it was well worth it. I enjoyed the experience quite thoroughly, I saw friends I hadn’t seen in ages, (nor expected to see again), and it was a great experience for the child/adult riders attending. The show management clearly made an effort to entertain this fairly new USHJA program, and it went off remarkably well, we learned a lot, and everyone agreed they would try to support it again. I had no students competing, no compensation for my presence, but there was enough satisfaction in the trip to make me a little less pessimistic about the future of our sport. Some of the experience admittedly is a blur, it took three naps on the way home to make it, but I did it, held up my USHJA swag proudly, and said yay! go Teams! I reported back to the Child/Adult Hunter Championships committee chair my thoughts on future improvements, and warnings for other events following ours (we were first on the 2019 calendar) and put my energy back into recovery.

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It may not have been enough. By now you have probably learned about the one year hiatus of the Child/Adult Hunter Championships. I won’t spend any more time to bemoan the loss, but I will invite you to help me bring it back if you want it. If you loved the program, would you tell your friends? Would you tell me? I am not sure why we couldn’t continue the Zone Hunter Championships specifically in the Zones who want it, but I aim to find out. Not all USHJA programs are required to be held in all Zones, so it makes little sense to me why the entire thing has to be axed across the nation? Hit me up with some more thoughts, and be sure to point out the irony here.

(If you are unfamiliar with the “Zones” in the USHJA, there are 12 Zones in this country. I live in Zone 3.)

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Educate me.

I didn’t really care for the Zone Education portion of the meeting this year. It was a Town Hall, not an Education hour. Maybe one day a new vision I heard suggested of Zone Education will come to fruition. Set the tables up in the ballroom with EACH TABLE representing a Zone, invite collaboration between Zones, and offer clinics afterwards to help Zone committee members learn how to become licensed in Course Designing, Stewardship, or Judging right there on the first day. We can be encouraged to take the first step to becoming licensed, and if some people are already licensed, we can utilize their knowledge to be better officials. Mentorship, face to face interaction, do’s and do nots coming from our peers might be very helpful.  Help us develop our industry locally first, so eventually those people don’t walk away, but become better investors in our sport. I would love to be able to avoid private Zone meetings behind closed doors, because after all, there isn’t really anything private to be discussed in a Zone meeting. All the minutes are already posted online (for y’all to read as well), and typically the discussion is ‘open’ discussion or summary and review of our past competition year, mixed with thoughts on the year to come.

Parts of a new Zone restructure were indicated to us during the Zone Education hour, more of which was to be revealed in two more days.  If there had been a quiz on all of this at the end of the week, I would have received a D-.

I am not sure if we were all just tired, lost, or not really caring, but a lot of information went over our heads. I had to ask my ‘boss’ (Oliver Kennedy) to clarify what is happening with the Zones, but I think the basic summary is the USHJA is slimming down how information gets from riders to board members. So we, as a Zone committee, will have a better chance of informing the Board of Directors how we are managing our exhibitors in our Zone through one hunter enthusiast and one jumper enthusiast from each Zone. Funny how some people do both, but ok. I guess it doesn’t really matter. I don’t want to say Zones will start to be able to make more decisions for themselves on managing programs offered from the USHJA, but this actually might be a reality moving forward. Fingers crossed.

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The burgundy coat joke got old real fast.

It started Sunday morning and stayed with us far into Thursday afternoon. It was funny once. Not so funny when it was uttered every time I walked in a room. Ask me about it when you see me next time… I am referring to the seemingly benign Rule Change Proposals (RCP’s) which draw out endless discussion on issues you may or may not feel passionate about.

1. Regulating Jump Cup Depth

2. Going metric in the hunter ring

3. Numbering the jumps for Equitation Finals.

4. JOGging, JUGlling, JOKing.

First, I googled Potter Steel jump cups, because I was lost. Why is it so important to regulate jump cup depth and use the correct jump cups in hunters and equitation? Don’t we do that already?

https://pottersteelservice.com/product/breakaway-pinned-steel-jump-cups/

 

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Now I know what you are thinking, this should be common sense, right? At first glance it is, but do a little research and suddenly jump cup depth becomes a whole new ball of wax. I was beginning to wonder, just like the burgundy coat, if we were all missing the actual point here. (It is not about the color of the coat, it is about defining and clarifying what other people simply interpret for themselves.) So, as far as jump cups go, maybe we are at a point where we really do need a standardization.

The Equitation Committee has a lovely presentation about it.  <<–   Click on that highlighted word ‘presentation’ to get to it.

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I don’t know. I am guilty of dismissing RCP’s when I see them written out in the yellow book, and it is obvious I am not alone. I think to myself, no one will ever agree on jump cup depth, how will this become a rule? The committees should be deciding whether or not the rules are good enough to be dismissed or accepted and passed along to USEF, so why are we even wasting our brain cells here?

Secondly, I tried to ‘imagine’ selling the metric system to ALL exhibitors, hunter, jumper or equitation across the country…..

cross rail hunters, .70 baby green hunters, .80 hunters, .80 equitation, .85 hunters, .75-.85 hunters, mares only, .90 green hunters?

My brain stuttered…

Maybe the American system is dated and archaic, no one can do the math, and USEF is very reluctant to send out letters informing exhibitors who have inadvertently jumped too high so they are no loner eligible for the division they want to receive points in because they didn’t realize the horse they rode in the 1.10 jumpers (3’7”)  disqualified them from being eligible for the 3’3” hunter division so now we need a rule instead of a helpful discussion? K.

Yes, I know you had to read a run-on sentence, but it seemed appropriate here.

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I don’t worry about the metric system affecting rated shows and exhibitors, I worry about the metric system not being used on the local level, and becoming yet another deterrent to cross over to the rated level.

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Thirdly, I probably shouldn’t even go there with numbering the jumps in Big Equitation Finals, but it was pointed out there is nothing in the rule book which says you CAN’T number the jumps, so by all means, tell your show managers jumps must be numbered. Personally, jump cup depth I can be persuaded to understand and maybe even vote for, but a rule requiring numbering the jumps is not something I can see for the whole country. Yes, sometimes every single rider does a test incorrectly, but I see a learning opportunity, those mistakes won’t be repeated, and, do we number jumps for us or the spectators? 

What happens of you make a rule like this, it passes, then someone forgets to number the jumps, then, does that make the whole class void? The words ‘blame game’ come to mind.

 

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Fourth on that list – Jogging.  ::__:: there was so much discussion on jogging, I actually can’t remember where we ended with this one, so I made some shit up:

  1. We really should be jogging horses for soundness in every division
  2. Owners of lame horses are always going to pine for the wasted hours waiting for the jog
  3. if we do away with the jog, we will just have to bring it back in two years
  4. It really isn’t such a big deal to jog for soundness
  5. this is an annoying discussion
  6. I just lost five more friends

It is an archaic system, isn’t it.

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Beards.

Clipping or not clipping the muzzle. There is currently no rule regarding beards in the show ring, so there is no reason to invent one now. Don’t want to clip? Then don’t clip. No one will forget to give you a ribbon based on a beard. If you don’t get a ribbon and you claim it is because your horse has whiskers…..?

That’s how we got out of a national BAN on clipping whiskers.

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look close all you beard lovers out there, it’s ok not to clip.

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Boots on Hunters

Well, no?

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Where do I go next?

The joys of being unable to see all meetings covering all areas of sport, because they all convene at the same time.

waiiittt, I have a question. Speaking of equitation, what happened with the equitation committee which was supposed to convene on Wednesday? Or was it Tuesday? I usually never go into that meeting for personal reasons (I don’t care for the part of our sport and am not fond of how those horses are treated) but I was curious if the Hunterdon Cup was going to be renamed. However, Six people were missing from the committee, a quorum was barely met, and a lengthy shaming occurred of those 6 people. Are we still allowed to shame people for not showing up?  I have a very active imagination, but that looked more like an intentional protest to me. Or, maybe there were not enough equitation issues to discuss? However, André and I are not like bff’s or anything so I couldn’t text him and be like “dude, where is everyone?” Did they not show up because they were worried about snow? Did they not show up because the RCP’s had already been discussed at great length? Big mystery. Even bigger silence.

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Amateurs.

An Amateur is an Amateur is an Amateur. I feel like if I keep repeating that phrase in ten years people will see an amateur is an amateur, no matter what height they are comfortable jumping or what horse they lease or own, or how old they are, or what demographic they come from. When those divisions were formed 300 years ago, I feel they were formed for specific people, not all people, and they were formed to keep certain people OUT of sport. Do we really need to be keeping people OUT of sport? Programs are being cut yet we insist on keeping people out of the competition ring?

The jumper discipline is actively working to bring those divisions forward into the 21st Century considering actual ownership of horses in sport. Amateurs seem to stand all over the map on this one, but take the time to think before you protest “God save the Amateur division!” Are you protesting to KEEP other amateurs out of your way so you can win more money for yourself with smaller and more complicated divisions, (leading to bigger headaches for show managers?) or, do you really believe the current setup is perfect? When we start to accept that no level playing field actually exists with horse showing, and your best friend might always have an advantage, we can move forward as a group.

As if I needed another reason to question motivation of Amateurs in the show ring, there is an actual rule regarding time frames surrounding Amateur Owner classes in the rulebook. I’ll give you five dollars if you can find it. Hint: it is on page 799 of 1221.

Hear that? Was that the sound of me losing more friends?

If the horse show world could take a step forward to really work together on the specifics of the amateur divisions – heights of jumps,  ownership eligibility, prize money awarded, etc., then maybe in the future we could work on the specifics of what really makes up an amateur versus a professional.

While you are standing still, the rest of the world is moving forward. And if it doesn’t work? Lesser rules have been reversed.

Hunters, don’t panic, you have ‘Tradition’ on your side….

**

Juniors

Have you thought about the heights of smalls and the heights of larges in the junior hunters, and if they are truly correct? Well, not correct, but need updating? Discussion is starting to ensure one group doesn’t have more entries than another group. And should Devon offer 3’3″ Juniors? Shooby.

TCP or not to TCP.

Under construction. To be continued… and don’t freak out, if you were currently certified, you are still certified. But, they are looking for ways to credential trainers, not certify them. I think.

This poor program is a tough one for me. Are you more likely to be under the scrutiny of litigation with certification or without certification, does it affect what you charge for riding lessons, does it help you get more work, put you in a special category, disallow you from benefits, what is it about this country being too spread out to initialize certification? Money? Ignorance of state laws on horse activities?

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Design me.

2021 will have a new requirement for Regional I and II shows, but two years should be an adequate time frame for the adjustment. Hello! to the certification needed for anyone designing courses on the Regional levels… yep, it is coming. I was against this when I heard about it  last year because I personally kind of like it when you don’t know how many strides are in a line and you can just make up shit as you ride along and if it works out, you still get a ribbon, maybe even a blue one! However, there is a strong belief courses on the Regional level are downright dangerous and what better way to attract future course designers than requiring managers to only hire certified ones. If it truly becomes law, I might participate in the certification, and drag my friends along, too. Why not be more educated on all aspects of equestrian sport?  If there is a silver lining, it could be a reality for certification to happen at the Zone level to expedite education and eliminate travel costs. Each Zone should already house enough certified CD’s to teach us dingdongs how to build a proper jump course.

Shit, though, will we have to measure the 72′ line in metric?? I’m out.

**

International Derbies.

There was no quorum in this meeting, but active discussion instead. Louise Serio promoted advancement in this area and sparked an interesting conversation. Consider for a moment how handy hunters are scored. Turn tight, receive high points.

(Speaking of Course Designers), should the handy courses offer a different track for different height options? Right now, bad jumpers can be awarded more for taking the handier track. So the handy points awarded are high, but the actual performance is low. Knowing their horses aren’t ready for those very handy turns riders choose wider tracks, jump lower, but have brilliant jumps…..and are penalized. Is this a bit backwards or does it truly align with judging hunters in the derby ring.

Do we want to see the horses with bad ‘front ends’ scoring higher and leading the class with wicked inside turns over the horses with good ‘front ends’, but conservative tracks and no inside turns?

Again, it was discussion, not rule making, but always keep the door open for improvement, right? Right.

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Unintended Consequences.

A phrase all too common at horse conventions. Make a rule, then watch the rule cause a major deficit somewhere. Rescind the rule. Welcome to the Young Jumper Schooling Steward Rule Change Proposal of the last however many years. I think I remember there was a big push for a required schooling steward for those naughty Young Jumper riders who were riding in the wrong kind of hind boots, because they forgot to read the rule book, is that right? So when show managers went looking for this new required steward or wouldn’t pay for one, they simply dropped all of the Young Jumper Classes from the schedule. At least, that was what we were told.

My suspicion is show managers dropped the Young Jumper classes because no one was entering them, but what the heck do I know about Young Jumpers? I don’t have any. It is my understanding the requirement for a steward for the naughty rule breakers might be going away.

**

Rating Relevance. 

Show managers will have their work cut out for them as they re-negotiate relevant prize money in relation to show Ratings with the USEF. Billy Moroney is hot to bring horse showing into the 25th Century by claiming the current system is indeed archaic and shows better step up and start calculating what is fair. With restructuring of A and AA shows, I would hope show managers will earn more ability to move required prize money payouts to the divisions which are more heavily attended, rather than throw large amounts of prize money to the three people signed up for High Performance Hunters.

Don’t understand? Right now, the rules dictate where the money should be distributed, and those rules were set up years ago to attract competitors to jump higher for bigger money, and a REQUIRED PAYOUT was seen as the way forward to solve the issue of depleting divisions. Very few shows still fill the High Performance these days, yet those couple or three horses receive the bulk of the prize money within a AA horse show.

Some argue it will kill off the High Performance hunters all together, because surely the only reason people encourage horses to jump 4′ (1.2192m) is for the bloated prize money. It won’t, as long as we continue to have International Derbies, and as far as I can determine, those 4′ (1.2192m) High Performance classes are only relevant where an International Derby is being held during the same week. The logic of offering High Performance classes with no one willing to enter them is beyond me, and if it prevents the A show from being a legit AA show, why on earth wouldn’t you want a restructure? HOTY points….. because HOTY points are based on money won.

How about just prize money requirements for the Young Hunters? The Young Horse Show Series based out of Lexington, KY offers crazy generous $$$ for YEARLINGS to FIVE YEAR OLDS of EVERY discipline and we can’t offer prize money for the Young Hunter Division? When I say I don’t get it, I mean it. I. really. don’t. get. it. (The young hunters are standing right there with their hooves in the air, screaming, if you won’t give us a finals, at least give us some money!) They also still don’t have a model class. They also should have become the Pre-Greens, or Greens, or whatever you want to call them, but we missed the boat right from the port, despite how Young Hunters was originally envisioned. We ARE supporting moving the height for 5 year olds down three inches to 2’9″ (0.8832m), so chances of demanding prize money probably just flew out the window.

The current system really is set up to penalize riders choosing to jump a lower height like 3′ (.9375m) by not giving them prize money, and although it might be smarter, safer and welfare conscious, equestrian society chooses to scream ‘we are watering down the hunter divisions!’ and bemoan the loss of excessively tall jumps in the show ring. Honey, it is 2020. Find a new slogan.  And you can leave the mileage rule banner at home, too. because shouting about eliminating the mileage rule is easier to comprehend for people to think they can solve the future of horse showing, but once you read the rule book, you understand it is an unachievable goal. A relevant rating system is more likely the solution.

Again. Stuck.

Stuck in a world where tradition and common sense clash.

I worry how this is going to end up and one of those times I think about who the right people to make such a change in the industry should be. Based on history, the track record may not be all that great about who makes rating decisions, because we have ended up with an extremely fractured rating system within the United States, which very few people understand. Fixing it within a time frame and from the perspective of either Show Managers or Exhibitors? Ugh, not sure about that one.

I spent the last week once again pouring over the structures for show ratings, and I gotta tell you, we are so fucked. If you own a red pen and are really good at slashing through complete paragraphs of nonsense, please hit me up.

**

Please don’t Safe Sport me.

2017-9 has proven to be a rather horrific couple of years for equestrians in this country, splitting and dividing us worse than I can remember in my forty some years of participation. Yes, we are athletes, the kind of athletes with really bad drinking habits, smoking habits, and drug use, (not judging) so hearing the bulk of what was unfolding in Michigan with the gymnasts may have failed to appear on many of our computer screens for quite some time. Like, really a delayed reaction in our tiny bubble of ponies and horses….there are even a few people who have yet to watch the documentaries about the athletes. I understand. It was hard for me to watch, too.

I was going to write quite a bit about this topic, but you know what? It isn’t worth it right now. Did I walk out of the Safe Sport Meeting? Yes I did. Do I see an agency covering the ass of another agency rather than actual people? Yes. Is someone going to misinterpret my actions/beliefs/morals/ and thereby label me? Most assuredly. Do people label me anyway? well, yes.

Shit, what a horrible conversation. It seems like every equestrian has become an expert on the topic, and every equestrian needs to be an activist on the topic.

I personally think it is totally unfair for me to not stand behind a government created agency which protects minors, and I will do as I am told here, but don’t make me hate it.

** 

Vet Conference

Another missed opportunity to receive education? I would love to know how I was so ignorant of the AAEP convention being held next door until three days before our Annual Meeting started, but dang, I feel like there was a huge missed opportunity to learn from. okok, move on. moooooving on. relevance – 0.

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Colorado Horse Park

Rumors flew around the internet about the Colorado Horse Park in Parker, Co. and started right before I peaced out of Denver. Was it closing? Not closing? Preemptive assumptions may turn out to be nothing more than ‘we don’t really want boarders anymore’ (I get that),  but it brings up a good conversation. Land Preservation isn’t much of a topic us fancy show people take seriously enough, but should it be? The Fox Chasers certainly take it seriously.

Take a moment to write down your favorite show facilities and do some research. Are they ok financially? Are they owned by a foundation? The State? How are they operating? Are you taking their presence for granted? Most horse people love access to nice facilities, but yes, indeed, I think most facilities are taken for granted and the bigger mystery often is ‘who owns’ your favorite facility? The State or a Private entity? What is the difference? Will the google help me here?

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Stirrup Cup

I never had a chance to address this poor little overlooked program. (It was not a topic at the annual meeting.)

The specs on Stirrup Cup Classes say competitors need to attain points at three different competitions, before earning a year end award. I am grumpy about this because most competitors don’t seem to have access to three B or C shows in their Zone, and if now the USEF is allowing those same B and C shows to qualify Junior Hunters for a National Championship with one tri-color, it would seem to me the correct number for a year end award would be 2? 1? Anyone out there know about the Stirrup Cup? Is each program within the USHJA an important link from not horse showing to horse showing?

And….do we give equal attention to both Stirrup Cup Championships and International Derby Championships?

**

Are you confused? Lost? Tired? Yeah, same. It is a stupidly long article, no matter how you look at it, and I touched on merely half of the subjects, even when I leaned on others to fill in a few gaps I either missed or couldn’t remember.

I considered walking away from all of this and let silence be the mic drop we all wish for to end the suffering you bear regarding my opinion on governance within the Federations. Just pay up, shut up, and try to keep up. Lord knows I have better things to do. I may still walk away, who knows, there is still a lot to weigh in on about exactly where I fit in, if at all.

These committee meetings take place all year and involve all of these same discussions, yet, we only hear about them at the annual meeting. We are not encouraged to read the minutes before we arrive, still lack knowledge on the process of governance, process of rule changing, and we will pass this on to the next generation. What a shame.

**

Riddle me this?

Do you need to take a moment to identify why you are a member and what kind of member you are?

1. For Prize Money

2. Points

3. Travel

4. Time

5. Quality/Amenities

6. Ability to sell a horse/product

7. Introducing new clients to sport

8. Young up and Coming Trainer

9. Social butterfly

10. Don’t know what else to do

11. Other.

**

More Challenges

Imagine looking around the room at the people you have placed there and wondering if they have a completely clean record with no skeletons in the closet? Equestrians have played on the luxury lot for decades. Equestrians have served on boards, entered governance, shaped our industry, and many equestrians have questionable personal lives. What if those same equestrians, who made poor decisions outside of the show ring are snatched up from right under our noses while serving on a board or committee and can no longer shape our future? Can I ask that question? Is it at all relevant? The sport moves on regardless, correct?  It is a hard question. The anonymity of people making decisions is almost preferred so we can be spared gorey realizations, yet anonymous and transparency don’t exactly rhyme..

If you are still reading, why? Really ask yourself why. Do you cling to the four letter word of HOPE?

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We are and always will be equestrians at the end of the day…..

I have to go throw hay out to the horses. Happy Holidays everyone.

Why should heels go down?

I have noticed, over the years, riders are reminded to put their heels down by their coaches over and over again, and as the rider thinks about it in the moment the heel goes down, but shortly after, the rider thinks about something else, and there is no longer weight in the heel. So the coach says again “put your heels down.” Sometimes it is all they say, just “put your heels down”. A broken record of four words.

As riders become more experienced, they eventually find their own balance, which comes with a certain mindfulness and control of the heel, allowing them to appear more stable in the tack, and capable of doing more things.

Less experienced riders seem to struggle with exactly how much pressure to put on their heels, when to put their heels down, and when to use them to make their horses perform better.

I find it is easier for me to know HOW and WHEN to put my heel down, rather than simply jamming it into a locked, sometimes too painful, position. To me, heels down is actually having the ability to control your balance, not necessarily a severe angle to show off the bottom of your feet, but remain fluid enough so your horses respond favorably to your leg. Especially in the hunter ring.

 

WALK

At the walk, I actually don’t put pressure on my stirrup or heel. Instead, I “lift” my toes up in my boots first to try to touch the roof of those boots. It is a different energy. I am not straining my hamstrings, and I am still getting quite a bit of flexion in my ankle which “drops” my heel without jamming it.

Why? The horse will react to a rider pushing so hard to get the heel down. I don’t want the horse to react to that movement. They are sensitive enough to be like “hey? are we going now?” If I lift my toes upward first, the horse doesn’t feel negative energy, and I can give better controlled leg aides without confusing him. The length of my leg actually grows when I am not straining to push my heel down from the hip.

TROT

The posting trot is an up/down motion.

In posting trot I sink my heel as I come “down” to the bottom part of my post, so my heel drops naturally and without negative energy, and I try to keep it there for the “up” of the posting trot. Some people make the mistake of lifting the heel as they sink to the “down” part of the post, and then try to put weight in the heel as they come up out of the saddle for the “up” motion.

I prefer the timing of sinking the heel on the “down” part of the post and leaving it there when I post “up”. The energy, again, is different, and the sensitive horses will not be reactionary to my leg. If I remember to think about lifting my heel up in my boots at the trot as well, I have complete control of where my lower leg is placed on the horse, and can use it in a more effective and attractive manner.

Does practicing the Two-Point help? Yes absolutely, when performed correctly. Remember, the Two-point (to me) is the high part of the post or the “up”. Most people go further forward or lean over. I don’t. I can keep my heel underneath me and lift my butt out of the saddle to the high part of the post. I keep my leg in the same position, lifting the toes in the top of the boot.

CANTER

The canter has a different timing.

I put my heel down AS the horse takes his lead leg forward. Many riders do the opposite, but their timing is forced, not natural. If the heel goes down AS the lead leg goes forward, you have ten times the control of how to use your lower leg without pissing the horse off. The legs grow longer as well as stronger, useful on riding different types of horses.

Later, when the horse jumps, your timing of your heel going down with the lead leg will allow you to land in your heel for a safer, smoother experience.

Cantering the horse and thinking about the timing of the heel going down also makes your muscles less tired because when done properly, the muscles have a tiny moment when they relax before following the motion of the lead leg again. The muscles flex, and when the muscles in your leg flex, guess what? They build strength on their own. Think about a squeezing one of those rubber balls in your hand to improve strength or reduce stress. You squeeze the ball and let go right? Otherwise, squeezing and holding the ball for an hour will actually hurt you. So you have to squeeze the ball then release it to allow the ball to come back to size. My legs follow the canter much the same way.

Here, a pony rider gives an example of cantering with the heel down. Over time and experience, the leg will not ‘grip’ too tightly which will make this rider more adept to hotter blooded animals.

You can tell from the ground which riders can follow with their legs first because when you watch the midsection of the rider, the hips are not stiff, but loose and following. Riders who are tiring themselves by jamming the heel down and holding the position are usually holding their bodies elsewhere in the same stiff way. I don’t think the horses like particularly stiff riders.

Indeed there are multiple moving parts on a rider and a horse, so talking about the heel down and nothing else may seem a bit unfair. The level and experience in a rider changes over time and experience, but I really try to think about the heel as I am riding, (no matter what kind of horse),and it gives me a moment to feel the energy in my own body as well as my steed. If you are willing to try something new, you might be surprised to where it takes your level of riding.

Jump

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Everything I have practiced on the flat will come into play for the jumps. If I begin trotting a trot pole to a cross rail, I will step into my heel at the pole and hold it there over the jump so I LAND in my heel on the back side. If you struggle to do this on your own, try this imagery. It is a bit like trying to touch your toe to the horse’s shoulder as they take off over the jump. You can’t, but imagine if you could. That slight motion to try will actually keep your leg underneath of you when you jump. If your leg is underneath of you when you jump then you have now discovered the ability to land in your heel on the backside of the jump.

Not your toe, not your knee, not your bum, but actually landing in your heel.

Cantering fences is the same as trotting the fences, only I start to move my heel slightly forward three strides away from the fence. By that time I should have committed to a pace to get me to the jump, so I no longer need to tell the horse to go forward. If he is not a baby, (just learning how to jump), I should trust he is going to see us through to the other side.  However, if he jumps too high, too low, too perfect, or too awful, my leg will always catch me on the backside, regardless of antics or awkwardness.

Here this rider shows what it is like to ride with your heel down cantering fences.

 

 

If I am riding a baby baby, I will actually be sure my leg is further in front of me than normal until I know for sure he is not going to clear the jump like an orangutang. Allowing or not controlling the leg to slip back will actually scare a young horse and make them quick off the ground. a big no-no in the hunter world. I depend on this when trying new horses or minimally broke horses.

In the hunters, we prefer to have the horses look and appear smooth, jump slower than a jumper or eventer, and have the capability of never changing pace. Controlling the lower leg better will control the pace as you go around the ring.

You may see top professionals actually flip their lower leg up and back when jumping a larger fence and wonder why. These riders can really control parts of their bodies which defy gravity, but they do this to invite the horse to jump higher. For 90% of us out there, we don’t need be so extreme..  Sometimes, you will see pictures of me actually lifting my heels exactly over the top of the jump, for exactly the same reason. It may not look like I have no depth of heel, but I can actually FEEL when to squeeze the belly upward to create more arc in the bascule. It is so slight, but it is my way of creating an illusion that the horse is jumping better than he really is.

 

 

Do not be fooled when you see riders exaggerate the lower leg, or ‘swing’ their legs back, they might be geniuses at work trying to create magical unicorns for your viewing pleasure.

This is a judged sport, after all, and outside of equitation, it is the horse being judged….

Flaws

Riding with stirrups too short or too long. Riding with stirrups too short will actually make it harder to concentrate on the heel going down with the right timing. I have found people who ride shorter are actually trying to fix the problem of “losing” their stirrups, but the knees will separate from the tack or turn “out” over a jump” and change the balance entirely of the rider. The stirrup should be long enough so the bottom hits your ankle bone which sticks out from your foot. If you cry out in pain when your ankle bone clonks it, you are probably at the right length. If the stirrup bar hits higher, you are riding too short.

Too long a stirrup will force the toe to keep contact with the stirrup, lifting the heel for balance. If you are struggling to keep your heel down on the flat, you really need to try and adjust to the ankle bone. Most riders with too long a stirrup have very weak or bad leg position over the jumps because they are more worried about losing equipment rather than controlling the leg.

This is an example of me riding with too long a stirrup, which I will have to adjust before I find my way back to the show ring. I am not losing my balance, but the leg is by far weaker in contact and smoothness of the ride. Granted a five month hiatus will do that to a person. As I become stronger, the stirrup length will become more appropriate.

 

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Does it matter which kind of stirrup you ride with?

I mean it shouldn’t, but this is all about experience in the tack. I ride in a Sprenger stirrup because I prefer the heavier weight compared to the lighter composite material. I also like how they flex, and my knees say thank you to me every day. But stirrups shouldn’t affect your ability to control your heel. If they do, you have bigger issues. Ride in what you are most comfortable in, but ride with your heel in mind rather than the stirrup.

Good heels make for good balance. Good luck!

 

The Lab

While the equestrian community has been distracted with front page headlines, another dark problem has surfaced to test the tepid waters within the USEF.

The Lab.

I admit I was super excited to see the lawsuit from Dr. Cornelius Uboh to the USEF. He was requesting a jury trial and it appeared it was either a very good tactic to get attention, or there really was a case for a jury to consider, and jury trials are inherently more financially draining, so what a chance to severely impact the Federation. Dr Uboh used the press to further the mystery by announcing his intent to sue and it was pretty widely publicized.

Dr. Cornelius Uboh was hired by USEF in the midst of the Glefke/Farmer case, which gripped the country for months, and thrown into a debacle of monumental proportions. He came from Pennsylvania where he was the director for the Pennsylvania Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory. In 2014, he was fired from PETRL for reasons unknown.

If I have to refresh your memory, in 2016, USEF attempted to capture who they thought was an alleged ‘cheater’ in the hunter world by finding a positive GABA result with some random horse competing in Kentucky under the training of Larry Glefke and ridden by Kelley Farmer. Murray Kessler issued a proud statement that went to everyone’s email inbox (who was at the time a member of the USEF), including Larry and Kelley. The country became split in half trying to guess the details of the situation,  watching as the couple vehemently denied the use of GABA and denied ever hearing about the charges. They lawyered up with a highly proficient team, and we all witnessed history as the case essentially ‘brought the house down’.

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Larry and Kelley were cleared of any wrongdoing, and the leaders of the USEF had to apologize to the members, and admit things didn’t exactly add up. The case was pretty sensational, right?

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According to court documents, Dr. Uboh did not want the B Sample tested at the same lab the A sample was tested, but insisted on retaining a completely independent lab with International approvals and on par standards. Remember, he was hired following the actual urine and blood collection of the Glefke horse. However, as we all know, Glefke and Farmer insisted on having the B sample tested in the same lab, and someone told Uboh to sit down and shut it, and the greatest debacle of all time unfolded in front of everybody’s eyes in stunning fashion.

Well, of course, someone had to take the fall. Initially, my money was on Stephen Schumacher, who I felt was capable of spinning fabulous tales and leading people away from the truth, especially when I sat down with him for an hour during an annual convention in Kentucky. I wanted honest answers for members, but he managed to muddy the waters even further by redirecting the conversation away from GABA and the Glefke/Farmer case, and refusing to be recorded in any kind of interview. However, leadership decided to head down another path, and accuse Dr. Uboh (who had probably never heard of Larry Glefke or Kelley Farmer) of all sorts of horrible offenses during the handling of the B sample.

What we eventually witnessed instead was the complete destruction of the current USEF laboratory and the start of a new ‘relationship’ with University of Kentucky.

The Lexington Herald published this : https://www.kentucky.com/news/local/counties/fayette-county/article224568945.html?fbclid=IwAR14Fw_J1VpJoiO9H4UCY2z1pQ1Vp2XlCXsG2fXdkzg1AxRF-j3Tc2tPTYA

So, of course, I was disappointed to see the settlement. The whole case was bizarre to begin with, in my opinion, with motions to remand to federal court so Dr. Uboh could utilize a “citizenship tactic” (denied), constant denial of all allegations for the defense (really?) and even a point when it was looking like USEF was insinuating the former lab director was lying in the lawsuit, based on previous statements taken months earlier for the hearing (yikes).

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Little has been published about the outcome of Dr. Cornelius Uboh at USEF, and just try to get him on the phone, or track him down by email, to get a response. I tried, and ended up nowhere. I mean, I have questions. How do you go from requesting a jury trial to a settlement that quickly? It was like, maybe 6 months? Are you happy with your compensation during your time at USEF? Did they offer anything in the settlement?? i know, i know, none of my business..

The interim lab director Dr. Rui Yu took over for Dr. Uboh in February of last year, 2018. He had only started working in the lab as a scientist in October of 2017, so had only four months to get acclimated. Meanwhile,  negotiations were starting with University of Kentucky and ideas tossed around about how to solve the outsourcing of drug testing for the USEF. In fact, Tom O’Mara headed a task force to explore all of the options. University of Kentucky would eventually purchase the USEF lab and continue drug testing under Dr. Scott Stanley, who comes from a previous teaching position in California, at UC Davis. Meanwhile, no one gave the interim lab director much thought, especially the membership. Why would they? New protocols were set in place, people started paying more attention to drug testing, and improvements were being  made. Testers actually started the use of gloves in the collection of urine and blood. ( i know right? impressive)

So, why would Dr. Rui Yu suddenly send out this letter this week?

 

To Whom It May Concern,

 

This letter is to inform that the signatory, Dr. Rui Yu, would like to officially suspend and withdraw all the signatures that were signed during the period of February 1, 2018 to July 9, 2019 (before the lab was sold to University of Kentucky), which includes but not limited to any data reports, show reports, testing reports, positive packets, affidavits, etc. related to US Equestrian Federation USEF and all other outside organizations including FEI, AQHA, NRHA, WPRA, AERC, etc.

Most importantly, the purpose of the suspension and withdrawal is to protect and help everyone including USEF, other outside organizations, the signatory, and former USEF laboratory employees (now UK employees), also be fair to horsemen and competitors, as well as providing fair competitions and testing results. The reasons include potential violation of A2LA accreditation (ISO 17025) as well as other serious flaws. USEF refused to admit that their CEO (William Moroney) assigned and authorized Dr. Rui Yu (LC-MS Scientist) as the Interim Laboratory Director to perform majority of the lab director’s job duties and be responsible for all signatures, regardless what the confidence level was and right after the former Laboratory Director was fired on Feb 1, 2018. USEF’s action seriously compromised the whole laboratory accreditation and assumed that no one in the laboratory was in charge and performed decision-making and management for more than 16 months. USEF also questioned Dr. Rui Yu’s qualification and experience to perform the Interim Laboratory Director position during the negotiation of proper compensation (USEF paid zero), which seriously compromising the validity of any documents that Dr. Rui Yu signed during that period.

 All the administrative officers (from USEF and other outside organizations) must hold or revoke all related proceedings and cases due to this suspension and withdrawal. And the administrative officers are responsible to inform your members and competitors. The suspension and withdrawal will not be revoked by the signatory Dr. Rui Yu until the end of investigation on USEF by EEOC, HRC, or legal measures.

This notice of the suspension/withdrawal are effective from August 19, 2019, and will also be forwarded to other organizations and to Whom It May Concern.

 USEF broke promise to compensate Dr. Rui Yu for over the 16-month additional Interim Lab Director job, and further retaliated (suspension and elimination) Dr. Rui Yu like flipping hands. UK may also participate in the under-the-table deal with USEF and removed Dr. Rui Yu’s position and job application after the USEF laboratory was sold to UK. No honest person or company with dignity and respect would keep doing evil and wrong things over and over and over again. Therefore, be careful doing business with such persons or companies in the future.

 

Best regards,

Rui Yu, Ph.D.

Former LC-MS Scientist

Former Interim Laboratory Director (assigned and retaliated but not admitted or even paid by USEF although USEF CEO and General Counsel promised to do so)

Former USEF Equine Drug Testing and Research Laboratory— 

 

Is he mad? What does this even mean? Is this an incredible coincidence or just another disgruntled employee? I mean, to me, it sounds like a bad song being played on repeat, but it is disturbing on many levels. Additionally, his actions would threaten the validity of hundreds of positive drug tests over the last 16 months. Can that happen? Or, maybe there is a way around dissolving 16 months worth of work so a few hundred lawsuits could be avoided. I have no idea. But that email went to the FEI, NRHA, WPRA and the USOPC, so he is clearly trying to raise a red flag here.

And did they really not pay him?? Come. On. WTF.

Sure, maybe he is a little sore because he wasn’t brought on to the current UK lab, but retaliation like this means he is deeply disturbed about what happens in house at USEF. “No honest person or company would keep doing evil and wrong things over and over and over again”

Do you think he watched what happened with Dr.Cornelius Uboh, and thought “my God, that better not happen to me!” And then it did, and he was like AAAAAGH!

I think we have a lot to be worried about with our equestrian Federation, or maybe it is just me. Like, are we going to assume every time something goes wrong with a drug violation the lab director is going to take the fall? Guinness Book of World records for Lab Directors, ha.

I wish Dr. Scott Stanley the best of luck then, but I hope he is watching his back.

quick, quick, sigh…

You know when your favorite app updates and you are like oh no, I was just getting used to the old version, and it takes three months to get used to the changes and it updates again? Welcome to Safe Sport.

At least I feel that way about Safe Sport. I grumbled in the very beginning a few years ago because it was handled poorly by our equestrian federation, never explained properly, shoved down our throats like we were the problem, but eventually look what happened! We all grew used to the change, took the training, and it is in our lives whether we like it or not.

I actually became tired of hearing about it once I started to accept it, and over the years preferred to tune the dreary subject out of my otherwise occupied mind. I felt like I ‘adulted’ by taking the training without complaint, and patted myself on the back for my maturity. No offense to victims, but since no information about cases is ever privy to the regular people, do we have to go to every town hall and annual meeting to talk about it some more?

In the background noise, I thought I heard the center for Safe Sport make an alarming amount of mistakes. It appeared there were more investigations for people retired from sport, close to retirement, or even already dead. I occasionally checked the primary list of offenders, heard countless stories of irrelevant accusations involving adults having affairs with other adults, not minors, and wondered if investigators actually knew what they are doing. I winced hard at the suicide of John Coughlin and the complete shut down of his investigation, like now you won’t investigate a dead guy? Explain, please. Oh wait, two different organizations? Ugh, who can keep it straight and why should we have to? Or is it just one organization?

And what a colossal waste of time and money to go after someone like Claire Bronfman. When is the last time she put on a pair of boots? I mean riding boots. Hooker boots are different. She was so busy wrapped up in her weird provocative cult, I highly doubt she was intending to rent stalls at WEF and rent a Grand Prix horse for the season. Like what? She doesn’t even have results on a horse since 2005.

Whatever.

From time to time I would see serious grumblings from people in other sport disciplines and followed the erratic behavior of the USOC and the poor performance of other governing bodies to address sexual assault from coaches and thought, well, we know one thing for sure, US Equestrian wants to separate themselves from all the other governing bodies and prove they can demand better of their members. Murray Kessler has made his agenda abundantly clear.

What isn’t always clear is, who is drawing the lines in the sand? We don’t know which requirements come from USEF and which ones are handed down from the USOC or the SS.

This paragraph out of the new Safe Sport Policies sure hit a nerve and it is prefaced with “USEF recommends the following components” so….

Prohibited electronic communication Applicable Adults with authority over minor athletes should not maintain private social media connections with unrelated minor athletes and such Applicable Adults should not accept new personal page requests on social media platforms from amateur athletes who are minors, unless the Applicable Adult has a fan page, or the contact is deemed as celebrity contact vs. regular contact. Existing social media connections on personal pages with minor athletes should be discontinued.

Once I finally had a chance to read through the four hundred paragraphs of the new SS standards, I thought well, this is very Un-American. Thoughts of a former regime came to mind pretty quick, however.

Did anyone ask junior members or minors how they felt about the new guidelines coaches are supposed to follow? If a panel of juniors said yes, this was our idea, I would respect them whole-heartedly and say ok, good job kids, if this is what you want, I delete you.

Does anyone else find it super alarming we are supposed to stifle lines of communication? Like right now?

Sure, let’s communicate less from now on, even though we just made a broad announcement for ALL victims to come forward with their #metoo grievances…. I can’t even.

Part of me is probably relieved. Now the pressure to be a mandatory reporter is completely off my shoulders, because now I am going to be encouraged to talk less to any minors who might be in real trouble. Good, I hated that burden….Give it to someone else. My hands have been washed, thank you very much. I mean really. The word ‘shortsighted’ comes to mind. Again.

Now I would like to see gender segregated restrooms, so minors can have no chance of running into the loo with me, can I make a rule change proposal for that? Juniors can have their own restroom, I don’t even care if all the adult restrooms are co-ed, since I can pee in front of anyone now.

Oh, and thanks for giving me a week to digest how my future behavior needs to follow this shitty protocol. If you had told me to start practicing this new mindset for the summer and initiate said practice in the fall I would have most likely been ok, but now I am just annoyed. You all didn’t even tell me if this was a recommendation coming from agencies above you or if it is you. I feel like we should be expecting a clarification email any day now.

Our equestrian Federation wants to have their cake and eat it too, but I am not on board with their latest sly little way to pull the rug out from horse trainers with their ‘recommended components’. Have they even thought about coaches at boarding schools?

I never used to believe there are more bad people than good, but maybe I am really just  naive. Maybe the horse world is too unbalanced with thieves, cheaters, drug offenders and molesters. Personally, I would look to a governing body president to clear up that assumption, but maybe our leader is also tuning out the complaining of the good people with an otherwise occupied mind?

Time Out

So far 2019 has been a great year! My calendar was full when it should have been weak, even in the coldest months, and planning ahead, I barely had a single day without an obligation, which excited me. Horses to ride, clinics to teach, planes to catch, road trips to take, I love being busy, I always thought it was better to be busy than be dead, right?… However, my life changed with a literal heartbeat one Sunday morning during a horse show, and all of a sudden the creeper in a black hoodie holding a scythe was hovering above me like ‘How you doin’??’

Crap. I hate that guy.

Riding a horse in a competition ring, I collapsed with no warning, desperately clutching my chest and mumbling about how weird I felt. I still had three fences left, but couldn’t get to them.

My memory of the episode has evaporated entirely, including several of the following days, probably for the best. My actual location is what saved my life. Had I been anywhere else, I would not be here today. I was competing, so EMT’s were right there on top of me, knowing exactly what to do while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. There was a defibrillator on the grounds, a grounds which truly is a second home to me. The group of friends and EMT’s stripped me of my riding clothes (boots have zippers) and tossed them in my car before the ambulance whisked me away and next thing everyone knows I am on the operating table having open heart surgery  – an aortic dissection caused by an aneurysm. Unusual for a 47 year old woman, but not unusual for someone with chronic hypertension.

I don’t know why I have hypertension, I feel like I am the least stressed person around, I don’t consume a lot of salt, (my diet is not the root of the matter,) nor do I have any of the myriad of other reasons which may cause high blood pressure, but I have it. No one has been able to explain it, my family history shows nothing remarkable, I don’t ever feel bad, so I can’t say I was dedicated to taking my medicine religiously, some days I would remember, other days I wouldn’t, because like any farm girl,  I always have a lot on my plate. I am a busy bee.

Or…. that was then…. as they say.

The first few days after the initial surgery were most painful for my family. I had lost so much oxygen, nothing was really working right. I had no memory, I talked funny, every time I opened my eyes I had to be told why I was in the hospital….four days of repetition and fear I wouldn’t return to normal. Lots of fear. The doctors tried to reassure my husband and mother that time was all I needed, but there is no way you could have believed them if you saw me. My husband admitted later just how scary it was….

From his perspective, he wasn’t prepared for what he walked into. There was an abnormal amount of chaos around me at the hospital, and the little information he had received didn’t match the visual of seeing my body change color to a sickly blue. There was too much urgency as they wheeled me off to the OR, and the words ‘mortality rate’ echoed in his head. It doesn’t matter if it was 10% or 60%, those words are NOT two you want to hear together in a sentence, especially in a hospital right before you see your wife being wheeled away for emergency surgery. My parents were there, too, my Dad remembers talking to the ambulance driver and asking him if I was awake on the way down and speaking at all, which the driver confirmed, but said it was an incoherent mess of words loosely strung together, and they had kept me breathing, so could he get back to work now, please? and thank you.

Around 5 hours later, I had made it through. Unfortunately, as I woke up, it was clear I was still fighting. I didn’t even know what I was fighting, because my brain wasn’t properly connected, but Tom had to be there to watch me fight the tubes in my mouth providing desperately needed oxygen, the mask over my nose which the nurses had requested because I was fighting what was in my mouth, and the thousands of efforts I made to sit up and get out of bed. What was I even doing? I was apparently thirsty, so I only knew to ask for water, which I couldn’t have yet, so over and over and over again, he had to tell me to wait, calm down, I could have water later, and please stop trying to sit up. It was vital I only could receive swabs of moisture around my mouth, but I didn’t understand. My mouth was so dry. The nurses would change the subject, frequently asking if I remembered his name, but my reaction time to form a single syllable was insanely long, and each ticking second which went by caused him even more anxiety. Would my brain ever connect to my mouth again? It was clear I recognized people, which was a great sign, but beyond that, speech was really challenging. I was so slow to say his name.

This fight went on for three excruciatingly long days. A raw, unconscious effort around the clock to be somewhere else, and I had no idea I was doing it. Maybe the nurses are trained and used to this sort of thing, but my family isn’t, so the struggle to do the right thing became very real. You have to adapt and trust strangers very quickly, not a trait which comes naturally to my husband, so he had to work at it, work on understanding what the strangers were telling him, and trust their words when they said I will be ok. I didn’t look ok. I mean, I really, really looked far from ok.

Thursday my brain finally woke up. I started retaining information. There were flowers in my room. There was a photograph of me with my husband, which now I realize was being used to trigger my memory. I needed help eating and remember ice chips and apple sauce. I stopped fighting. I stopped trying to sit up and get out of bed. The impact of the surgery was starting to hit me. I had to learn how to breathe again.  I thought I had to learn how to talk again. I sounded like a gangster, and my speech was slow and erratic. I could think, but not connect to my vocal cords immediately, internally freaking out when my voice took a different direction than what I was used to, worrying it might be a permanent change. I had no idea how much worse it was just the day before, because no one told me about the first four days I had missed. I didn’t ask, because I was just thankful to be alive, now that my brain was acting more like itself, so  internally I prepared myself to make adjustments, voice change or not. I kind of comprehended what happened to me, but my limited background in medical terms about the heart wasn’t providing too many answers, so I sat, waited, and stared at the walls. Relief washed over my entire family that Thursday.

couple pic

The next three days were spent trying to feed myself, drink water, manage sleep (once I was conscious I wanted no part of the moving bed – like a water bed to prevent clots), and recover. I picked up my phone, saw hundreds of messages, and put it down again. Reading was too overwhelming for me. I learned that my horses were scattered around and being taken care of by really, really amazing friends. My mother was keeping everyone updated through Facebook so I could concentrate on healing. I let her, and as the first horror past, she became creative and more upbeat with those updates. People depended on her for any kind of information, and it surprised me how much better our system worked than silence. People still talk about her updates, it is amazing.  Meanwhile, I struggled to get more comfortable. There was a huge incision down the center of my chest and holes where the tubes had been. I stared at it, but it freaked me out, so covered it back up with the  hospital gown. I did try to stay positive, but I was wishing for less pain. I started walking again, my jelly legs struggling and burning, how had they disintegrated so fast? Does muscle just evaporate? I tried to imagine a normal day of work, feeding, riding six or sixteen, cleaning stalls, filling water troughs, dragging the ring, mowing, but here I was pushing a walker down a hospital hallway, and wobbling. It hadn’t even been a week yet. Damn.

Once, even in the first week, I convinced the nurses to let my husband wheel me outside to breathe some fresh air. I lasted less than 10 minutes in the chilly temps, but it helped to feel less like a trapped rat. I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We had a plan. Physical Therapy would start after the weekend, and I would gain my strength back. I had already been in the exercise room, and couldn’t wait to get started. By Sunday, the pain was starting to fade a bit. Positivity, positivity, positivity.

And then I woke up Monday morning.

I don’t know anymore what kind of pain tolerance I have. I used to think it was quite high. Two years ago I suffered a compound fracture and my bones blew through my skin, boots, and chaps, and I didn’t even cry. I remember squeezing a hand pretty tight to get on a stretcher though. Right before that I underwent a hysterectomy and hardly took any pain medication. The following year I shattered all the bones in my foot and continued riding and walking for 24 hours before bothering to get an X-ray. I ended up in a cast for 6 weeks. Every bone was broken. I was simply annoyed. Other than those instances, hospital visits had been rare for me.

The pain that Monday morning was nothing I was prepared for. Not a single medication touched it. I couldn’t move, and it was all I could do to attempt to breathe in order to stay alive. I was terrified. Something was really wrong. Not only that I was swelling all over with fluid, and my veins had vanished. My arms were already black and blue from the week, and after several failed attempts to get a new line in, I was forced to call in a favor. I knew one person who could help me so I scrambled for my phone, praying she was working at the hospital that day. I couldn’t believe I had a connection at a hospital, but I did. I took advantage of it. Miraculously, she was there.

Despite not doing a very good job holding back the tears when I heard her voice,  I somehow explained what I needed and she instantly had an answer, and told me not to worry. The nurses on my floor were grateful, and stood back. Thirty minutes later my doorway was darkened by a very imposing but confident paramedic with a machine in tow. Relief washed over every part of me. He hooked up an ultrasound to my arm, scanned for all of 30 seconds and got a line in, explaining and chattering all the time. My vein was tapped. My swollen arms conquered.

 

I was sent for a cat scan, then sent back to my room to wait with my husband.

My heart surgeon at that hospital came to talk to us. He wanted to refer me to another hospital to be fixed. I could feel both eyebrows lift toward the ceiling and stay there. There was fluid rapidly collecting in my lungs, and another questionable area was presenting itself, which may indicate a leak from the initial surgery. Like a blood leak. None of which was music to our ears, so he promptly called in a favor to a colleague at University of Maryland, and we started the process of being transferred.

Apparently, being transferred from one hospital to another is one of the most complicated procedures known to man, and suddenly no one knew anything. We waited nearly 18 hours with nurses or coordinators telling us a ride would be there within the hour. My husband closed me in my room around 10 pm so I could try and attempt some sort of semblance of sleep. I managed like 3 hours. At 5:30 in the morning, the paramedics arrived to transfer me. To this day, I have no idea why it took 18 hours to go 20 minutes down the road.

Once transferred, the new staff was eager to get started with new tests. The lack of sleep, lack of information, and pain was really taking its toll on me and I was starting to unravel. My husband had to remind me rather sharply I was only here because the original surgeon had pulled a tremendous favor, and I had to respect the people around me trying to help, and I took a shallow breath and calmed down. A lot of what was happening was behind the scenes, with surgeons analyzing tests and results from labs, not one on one conversation, so I was trusting ghosts, instead of faces. I really had to dig deep for faith. Wednesday I was finally sent down to remove the fluid around my left lung… This is a process you are awake for, and it is truly terrifying, and dangerous. You can risk collapsing a lung. They make you sign special paperwork, and ask if are really sure you want to go through with the procedure. Twice.

I was escorted into a small room, sat on a bench, my back was exposed to the doctors behind me and scanned with an ultrasound. They drew an X under a rib. My arms were folded up in front of me on a table. They told me to hold my breath as they pushed a needle through my ribs to get to the fluid. I felt the needle, and wanted to pass out. Then, with a bag, they started the extraction. Over 650 ml of fluid came pouring out of my left lung, and they asked if I wanted to see it. Uh no? Just hearing it splash on the table was making me dizzy. Then it was over. I can’t say I felt an immediate improvement because I was feeling the sting of a large needle in my back, and was more or less stunned.  It wouldn’t be until the next morning I woke up and went omg! The procedure worked! I felt fantastic for the first time in days! My spirits were lifting! I could breathe again!

The morning rounds started, doctors appeared to relay to me that my right lung also had fluid in it, so maybe I should return to the same unit to address it. I wasn’t excited. However, I had to go down there. This time, it was a different set of specialists, and they seemed less enthusiastic about the procedure. There was remarkably less fluid showing up on the ultrasound, so they gave me a chance to really ask a lot of questions. Would the fluid go away on its own? Yes, it was not nearly as much as on the left side and had a pretty good chance of reabsorbing into the body. Would they bother in a normal situation to scrape a small amount of fluid and risk a lung collapse if it wasn’t vital to survival? no. They would not. So I thought about it, eventually deciding to pass. They sent me back to my room, and I spent the afternoon walking the halls, hoping I had made the right decision. It was a weird negotiation to have, and what kind of medical knowledge do I actually have? none…

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The Unicorn became a theme for me.

The nurses started making suggestions about going home. I started feeling hopeful. I could almost feel my bed at home, I could almost see my cats. To pass the time, I colored Unicorns in a book someone had given me. I had had a few visitors during the week, each offering a few items to keep me busy, which was proving to be quite helpful.

Friday morning I looked up from my coloring book to see a team of doctors enter my room and was introduced to an actual surgeon…. well, this was odd. I listened as he explained what all of the other doctors in the cardiac unit were worried about. Oh no. I watched numbly as he drew a terrible picture on the whiteboard and illustrated where the leak was located. What was he even attempting to draw? Was that a heart? My heart? There were channels, and weird spikey things coming out of the center. He made a little oval shape and said something like ‘pool of blood’. I heard open heart surgery again. Time literally slowed to a crawl. I heard valve, I heard cow valve, then metal valve, then pig valve. Omg, are they letting me choose what kind of valve I want inside of me? Think clearly, make a rational decision. I was not offended by animal parts inside of me, so confidently elected for a cow or pig valve. Why did I seem so confident about picking a VALVE? By their explanations, a metal valve was very dangerous and complicated for a person like me. I don’t need any more complications. Was this real life? I guess it is a new real life. I sighed. He asked if I had questions? What was I supposed to ask? I shook my head. He said ok, I’ll see you downstairs tomorrow morning and we will do this. He clapped his hands together and left the room. We stared after him and his team.  I looked at my husband. Pig valve, right? Good choice?

For some reason I thought the leak spotted at the previous hospital had turned out to be a non-issue, but I was wrong, it was just an issue which needed addressing after the other issues…. man, this was some luck.

The day was filled with people coming to ‘prep’ me for the next day. My husband looked exhausted, but dutifully said everything was going to be ok. We had to get it done and not carry any issues with us out the door. He promised to be there before I went in for surgery, although I thought that was a bit silly. We had no idea if it was going to be a three hour or eight hour surgery, and what could anyone do but wave as I was wheeled away in the bed? The anesthesiologists peppered with me with questions and explanations. I was least excited about this part because I knew I was going to wake up feeling completely frozen based on past experiences. Like thinking I was in Siberia for some reason. Everyone reacts differently, I guess.

As per every previous day, a nurse pulled my blood at 4:30 am. I hadn’t had one person miss a vein all week, the bruises were starting to fade, and I marveled at their accuracy and confidence. It was weird. Now, there were additional IV’s attached to my neck as well as semi-permanent ones in each arm. Labs were required to be pulled separate from the IV’s, so I was still stuck each and every morning, regardless, to make sure my blood levels were correct. Funny the things you get used to.

At 7:30 I was retrieved. I started a long, unnerving journey to the Operating Room, my files in a binder resting on my leg. We stopped in a hallway. There were no more pictures of horses on the walls. The giant wash sinks were very real. A cap for my hair was placed on my head. There was a totally different atmosphere outside the OR. The intensity of perfection and sterilization crackled around me. The techs asked me why I was there. I answered, considered sarcasm or a joke, but no joke came out. I was once again told about the procedure and eventually wheeled into the sterile room. The lights on the ceiling were very real. I was asked to slide myself to the operating table. I obeyed. I started really looking at faces, or parts of faces. I could feel my heart pounding. People never stopped talking, reading my file, going over every detail. Then, I was gone.

Sure enough I was shaking. An uncontrollable shivering gripped me from my head to my toes. It didn’t stop, even after more blankets were tossed on me. There was something in my mouth. I wanted it out. I couldn’t open my eyes. My tongue tried to remove the breathing tube. I shook and shook and shook some more. “Dulany, you did great! You are in the ICU, ok?” I didn’t want to shake. I was worried I was going to choke. I could hear voices asking if I was uncomfortable. I could hear them discussing taking my breathing tube out. Please, please. Get it out, I could only say to myself. I continued shaking. More chatter. Finally the nurses started working on the obstruction in my mouth and I started to calm down. What is it with me and tubes in my mouth? The shaking started to slow down and I could open my eyes. ICU. Another unit in the hospital.

I never received a new animal valve. Mine ended up being in perfectly good working order, (so the pig parts waited on ice for someone else) and the doctors were able to clean up the leak easily enough, so the surgery was just a few hours long. This was good news.

The only thing I couldn’t get comfortable with was the fact that there were four drainage tubes stitched into my chest and they ached. If they hadn’t hurt so much I think I would have bounced right on out of ICU but having tubes sewn into your boobs is not cool. I didn’t want to move. My nurse was wildly patient with me. Not moving is apparently not an option. I said I would move next week. She said well you are going to get out of bed tomorrow, sista, and walk across the room, and in the meantime we have to roll you around every few hours so you don’t get bedsores.  Then I am going to take the pee bag out and guess what? You will have to actually use a bathroom. I stared at her. She ignored me and adjusted pillows, propping me up so I would drain some more fluid out. I didn’t sleep the first night, but by the second night exhaustion set in. The nurse peeked in, but didn’t disturb me. I was learning how to sleep with tubes in me. I gave up on the pain medicine doing anything. The following morning, I had to learn how to walk again. I figured out how to roll off the bed, with some help, but my legs were so weak, they could barely hold me up. I shuffled. There was zero modesty left in me at this point after days of poking, studying, stabbing, and whatever else had to be done, so learning how to pee again was done with an audience, and took time. Funny the things you have to concentrate on. I had a roommate briefly who seemed to be out of the twilight zone. She screamed and moaned but could never identify where she had pain. She refused to talk, only scream, and flat out refused to cooperate, not even saying her name for the cute x-ray technician (he could get anyone to talk). In a way this was good for me, because it made me try to be a better patient. I wasn’t sorry to see her change rooms, but you never heard one complaint out of me regarding the screaming. I focused on forcing my crippled body to move. And pee.

Finally I moved to the ‘step down unit’. Normally, I think it is about three days here and they want you out. I was ready. The first night in the new unit was excruciating because my body was on fire. I thought for sure the same thing was happening after the first surgery, and my body was filling up with fluid, but I had tubes continually draining, so actually I just hurt. I tried sitting up, I tried adjusting pillows, I tried the chair, I tried leaning back, nothing eased the pain. My ribs felt broken, my back, omg my back was giving up. My husband called my mom who called in a friend to sit with me so he could get some rest. He was just so damn tired. I was asking for muscle relaxers, so they tried some Robaxin. I managed an inside joke to myself. With everything else, I was now on Lasix and Robaxin.

I didn’t want anyone to see me like this, but I was grateful for the company that night. She said later I didn’t look good. She helped me back into the bed and we crossed our fingers it would pass by morning. I had learned to count, so I stared at the railings of the bed and counted to 100. I counted to 200. Breathe. Count. Repeat. She left.

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my view for several days

 

By morning, I was indeed better. Whatever was going on had vanished, and I was steadily improving. The days were starting to blend together, for sure, but the clarity in my head was returning. Every day I felt ready for the next step. The first set of tubes were removed and this deleted a tremendous amount of agony. I started to bathe myself, and tried combing my hair. Going three weeks without washing your hair is gross. I tried once bending over under the faucet to sort of wash it with some baby shampoo which was offered to me, but this was sort of a pathetic attempt to solve a big problem. I needed my home shower.

My appetite improved steadily, and with no restrictions, I was more or less free to eat whatever I wanted. The menu choices were sparse, however, and not always palatable, so I started asking for more food from home. Healthy snacks started to arrive during the week. Things were really looking up. T-shirts and leggings also showed up from home. I tossed the gown aside for good.

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There was only one thing. My body refused to show reaction to the blood pressure medication. Instead, it skyrocketed.

So each morning the nurses and doctors were telling me I was ready to go home, and by the afternoon, they were like uh-oh, this is not good, as they watched my numbers bounce to unacceptable highs.

The professionals experimented. I waited. I wished they would stop suggesting I could go home soon. They asked me if I had white coat syndrome….. I thought of five different sarcastic answers for that question, but settled with ‘no, I do not’.

The PT guys escorted me around the halls, but I hadn’t breathed real life oxygen in two and a half weeks, so I started making suggestions about going outside. They surprised me by getting permission! I wasn’t exactly prepared, had no shoes, but when they came in my room and said guess what? I jumped at the opportunity, pattered downstairs in socks and blew through the doors and out onto the street. I didn’t even care that I was walking around the dirty streets of Baltimore in socks, wired to the gills with a heart monitor, with some stranger talking about horses and Alpacas, I was outside! It was a small thing, but it made all the difference in the world. I could feel the sun on my skin. My legs might have been shaky, but they were moving! My husband brought my shoes the next day.

 

I battled with frustration. I am not ashamed. The fight I have inside me is the same fight I used to stay alive. Every once in a while that fight showed up in public as frustration. Very few people understood, so seeing me vent for five minutes triggered a negative effect. The reaction would be to stifle my frustration all together instead of accepting it. Now I know when I see this in other people I am going to be better about allowing the frustration to come out of them. I was really hard on myself at times, while I was stuck in that tiny 10×10 room, constantly punishing any desire I had to be somewhere else, and the mental challenge to stay positive was EXHAUSTING. I had to completely rewire my brain, and was only about 75-80% successful during the final days inside that building.

My blood pressure was taken every hour, sometimes it was promising, then for no reason, and at no consistent time, it would spike again, and the doctors would say no, you can’t go home until it lowers. I became a bit of an anomaly on the floor, strolling around, no longer with an escort, sitting for an hour or so in the atrium just for something different, exploring and exercising on my own by now. Nurses would look at me funny if they hadn’t seen me before, and ask if I was a patient, and more than one said I looked like I was ready to go for a jog. Yup, that’s me, passing the time watching National Geographic and looking for my next meal, in leggings and sneakers, taking up precious space in a hospital. Ready for a jog.

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Fact: Nurses don’t play cards.

 

Eventually, after over three weeks total of hospital time, they decided to let me go. I couldn’t believe it.

I stared out the window on the way home, and marveled at what I had missed. Spring had actually arrived, and the trees were starting to show themselves. I was a little uncomfortable over every bump in the road, but the closer I got to home, the better my mood improved. Tom got me out of the car, and in the house, and my cats actually greeted me…. You have no idea how much I worried that they wouldn’t recognize me. Instead, they curled their bodies around my legs and looked up and said hi! Even Squid, the little jerk of a feline, let me pet his head. Morkie stuck by my side like glue.

I showered for 30 minutes. Three weeks of hospital ickiness washed down the drain. That was about all I could handle the first day, so I climbed carefully into bed with the cats and marveled at being home. Not a lot of people thought I would ever make it back here, so I reveled in the moment of simply being alive.

The first week home was fairly simple, sleep a lot, walk three times a day up and down the driveway, take medication, check blood pressure, sit outside in the sun, eat, nap, read, write, and watch movies. My sternum ached, and I was worried about taking pain relievers to mask it, so I avoided them. Better to be in a little pain, rather than thinking you can conquer the world in one day. I did a little reflecting on what happened, but not much. I have no intention of changing my entire life. I think what happened was a medical problem, not a lifestyle problem. Of course, I won’t truly know this until I get further down the healing path, but if the doctors felt they did a good job with me and said I could ride again, then I will ride again. I am not that old, and my quality of life is actually quite good.

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Morkie enjoying the sun with me

 

I marvel at what the doctors were able to accomplish to keep me here. This may sound horrifically morbid, but let’s face it. There are a lot of people who are depressed, some depressed to the point they want to destroy or eliminate themselves all together. One of the first thoughts I had was wow, these guys worked so hard to fix an internal problem, I better respect that work they did! Not that I would ever consider myself an exceptionally depressed person, but when you go through something like this, you want to work harder to be a better person, and not take that away permanently.

I look at food differently, even though I don’t have any dietary restrictions. But I really look at it. Do I want that in my body? What is it going to do for me? Help or hurt me? I was lazy about food before, but not a really terrible eater, just ate a lot of weird snacks. Now, I want real food, I even want to cook again, which probably means a lot of packing my own lunches for horse shows. Who knows, maybe I’ll start selling salad bowls out of my trailer, lol. I’m kidding. Sort of. I can still eat french fries, but I can’t imagine I will eat as many as I used to.

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Quinoa power bowl, who am I?

 

I was slow to see people during the first part of recovery, because it can be exhausting to even talk, but hearing from friends is great, and it is astonishing to me how many people mobilized around me to lend a hand. People fought through fear, tears, and more just to hold my hand, rearrange my horses, move my car, belongings, and whatever else had to be done to make it easier for my family. I have no idea how to do anything else but try to pay it forward. I would imagine that part of me will be very different in the future. The stack of cards alone is astonishing!

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good reading from Dad

 

Further into recovery, hope grows. The body really can heal, and when the body feels good, the mind feels good. My instructions were quite simple. Walk as much as you want, but don’t lift anything until the sternum heals. And when you are in the car, sit in the back seat so the airbag doesn’t blow through your chest if there is an accident. Roger. Got it. The hospital sent a Physical Therapist, who literally laughed out loud when I answered the door for him. Apparently, not many patients answer the door the first week home, but ok. He was about to turn tail and leave, but I asked him to stay in case I had questions, and he went over a few details, took a few notes, but admitted I was half the age of his normal patients. He didn’t think I needed help to get up and down the stairs, bade me farewell, and told me I would be fine, just keep moving. He wouldn’t answer me about when I could ride. Not his jurisdiction.

I can be a passenger! I can walk wherever I want! I do take full advantage of being mobile now, especially, ironically, since it is spring, and nothing says new beginning or starting over like spring. I sit still just long enough to try and finish my book I have been working on, and in between writing sessions, I move. A lot. Missing adventures is not going to be part of my new routine.

Every day I am astonished at what my body can do. Before I start, I remind myself I had to use a walker in the hospital. The first day home when I could only manage 5 minutes in my driveway because it had a slight incline. But each day the minutes increased, the distance increased, and my legs grew stronger. This week I walked to Kenilworth Mall, a mile from my house and shopped for food, then walked back. Two miles with a small hill! I count down the days until I return for my check up so I can brag about what I have accomplished…. just kidding, but really.

Advice? I don’t think I should be giving advice, but I don’t want someone else to go through an Aortic Dissection, either. Take care of your freaking body, I guess. Be smart about what you put in it. Chew your food, instead of inhaling it. Equestrians are not stellar examples of good health, and even though what happened to me might have happened even if my body was living on purified water and organic foods, we could all do better. I feel like I’ve said this kind of stuff before though, with pleas to get mammograms, regular health checks, and treat your bodies like we treat our horses, but horse people come up with 101 excuses why they can’t be bothered. Well good luck to you. Those close to me have certainly made various doctor appointments, I assure you, because what they witnessed happen to me was not glamorous, and didn’t make them want to be part of my club……

Every life changing incident happens for a reason, (right?) and if God has other plans for me, then bring them, I am more than ready.

Disclaimer. I don’t know if I need a disclaimer but whatever, here it is.

This was my personal view of my experience, and it took me some time to decide how to share it.  Each day I learn something new about what people have done for me these past six weeks and I am grateful. I thank you. I may never stop learning how you helped me, thought about me, prayed for me, reached out to my family, sent me a care package, or did something small for me without my knowledge. Whatever it was, it worked, and I am indebted to the community for the rest of my life. Again, thank you. The prayers seriously worked this time. I won’t forget any of it. xx.

 

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Squid watching the grass grow with me

 

Bad Canter, in the show hunter, helpful hints.

When a young horse has a bad canter…..

I hear this term a lot. I use the term ‘bad canter’ a lot. Breaking down the logistics of a bad canter versus a great canter can have different meanings to different people.

When I say a horse has a bad canter and am looking at horses to buy for American hunter riders, I have to consider what an American rider can do with a bad canter. Not much. With the current gap in education we live with (and created), a bad canter is really just an undeveloped canter in a young horse and the balance is ‘on the head’, not the hocks. But a lot of people here want to ‘fix’ the bad canter by slapping on draw reins, a strong bit, even tranquilizer, and force the canter to something more comfortable for the rider. This leads to other issues down the road, creating a horse who will always need a severe bit, too much compression to the spine without the muscle to support it, and an association of pain with work, a huge pet peeve with me.

Keep in mind I am not simply describing the MOVEMENT of a horse in the canter. Good movers can also have bad canters, but many average moving horses have what I consider a weak canter. If you are lucky enough to have a horse with a good canter and it is a hack winner…yay! You don’t need this article. To me, it is a bit trivial to try to fool with trying to make an average mover into a 10 mover, and it is not the point of this piece, but rather to address what is in the caboose of a young horse. Those movement techniques can be discussed later.

Can a bad canter become a good canter?

Of course, with time. People seem to loathe the use of time in development, but it does actually work. If you handed me ballet slippers and a tutu, and demanded four ballet positions perfected in in ten minutes, I would ask you to share whatever drug you were taking and flail my way across the dance floor looking like a penguin rolling off a glacier and smashing into ten other penguins who were gawking at him. You give me ten weeks and it would be a different story. I would receive an invitation from the school for the arts I would be so good…. but probably for just those four positions.

I think horses are the same way. Their bodies can always improve with correct development, and we can give them cues and exercises to build the muscle for good gaits.

What does a bad canter feel like?

It feels horrible if you are not ready for it. The stride feels 25 feet long, there is no steering, going around turns is a battle with gravity as the horse leans in and braces itself to remain upright, and when you ask to shorten the stride, they trot, there is very little control. Riding in a small arena is suddenly a daunting experience. Your body wants to brace against the lack of control and suddenly your back hurts, arms hurt, and legs are like wtf is happening here? You both pull up winded.

Then you pull the tack off and realize there is no topline or back muscle under the saddle. You find yourself wanting to turn your horse over to a field hunter.

Riders tend to think the horse must be being naughty and willingly out of control in the canter, so in come ‘the hardware and tools’ to fix the problem.

The fighting begins.

Other bad canters feel ‘racky’, and it is hard to tell if the horse is trotting behind and cantering up front. They may do everything else just perfectly right, but the canter is not fully engaged. As a horseman, you have to make a decision as to what you feel can be improved upon and what the horse can relearn to make a full 3 beat canter. Maybe they can do the job without a normal canter, so it isn’t an issue, like this one in this video was a saint, a school teacher of sorts for a kid, but if I were to show it to a professional rider, they might balk at the gait, specifically the way it canters the first line.

How do you work with a bad canter?

My entire life is spent riding horses of all ages, sizes, shapes, breeds, etc. Some have better conformation than others. When you feel unbalance, the first thing to decide is exactly where that imbalance is coming from. Usually between the mouth and the hind end, you can spot a weakness. If my job is a 20 minute fix, I have to alter my methods to please the customer, but if my horse is a 6 month project, I can work more magic.

Dummy down the hardware. Snaffles only. I was fortunate enough to spend a good chunk of my educational years (early 90’s) in stables across Europe with an endless supply of three, four, and five year olds to break and start. There were tack rooms full of bridles of all sizes. and ONE selection of bit. The loose ring snaffle. No tricks, no gimmicks, no draw reins, and if you couldn’t make that work, you didn’t get to ride. You may have been offered a running martingale if you needed something to hang onto as they bucked and flung themselves across the ring or leapt six feet in the air over a pole on the ground.

I still use a loose ring snaffle, but my go to bit is a plain D-ring snaffle, and for funny shaped mouths I may have an egg butt to offer. Why can’t you use more? Well, you can, but the problem with using more is that it will never become less down the road. What works in my training for young horses is what makes them less resistant for an amateur rider in the future. Most of what I teach a horse is through the leg, not the mouth anyway, so the dependency for severe hardware disappears quickly. If I am preparing for a weaker rider, and that rider really does need more hardware the horse will end up with better obedience for that rider. I do own a pair of draw reins, but I don’t use them to correct a balance issue, because they make a horse fake in the mouth, or heavier in your hands when used too much. A horse has to be really strong or unruly before I pull them out, and more often it is a cold, windy day in February and I am about to venture on a highly anticipated trail ride with lions, tigers, and bears lurking around every which corner. Just kidding, sort of. We don’t have tigers.

Do the transitions.

No one ever believes me when I say this, (not that I care), but it is the number one most effective training technique for your horses, done correctly. There are days I never even get to the canter during a ride, and that is ok! Walking provides an astonishing amount of muscle building alone, but when you add on the walk trot transitions into the program, you set yourself up for more balance in the canter. Leg aides need to be accepted and understood, so if the horse shoots off your leg into the trot too quickly, do ten more transitions until the horse doesn’t shoot off your leg (nicely, not rough). If he won’t go to the trot the first time you ask, get him to a point he responds off the leg better. Don’t use so much hand in a down transition. American riders desperately want control of the mouth and the first instinct of just about every rider I see is to close the hand to stop or slow down. However, it is the riders thighs and legs closing on the horse’s back which tells a horse to slow down, not the mouth, so if you simply communicate to the proper area, you will have a very willing animal to work with. A good trot to walk transition shows absolutely no hand movement whatsoever, and is all performed through the seat of the saddle, sitting gently and squeezing your thighs together with a goal of never having to pull on the reins. If you really want to get a horse broke properly you will do 42 transitions a ride for weeks. And most of them in the walk and trot.

I coaxed Stacey into being the demo for this video, and luckily it shows a lot of different things. It is a minute long, but you can clearly see the first transition the horse hollows out a bit and disengages his hind end, and Stacey slightly falls behind the vertical with her body, but by the end of the video the transitions are drastically improving to where you can see leg acceptance, the hind end stays underneath, and the topline stays in one place.

On day to day riding, I would tell her go to 20 more minutes of those rapid succession transitions until they are perfect. And I would encourage a bigger and bigger trot step as the transitions get better. The harder they push into the transition, the more the muscle develops. The rider should never lean back for a down transition, despite your natural instinct. Fight the instinct! Think of closing your hip and relaxing more, stretching, not bracing and pulling.

This is where the draw reins can hurt. You will be blinded and not know if your horse is listening to your leg or listening to the draw rein. I want the horse to willingly do the transition without lifting its head or dropping the hind end, and the only way to find that consistency is with as little equipment as possible. I never ever tie a horse down with a chambon and expect good results. Actually I would never get on a horse with a chambon. ever. It doesn’t happen perfectly the first day, but one week of good transitions and you will see a difference.

Allow the canter.

This is hard and scary, and really the riders who have spent time at the track are the only ones with an advantage here. Letting go of the canter and letting the horse learn to find its’ balance is a mental and physical demand only a few are very comfortable with. If that’s you, awesome. If not, I feel ya, I had to learn it the hard way. Rodrigo Pessoa made exactly one comment about 30 years ago and it changed my life, thank you Rodrigo. I owe you.  He said  “take away the resistance and the horse won’t have anything to pull against.” It is true, where is the horse gonna go? Let go, stand up, don’t panic, and stay on a big circle. Don’t do too many laps. The horse will get tired very quickly. You know those first four strides where everything feels great? And then it all goes to shit around the end of the ring and you head down the straightaway like a train out of control and next thing you know you are trotting again? Ya sister, been there. Just try a few transitions on the circle where you keep feeling those first few steps correctly, and gradually four good steps will become five, six or seven. It will get there.

It is like building blocks. If you can perform one halfway decent canter circle where the two of you are not fighting, but communicating well, chances are the next time you ask for that circle your horse will WANT to perform. However, if you create the circle from hell and bully your horse into getting what YOU think feels comfortable, your horse will remember that you were an asshole, and maybe carry that resentment forward. Good luck buddy, you will need it.

Go outside the ring.

Do I really need to explain this? Find a hill. Use it. Yes, even show hunters can do this. There is laziness across the pond, too. Less and less Europeans are riding outside of their perfectly groomed arenas, and hardly any of the horses arriving here understand what a hill is, and watching them learn how to go down a hill the first time can be comical. Ok, I get some parts of the country are flat, but if you aren’t in that part, use the land God gave us. Don’t waste the opportunity while you have it.

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ride out of the ring more to find the balance

 

Trot to Jumping.

For some reason we have this law in our heads that a proper school of a horse is walk/trot/canter each way of the ring before you jump. School horses are programmed. We learned it that way, no one has ever changed it up, and it would be confusing to rock the boat at this point, so no one teaches it any other way. It’s fine, whatever, but when you have a horse with an awkward canter, sometimes it is best to come from a different angle. After 42 walk trot transitions you aren’t likely to be risking injury from an inefficient warm up, trust me. He is warmed up. When horses land off of a jump those first couple of strides are correct and better balanced naturally, because they are thinking of the jump, not the canter. If you repeat a trot jump and set a pole one stride away they correctly can learn what a 12 foot stride is. This is why you see gymnastics.

There is nothing wrong with changing your routine, but do it mildly. Avoid a situation requiring a horse to jump through a grid of 30 cross rails. Absolutely not necessary. Developing a good canter for a hunter can happen with a combination of maximum 3 jumps and a few poles. I have had more horses needing to re learn how to properly trot a jump and miraculously end up with an outstanding canter on the backside, because I made him think about where his body is. I didn’t get in his way, or pull on his face on the landing, and voila! There it is. Pretty soon I could trot into a line and canter out without feeling the wheels fall off underneath me.

Bad canters can often indicate power in the back end, but the horse just isn’t educated enough to know how and when to engage it. They haven’t developed the muscle in the back and the strength in the hocks to support that power, so the result is uncomfortable at best.

Riders should try to manage and improve the canter without interfering with the long term quality of the gait, and keep them sound at the same time.

When you watch this video, you can see this horse doesn’t have the best canter, it is not the worst! But I have seen better, and what I like about this sequence is that you can actually see the horse processing the questions and thinking about how to change its balance. Will the canter improve? I would think it should significantly with repeating these types of exercises.

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Maybe the only thing I would add to this is exercise is a cavalletti in the corner, after the line, to introduce a lead change, hereby preventing too many abrupt corners and having to halt on a straight line every time. It is lovely when you feel a horse turn the corner smoothly, especially when they haven’t been able to do so in the past.

Does age make a difference?

YES age does matter! In Dressage, classically trained horses are taught for up to 6 years to go forward. 6 YEARS. Collection does not begin until their hocks and knees are closed and growing is complete. 4 and 5 year old horses can have really awkward growth spurts putting their system way out of whack for a time, especially smaller ones, and what we demand out of young hunters in the show ring is a bit harsh in reality, when you think about it. However, we, as a society, have sort of shoved off the concerns by using excuses like well, you know, 2’6” or 3’ is not that demanding compared to a Grand Prix horse. Well, ok, whatever, it is our culture to behave this way, but true engagement of the hocks shouldn’t really be burdened on a 4 or 5 year old, unless you don’t care whether it passes a vet check down the road when it is finally ready to be sold. I am not a huge fan of being on the backs of 3 year olds and jumping them, but again, it depends on the horseman, and depends on the horse.

Most trainers have to do what is right for them, but I do appreciate our lack of available resources for young professionals and young horses in the hunter world, and strive to encourage good development of both, not just look for the easy way to make a buck. If you really are prepared to take on young horses, do it with help, do it with time, and do it correctly. Your peers will respect you more for it. I assure you.IMG_2318.png

  

Not Grass Roots, part II of the 2019 US Equestrian Meeting

it is not grass roots, it is fundamental.

There was a session at the 2019 US Equestrian meeting which I felt warranted an article of its own.

It is the Fundamental group of competing horse owners across this country who are being pushed out of sanctioned horse showing based on the rising costs of an interfering Federation with predatory characteristics and strict (some say over) regulation. This is the simple explanation of an evolution of hunter jumper horse showing across the nation, in my eyes.

In many places across the country you have actually already left, gone, vamoose, and you are not looking back….

Where are you going?

Many of you are re-discovering the Thoroughbred. The wildly successful TB circuits are filling the gap at an accelerated pace simply by offering affordable showing costs, limited divisions and rules, and little to no overhead. I hear it everywhere, I am asked lately (well, more and more) to find my clients Thoroughbreds, a request I never thought my business would ever in a million years hear or experience again. Horse trading Thoroughbreds is still far from easy (because Americans are trying to recollect how to actually ride a thoroughbred), but the challenge has been accepted, and wow, a lot of you are in the game again. I experienced personally the mania last year in TIP shows, witnessed the Take2 TB classes, saw the checks rolling out to year end award recipients, and watched in awe almost the entire Retired Racehorse Project. It is all beyond impressive. The RRP grew so fast, in fact, the organization was forced to increase the application fee to accommodate the growing interest and also added a whole new day to the schedule to better serve exhibitors. What a great problem to have for Thoroughbreds…

You weighed in on your experience and left sanctioned showing behind and your wallet is heavier because of it.

 

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If you are a fundamental rider who still has a warmblood, you also have made a financial decision to limit the amount of showing on the A circuit to accommodate an actual budget. So maybe you spend 3 weeks of showing in Florida for the experience, but that prevents you from showing for the next three months after February. Which is fine! You get to show in Florida!! …..in the sunshine!!! Yay you!! Go you!!

I think I have point in here somewhere…..

I guess I am watching both the USHJA and USEF evolve as well, but in oddly opposite directions. And in their own evolution, they are putting some heavy focus on recruiting new members, and one way to find them is through the affiliate organizations. The need for money coming into the organizations is exceptionally high right now, so these fundamental competitors are tasked with financing all of the other levels which cost a gross amount of funding. Exorbitant amounts of bonuses are paid to riders and horses at the very top of the USEF pyramid, for example. Ironically, these are often the wealthiest of the riders we have in America. What do they need the bonuses for? More fancy equipment? I am pretty sure the top 1% already has a support system to buy whatever they need, so the thought of the Federation writing a check to top tier riders because they were chosen to represent our team sorta makes me cringe. That money can be used better, in my naive and and cynical mind.

What else are you doing?

Choosing your schedule differently? Choosing your horse purchases differently? What has more meaning to you? A year end award/class or championship? Or convenience of showing close to home? Zone 3 has a healthy and robust non-sanctioned show circuit which I have repeatedly asked other Zones or states to follow, study and see if it is a formula which might work in their own area. The burgeoning unrecognized shows are not shrinking away in areas with intelligent, motivated people who have figured out how to run a mildly decent horse show. Some are better than others. Some you may have to bring your own food or contribute to a potluck lunch table. Some you have to pack your horse’s water. (you should do this anyway, but, oddly enough along the way, many people forgot this basic necessity)

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From a typical East Coast Fundamental mom :

Our Goals with showing

  • Gaining Experience
  • Cultivating a Love of Horses 
  • Developing Horsemanship
  • Having Fun
  • With Some Luck, a ribbon.
  • Local End of Year Awards (if we get super lucky)
  • Give a Young Horse some positive mileage

My son, 8 years old, is in his 6th year of showing at unrecognized shows, with the exception of Devon (once- won lead line in 2015), Upperville and Warrenton (again Lead line).  He is a member of VHSA and the Battlefield Horse Show Association.  

Right now, we solely do unrecognized shows in Short Stirrup and Pony Pleasure.  We can do 3 divisions for $135 total.  Up to this point, he has been uncompetitive in SS because he doesn’t know his diagonals and he is a laid back boy who is a loose goose in the saddle.  My goal for him is just to gain experience and gain a love of the sport.  As much as I love showing at the bigger shows, there is no need for me to spend the money when he is not competitive yet.  I also have a non-horsey husband.  He likes the shows, but if we were constantly gone for multiple days and spending lots of money, he may balk.  I’m trying to ease him into things!  

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I had a young horse prospect 2 years ago that I started showing locally and she gained some useful mileage before being sold as a pre-green horse.

We ride with a number of other kids who solely do unrecognized shows.  Their goal, in addition to improving their riding and horses, is to show at the VHSA Assoc. Finals in Nov.  To show at that show, one must do 5 VHSA Associate Shows.  From what I see, their parents are not horse people but support their kids in achieving this goal.  But, I did hear complaints about the long days when we showed at the VHSA Assoc Show this year.  They are not used to the long days or lack of scheduling (ie. hurry up and wait)

I really feel that people doing the one day shows are not looking to get USEF/USHJA points.  Instead, the VHSA Associate Show proves that people want to have a “bigger” show experience (there were 60 Short Stirrup rides, and over 100 14&U Eq on the Flat riders!)  Doing well at these bigger shows means more than the end of the year awards.  

I preface this by saying I am not really familiar with the Stirrup Cup or the Outreach Shows.  (Maybe these are what I am suggesting)  Perhaps the USEF could cultivate the “middle” tier of riders by setting a goal that is not point driven.  Chasing points does nothing to encourage these folks to show.  Why not require AA show management to have a ring dedicated to opportunity classes or make Sunday a day for opportunity classes. That way trainers could bring all of their people to the same show, and other trainers may introduce their riders to shows that otherwise they would not know about.  People could also watch the rated divisions and perhaps develop new goals.  I live in Culpeper and many of the kids we ride with have never stepped foot on the HITS show grounds. Additionally, the fees should be lower/non-existent and this should pertain to show management/office/grounds fees. (I’m amazed how my stall at VHSA Finals was half of what it is at a AA show) The “opportunity divisions”  fit this bill but are RARELY offered.

That’s all for now.  In summary– we want a good show experience but are not looking for year end awards or points.  We know that we need to step up for that level.

Courtney Frankhouser Myers

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Isn’t interesting she didn’t even know about the Outreach Program?

Why does everyone always assume people don’t go to horse shows unless they are qualifying for some unknown variable? I can’t wrap my head around this logic. There are loads of people showing who don’t give a crap about receiving an award, but our institutions REFUSE to listen to that piece of it, so we create and create and create, only to wonder why no one is signing up for our creations. It is so dumb. Not everyone wins at the RRP or a TIP show, but the experience of competing at the Kentucky Horse Park is amazing!!

There are two kinds of people out there, people who like to show when they can show and people who show with a goal of a championship on their minds. The advantage comes from knowing how to please both people.

It used to be people could stomach signing up for a Federation and Affiliate membership in order to show at just one competition, because the fun of showing at a fancy show one time was just alluring enough to justify the extra expense. Those days are long gone! You try to convince someone these days? You are met with a look of jest followed by a litany of ‘over my dead body’ remarks. Why? Because the options are out there. Hunt Clubs solved this problem ages ago by offering varying types of memberships depending on how often you hunted. Hunt less than 6 times? No problem! Here’s a membership plan for you…. Got the bug now?? okey dokey, full membership for you!….Currently, we don’t have that option, but it would be nice if we did, and for once it would be nice if a Federation stayed current on the needs of the majority of members.

licensed officials struggling to find work

At the USHJA meeting I ran into a few people frustrated with the lack of available work for newly licensed judges with a small ‘r’. Managers tend to re-hire the same judges year after year, and breaking into that old world club is met with an insane level of difficulty and closed doors until those judges decide to retire. In the past the ‘r’ judge gained a tremendous amount of experience through one day horse shows which eventually led to bigger and better paying judging jobs down the road. However, with the sudden extinction of these B and C (or Regional I and II) shows in some areas, they simply cannot be hired because the work is no longer there. Many ‘r’ judges are amateurs who actually have other full time jobs. Some are not amateurs and have spent a great deal of time and money to become licensed, but lack the initial network to help them get started.

Is there a solution?

I have found that convincing a show manager to run a single day recognized horse show is met with much resistance. The costs to the Federations alone are staggering and it is nearly to impossible to run a single day show at profit. The risk is too great.  I think incentives are needed for those one day shows, and the cost to the Federation needs to be greatly reduced, or some sort of short term (two year) incentive plan put into place. Say you have a viable facility and an ambitious show manager, could you not offer a package, say offering a series of 4-6 shows through the calendar year but you get to run a bonus show with no costs to the Federation? Or only pay the Federation if the show runs at a profit? Single day horse shows cannot run at a loss, period. You don’t need a business degree to see how that will not work with a show manager. I guess we have to take in the solution of the Outreach Program and hope it spreads fast enough across the country to keep the door open to riders and trainers showing primarily on a local circuit. Many show managers feel the Outreach classes are what is saving their horses shows all together, otherwise they would be running completely in the red. https://www.ushja.org/competition/outreach

What else?

Do you think offering an equal balance of points for any division up to the 3’6” height is fair? Or did we screw up by slashing points when you didn’t show at a premiere or national show even though the competition is basically the same. An adult amateur is an adult amateur is an adult amateur. So why should you get more points just because you prefer to write bigger checks and show at fancier places? Personally, I don’t see why any adult or children’s hunter should be on a different point scale when you all are the same level riding ability but maybe that is just me. Someone along the way (probably a show manager) saw more logic in awarding more points for higher rated shows, despite the competitors being the same competitors. I don’t know. I think maybe the point scale should be the same across the board, no matter how big or how little you write a check for your entry fees. Maybe this is why I found the Child/Adult Hunter Championships so fun, because all levels of adult amateurs and children’s hunter riders were represented and enjoyed the experience.

Breeders.

Bringing back hunter breeding to one day shows…Actually, I got nothing here. I am sympathetic to the hunter breeding competitors, but even if any of us has a good idea how to breathe life into that division, we would be met with resistance. Just because. If you all want to show at one day shows speak up. And keep speaking up. In my eyes I see it easier to bring babies to a one day horse show, and having a little hunter breeding chaos at the end of the day would be fun I think. Do you want the Hunter Breeding to be on a Zone level or National level? Do you want to see hunter breeding at Zone Finals?

Land….

Preserving the land and whose shoulders would that fall on? Rapidly disappearing land is no secret in some parts of the country and someone brought up the fact that maybe the USEF should start helping preserve land our venues sit on, rather than milk the venues to fill up their pocketbook. This is actually a really good idea, and would be a nice gesture to a Federation who acts like Godzilla half the time. After all, what is the point of sanctioned horse shows, if there are no venues to show out of? Smaller show organizations cannot fight the land loss alone, so if USEF did a little ‘outreach’ of its own, it would restore a little faith in the members.

I think it is funny to watch the organizations chase their tails so much. The entire country shifts and changes and moves away from what those organizations set up and it takes years to cycle back. No one wants to stay ahead of the curve, and the slow process to implement legislation doesn’t help either. It is a shame, there was so much potential to roll with the tide, but we somehow lacked the foresight to actually ride the biggest wave to shore….

Someone told me this week during the annual meeting we might need a few more people really willing to fight for the programs we love within the USHJA. I agree, you need to really fight for what you want. At least for the time being. The two organizations go hand in hand, but membership involvement is clearly not as welcome in USEF as it is in USHJA.

I’ll continue to share the heck out of the USHJA programs, I’ll get behind the ones I like, and insist on changing the ones I don’t like, and I’ll explain to YOU what makes them good programs so when YOU are ready, they are there for you.  I am going be an activist in my own way, not in a control freak kind of way. I am not going to collect any more data, I already pay close attention to the markets, and I already see what is happening out there, but I do want to hear about how people prioritize their competition lifestyles.

I don’t think either the USHJA or USEF will ever get ahead of the competition world and as we watch other turmoils start to unfold in front of us, I wonder if they will eventually end up paying the ultimate price. I hope not, our livelihoods do depend on their success.

2019 USEF Annual Meeting, part 1

Every year, at the US Equestrian Annual Meeting, we are bombarded with glorious presentations, pie charts, other graphs, and video montages, which all are fine and dandy, and it is lovely to feel like our Federation is moving forward, but some of us come to these meetings to actually learn, ask questions and get a feel for the people in charge and decide whether or not they really are working for us, or following a completely different agenda, only known to themselves.

For some reason, there always seems like a disconnect, but I don’t know.  In Murray Kessler’s annual State of the Union, he said ‘people don’t understand’ approximately 42 times. I picked up on it, why? Because it is an easy cop out. If we don’t understand, then maybe you aren’t doing your job, buddy. Don’t tell me I don’t understand, it is an insult on the lowest level. I think most of us are understanding more than you think, so drawing a line in the sand isn’t going to help us here. It might seem like we don’t understand because we may not care as much as you do, but seriously….. I understand.

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The Federation is currently very healthy, giving away a bunch of free fan memberships this year has boosted overall numbers and attracted sponsors. Yay. Slightly misleading, yet powerful in the remarks about gaining more ground across the board with horse sports. The USEF Network will be everywhere, and the gaps left by NBC Sports not taking up television coverage will be filled with our own network, so get used to loads more USEF Network programming.

He also brought up an opportunity which sickened my stomach, but maybe the AQHA people feel differently, now that the FEI has broken up with Reiners. I would certainly hope the AQHA won’t have to fall under the USEF umbrella, but it sounds like negotiating has already begun, unless this is a pipe dream he wanted to express out loud for the first time, and is salivating at the idea of gaining 200,000 new members ….ugh. Can you imagine? Poor AQHA members, having to sell your souls in order to return to the world stage again. How awful for you all. You have my sympathies.

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You gotta give him credit, however, because Murray is ridiculously unwavering in his commitment to achieve his goals. You cannot mistake where he intends to bring this organization, and whether you like it or not, it is going there. His Strategic Plan is in full swing, and all the tea in China cannot stop him now. The budget is under control, no one is embezzling any monetary funds, and the Federation seems to flourish with his iron fisted tactics. No one has the time to be lazy in that office, that’s for sure. He expects results, and staff is producing results. Kudos to people who answer directly to him. He is not exactly a ‘people’ person, he seems to not understand how to talk with someone, only at them, and it comes off as aggressive and well, alarmingly crazy if he is angry.  No one can accuse him of micro managing, however, and he expects the lowest level of governing committees to make the decisions to move forward rather than wait for issues to land on the desk of the Board of Directors. It is a completely different feeling than the governance within the USHJA.

The Drugs and Medication update is fairly simple. We are lucky enough to be able to outsource the drug testing to University of Kentucky and are currently setting up a new relationship with the new Lab Director there, so our future drug tests will not be overseen solely by Stephen Schumacher, thank the Lord. Also, it will eventually be an institution you will be able to have your own supplements tested, which is good. Pergolide users, as of last month you may fill out a Therapeutic Use Exemption and not disrupt your medication use for Cushings horses. You do have to prove your horse actually has Cushings, but it does alleviate the anxiety somewhat surrounding Pergolide. Never heard any follow up discussion on Depo. https://www.usef.org/media/press-releases/usef-announces-new-therapeutic-use-exemption

The affiliate meeting was probably the most contentious meeting, but the general public was closed out on it, so we missed the good stuff. Several breeds and disciplines are re-evaluating their relationship with the USEF and we all wanted to see the blood bath unfold, but were sadly disappointed. After two hours of negotiating, we were finally invited back to the room for an update, where everyone was calm, cool, and collected, and discussions on how to move forward as a group and save on bulk items such as printer ink and paper were being discussed. Also, group insurance to protect against the cancelation of competitions was requested. Alright. Well, the USEF really needs to hold to hold on to those affiliates, and vice versa, otherwise too great a financial loss will occur and we wouldn’t want a bankruptcy situation on our hands, now would we? USEF printed an official update here : https://www.usef.org/media/press-releases/consensus-emerges-from-affiliate-roundtable?fbclid=IwAR1cuhy4JhNAVhdmafs2cFM2CXDeEZqjqae0pM0Blfi0KynxFwXBCF7nd1Q

Safe Sport is still the front running topic. I swear sometimes I am more confused by the information the lawyers are telling us than what we learn on our own. I tried to point out we are all very nervous about the unknown more than being in compliance, as we are hearing more and more stories of the incompetence of the Safe Sport Center and the handling of cases. Sometimes I hear only 4 cases have been over turned, some say 13 cases, some say less than .5% of cases. Most cases haven’t been resolved and are waiting for further arbitration. I have news for you, that very first case which was overturned was the trigger to prey on our fears of false accusations. Sonja Keating swears that USEF is trying to work with SS in order to align due process more into what we have been afforded in the past as members of a riding club, so we really need to believe she is pushing back to protect us. For now I really want to believe her, but there is a lot more work to be done to get SS to stop effing things up.

We also have to admit there are a lot of unstable people out there not really understanding what makes a viable complaint worth reporting to the SS Center.

Murray admitted there were 25k-30k non-compliant exhibitors but he wasn’t going to sweat it, because only 16k exhibitors show in the first couple of months of the year, but wow, it seems like a staggering amount of people to still persuade to take the training. Double yikes.

If you are wondering about taking the training every year, we learned that the update is short, and once you take the initial training, you will only have to take 15 minute refresher test each year to stay compliant. This had never been explained before, so it was nice to hear, but left me wondering about what other information is being held back from us….

The more I thought about it however, the more I was intrigued by Murray’s insistence on USEF being the leading organization to fully comply with the USOC. See, Murray doesn’t like not being in control, or told what to do, so what are the advantages to having his organization be the first to have 100% of its members compliant? Will he use that as a way to wield an axe against Safe Sport? Is that even a thing? Is he using our compliance to negotiate with the SS investigators? I can see him or Sonja sitting there in a SS arbitration, saying look, we have complied fully, our members have complied, you all messed up this many times, and from here on out, we are going to ask you change your protocols so people don’t feel they are being nailed to a cross from day one. I know it is a stretch, but……can you see it?

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Safe Sport is disappointing, there are loads of stories all over the country describing people suffering from false accusations, so we know it does happen, you really do not have due process to even know who is filing a complaint against you, the arbitration is whack, and the turnover of leadership within the actual SS Center is alarming. But until someone convinces Congress to axe the program, we are stuck with it. Obviously it is your choice if you choose to revoke your membership or use a show pass (until those are rendered extinct), but I don’t see where we can fix it through the USEF. yet..

The meetings were staged accordingly throughout the week. I was constantly wondering why the volume was up so loud in the main ballrooms for presentations (to keep us from talking to each other) and there always seemed to be a limited amount of time following each meeting open for public forum (15 minutes) or debate. This frustrated me to no end and was very calculated. I am sure they get tired of hearing us whine all the time, but too bad. Part of a good organization is to listen to the actual members. Meetings with panelists were dry and humorless, and, with the exception of the Golf Guy, I fought to stay awake. (Watch the Power of Media and Membership Part I starting at minute 13) I would recommend a voice coach to come in and teach everyone to move away from a monotone delivery when on stage, I mean seriously, we are freezing to death in these seats, at least make us laugh to keep us a little warmer. One thing the Golf Guy mentioned I found curious, the PGA Tour owns USA Golf…

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From the PGA Tour, talented and engaging guest speaker Preston McClellan.

I really, really wanted to see the Endurance committee meeting, but even after their first three hours of closed door discussion, they refused to allow us in for the last hour, so I have NO idea how endurance competition is being discussed and am really disappointed.

I did see a little of the old adage ‘they do what they want anyway’ occurring… I feel for people who have worked hard on both sides of the new Licensing Officials Plan. In order to simplify the process for licensing officials, a new plan has been in the works all year. Most people were ok with the overhaul until the issue of confidentiality arose. From now on, there will no longer be confidential evaluations offered to those who learner judge along side an ‘R’ judge. I didn’t see anyone stand up for these opposing voices at the USEF meeting. Maybe it was voiced behind closed doors. No idea. This may or may not change the dynamics of learner judging but we won’t see the repercussions for quite some time. For years, the confidential evaluation forms allowed the person filling them out to give an honest assessment of whether or not he/she felt the learner judge was capable of earning a license. In a world of unstable people, will knowing what your mentor said about you cause you to be offended and retaliate? Hope not, but like I said, the world is full of unstable people.

Many sessions are available online. They are using their own resources to do what you have demanded, so I urge you to go watch a few sessions and educate yourself. Maybe you will come out with a different perspective than me. Maybe you will have better ideas than me. Maybe you will see a solution where I could not, and be willing to stick your neck out for what you truly believe in. Maybe next year Murray won’t have to say ‘you don’t understand’ in as many places in his speech.

https://www.usef.org/network/coverage/2019annualmeeting/?cl=t

 

Run… The 2018 USHJA Annual Meeting

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It was with great reluctance I chose to attend this years 2018 USHJA Annual Meeting in Tampa. I was so reluctant, I didn’t buy plane tickets, because even at the last minute I had to force myself to go. Leading up to it, I told everyone I was dreading it this year, the long days, long week, and incessant vocabulary lessons….. which words will 88% of the horse crazy population understand? What order to put them in? And how can we make this rule slightly less vague than a Sumo wrestler on the 4th of July? gahhhhh.

Even worse, a couple of months ago I took a really hard blow when Tom Brennan (on the USHJA BOD) called me early one morning to tell me he was stepping back from all duties within the USHJA to focus on his business and family. I was speechless. I had already declined my own invitation to the BOD (still not even sure who put my name up), and tried to process what he was saying to me, as I stood in a field and watched as water spilled over the lip of a trough I had been filling and run off into the pasture. I just let it run. I eventually found a voice to say “no, no you can’t leave, that’s not funny, you are WAY too needed, this is what you have been excelling at for the last few years, your attention to detail is sick, and the reason I took an interest in the first place! I have totally depended on your guidance….” (not that it should be about me) but he cut the call short, wished me luck, reminded me to read the by-laws if I was ever going to be serious about governance and hung up. I stared at my phone, stared at the overflowing trough, sighed, and walked over to turn the water off… I will never forget that morning. I felt ill.

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Tom Brennan might be the best analysist we have

I was so busy this fall, I basically squeezed a year’s worth of travel in the last three months before Christmas, and honestly, rule change proposals were so far from my mind after they originally came out, I was hoping my brain would deflate just long enough to allow some of that crap to sift back in and remind me what we were supposed to be talking about.

Instead of flying, I used the long drive to Florida to clear my mind of Russians and horse dealers, and instead concentrate on Zone specs and educational programs.

Sunday afternoon, hardly remembering how I got there, and following wicked rains and tornado warnings, I found myself walking through the doors of the Hilton hotel in downtown Tampa.

Our swag at registration included a giant orange beach bag filled with brochures, a few treasured pens, a calendar, instructions to download the meeting app, and sticky notes. Super, more sticky notes.

Zone education was up first, where we were listening to various Zone stories from around the country, complaints, more complaints, meanwhile being encouraged to give ideas to improve communication so more people understand who we are, what we do, etc, etc. People wanted shows to post signs which pointed out which exhibitors were there who were also Zone committee members. I rolled my eyes.

Shit, I thought, I am only here one hour and my eyes! my eyes!

Look, we have two early responsibilities as competing exhibitors. The first one (after you figure out which Zone you actually live in) is to properly identify your Zone Committee members. The second one is, IF you are a Zone Committee member, you need to broadcast that shit all over the place until people start to recognize you. Do NOT sit around and expect the shows or the USHJA to do your job. You signed up, and yes it is a sucky job sometimes, but please, for the love of all things poopy, I do NOT want to sit through one more meeting and listen to people who have NEVER even mentioned on Facebook that they are a Zone Committee member. Everyone has to get to the meeting each year, it is not a position you use on your resume and then do nothing, you have to work, create avenues for change, and organize Zone crap, which I love to do (don’t get me wrong), you have to be strong willed when you don’t want to be, and not let the chair person intimidate and bully you (which can happen, trust me) and you have to smile whenever an exhibitor mistakes you for a steward, and help them solve whatever it is they need solving. (YES, I am capable of smiling) THEN, you have to sort through materials for phone calls, and try to remember which rules apply to which organization. No one is perfect, I get that, but next year at the Zone Committee meeting I want to hear ALL about the cool shit, not the boring stuff, to get my week in gear. No offense.

By the way, I am currently a ZONE 3 COMMITTEE MEMBER. HI! HOW ARE YOU! bless you.

More instruction was given to us on how to ‘go after’ affiliate organizations. This frustrated me because I personally think we should leave state and affiliate show organizations alone, at least until the image of the USHJA improves. A lot. The local affiliates are local and and cheap for a reason. Swooning local state organizations with promises of grant money for their banquets might work in some areas, but certainly not in mine. I am aware of the movement to encourage the strength of the lower end of the pyramid, but there are other ways. Offering a 2’6” height in our Thoroughbred division for one… maybe.

I met up with Brooke Kemper and Kimmy Risser following the first intro meeting, and we gathered our giant orange bags and luggage, and headed off to our apartment a few minutes from the hotel. Thank the Lord for AirBNB. Just recently Brooke had been nominated for the BOD, Kimmy was on the Hunter Breeding Committee, and we mused about governance in our busy lives and how it was so tricky and time consuming, but at least we were all together. I wondered if Tom would be there and tried to remember the last time we spoke. He had called me a few hours after I landed from Russia to hear about my trip, but mostly I think he was just making sure I hadn’t been kidnapped or mugged (the latter not uncommon with me) and I had asked if we would see each other in Tampa for the meeting, but he hadn’t decided then, so, trying not to sound disappointed, we wished each other a good holiday just in case. I never had time to follow up so it was anyone’s guess if he would arrive in Florida.

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MONDAY. 7:30 am…The big yellow book. Now, there weren’t too many controversial issues this year, as in years past, so there were only three or four topics I had any feeling for, but the point of these meetings is to offer perspectives and remind the room in general to make sure everyone is comfortable with the language of each proposal so we aren’t going back and making modifications when we didn’t get the language right the first time.

Sounds fun, no?

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I think I first questioned the cell phone rule, and reminded people ring staff calls us to tell us how many trips before we show…which led to a flurry of discussion. This does not mean I am for or against, by the way, before you lynch me, I just like to see both sides.

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Brooke brings questions to the table.

I am not a fan of the Regional I and Regional II shows needing a certified Course Designer, but luckily someone else was at the microphone before I could stand up, so I let her have the floor. She shared my view.

Reversing nomenclature for Pre Greens/Green Hunter brought some passionate responses. Points were made about the length of time for people to get used to the change and also losing Kimmy’s new favorite word, (lol, jk)  “Tradition”.

A horse welfare rule was being introduced to the Equitation section –  again murmurs on language; pony/horse shoe pulling was dismissed without discussion, having already been clearly disapproved from all committees, as was the bridle rule (Melanie Ferrio-Wise may carry on riding bridleless), no draw reins, martingales permitted in age restricted classes, so on and so forth. Then we get to the color of the coat….

I am gonna save more for later, because there is more for later, but the initial reaction of the room was priceless. So. Many. Groans. I did not stand up. I sat in my seat and watched closely as people grappled with how to deal with the one thing no one wanted to deal with. The damn color of a coat. I think everyone aged five years in that moment. When this current rule went into effect years ago, it was to offer clarification on what would be allowed to show riders with what was available at that time, when apparently loads of people were wearing plaid and pinstripes, linen and so forth, and someone finally had enough and was like, hey! we need a rule.

Several decades later, we apparently have hit an impasse. After what seemed like a gross amount of time, we were reminded the committees would have a chance to address this later, Kimmy told me this was all my fault (again), and moved on to more important topics like Amateur Owners versus Amateurs, Competition standards (UGHHHH),  Measurement surfaces (no plywood please and thank you), Ambulances, paramedics, and a myriad of other topics to be discussed throughout the week. The debriefing took several hours but we got through it. Yay.

In the afternoon I attended the Young Hunter Round Table with Kimmy and we enthusiastically contributed our ideas on how to make it work better for our members. I was happy to see Tom Brennan at the table for the discussion, along with Geoff Teall. Kimmy and I were, honestly, both a bit surprised there was even a question as to why the Young Hunter division has not taken off on the East Coast compared to California, and tried not to be too snarky (me, I mean, I am the only snarky one) as we pointed out some MAJOR flaws for what is happening here. No prize money, no finals, no reduced entry fee, not too many shows even offering it, (hello Harrisburg for a final?) no conformation consideration, needed height modification, etc. etc. etc. In her brilliance, Kimmy suggested adding a Young Hunter Championship or Finals (or whatever) to the Sallie B. Wheeler Finals.  We patted ourselves on the backs and moved on.

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Round table questions

Later that evening, we hit the bar for a glass of wine before moving on to the welcome party, we attempted to mingle (sort of), and I made myself known to David Distler, because I had never done so before, and mentioned I would be on yet another committee for Zone 3 Finals. He was very courteous, but probably wishing someone would come save him. We chatted with a few of the USHJA employees, because at this point we had worked with these girls a LOT, and it was fun to see them off the clock, and catch up on their lives. I always make a point to give the girls who work in the office a lot of credit for putting up with us, horse people are nuts, and they deal with people with grievances on a regular basis, so it is nice when you can take a moment and let them know how much we appreciate the work.

TUESDAY. 7:30 am. State of the Union. Mary Babick. Pretty much full house. The three of us sat up front and were joined by Terry Young from Virginia, whom I have grown to really appreciate her dedication. She asks really good questions, and puts a lot of thought into what is happening. We watched a slide presentation and videos of the success of the USHJA and the programs offered through the organization…. EAP, HQC, TCP, Jumper stuff, team stuff, pie charts, graphs, statistics, more graphs, more statistics. Oh wait, another graph. Occasionally, I played solitaire on my kindle. I thought about stuff…..

The presentation finally ended and Mary opened up the floor for a Town Hall. I looked behind me at the couple hundred people in the room. many of them looked at me. Geesh. I stood up for my first question…. I asked her to go back to the pie chart and point out where the money from the Foundation was included and which slice of pie was designated to include it. I think she said Competitive Programs, since money coming through the Foundation was targeted for these programs. hmm, ok. She brought up the Gochman grant which is specifically for Pony Finals so I asked if Pony Finals was a USEF Championship, not a USHJA program and she said yes. So the Gochman Grant comes through the USHJA Foundation, but goes to a USEF event. Seems weird to me, but maybe it makes sense to someone else. I don’t even know and I am not sure if I care, but something in my head triggered the question, so I asked. I sat down and felt a tap on my shoulder.

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I am pretty sure this was John Bahret’s exact expression when I was at the microphone.

I turned around to John Bahret, seated behind me who offered to clarify my questions later. Good idea, I thought, and said “I would love that.”

A couple of people asked various questions, but nothing dramatic, just clarifying parts of the presentation and what not.  Pretty soon there were crickets. Why is everyone so QUIET?? Isn’t this a Town Hall? I was expecting a line at the microphone. There is usually a line. When did we all become so content? I must have missed something, I don’t know.

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I stood up again.

Every time I stand up I start sweating, the room always feels hot, and I feel like a dork. I do it anyway, but it never gets easier. I hate it. I hate people looking at me, I hate how my voice sounds, I am sure my hair is a mess, and despite the last couple of years of practice, it does not get any easier for me. I know there are several haters in the room, obviously, (most likely from HITS) but this a chance to have the conversation. Not in the halls, not in the car, on the phone, not in the bathroom. This is it. I feel like there is one recent development which I really, really was hoping someone else would bring to the microphone….

In the last week or two, there has been wild activity on the internet concerning about five or six breeds and disciplines looking to their relationship with USEF. Another blogger has produced several articles criticizing the USOC, Safe Sport, among other things and seems keen on a possible separation from the Federation. The Arabian Horse Association is starting to study the relationship with USEF and consider options, which they probably can’t help. When your members decide to ignore sanctioned showing, refuse to renew their dues and seek shows locally, you kind of can’t operate. There are far less Arabian exhibitors than Hunter/Jumper exhibitors, so a mass exodus is a very good reason for concern. So, I asked. How does it affect us if half a dozen other breed disciplines leave USEF? What do we tell our membership? Will are dues be affected with the financial loss of that many people? If the USHJA is so connected with USEF, then we should have a right to understand the activity and expect our leadership to get ahead of this curve and offer some guidance, so when we ask our customers to sign up each year, they don’t pester us with WHY CANT WE LEAVE USEF, TOO?? Mary answered, but seemed to steer the answer back to Safe Sport and the value of the SS in our lives, but that didn’t please me, (naturally), so I said please answer the first question, to which she looked for Glenn Petty to step up to the microphone. Bill Moroney was right behind him. Glenn assured us it was ONLY a preliminary study to determine the relationship with the two organizations, which would be complete in August of 2019. And Bill Moroney said to not believe everything you read on the internet…..

K.

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The first of the smaller meetings.

Scheduling is a bitch. You are constantly trying to be in two or five places at once. You get a few minutes in one room, but have to leave to catch another meeting down the hall. The basic yellow book of proposals was furiously being discussed everywhere, but also each educational program had a meeting to discuss improvements. Like the TCP. On one of the crazy charts in the SOTU address, it was pointed out of the 7500 professionals listed in USHJA, only 500 had attempted to finish their TCP training. That program has never sat well with me. I hardly teach anymore, so I am expected to be certified to show horses instead? I show just fine, I don’t really need a certification for showing horses, and now that ‘mandatory’ is being intensely thrown around I am imagining being certified equally with anyone who gives himself an alias of a superhero or ties their horse up in a stall without water for 6 hours just so an adult lady can jump the cross rail division? I didn’t make any new friends in that meeting, and look, I am not opposed to certification, but not through a show association. It needs to be through Pony Club. Especially with teaching. Have the TCP go through Pony Club and as both organizations. For pete’s sake.

Competition Management meeting had forty five thousand pages of rewrites to review. Skip. I walk into a Young Jumper task Force and was the only one in the room besides a few people at the table. They were musing how to adopt Andrew Philbrick’s Hunter Farms format for Young Jumpers. Good idea, that should work, Next. Break. Candy. Walk around the building twice. Competition Standards again. Okkkkkkkkk already.  My brain was imploding. The maroon coat was still on the table looking for a solution. Time was running out, still no solution. I racked my brain, trying to think of ways to rewrite the language, but nothing was coming up….yet.

We broke up for dinner, Kimmy scowled at us because Brooke and I hadn’t purchased fancy Awards dinner tickets so we were going to have to split up. But as I drove Kimmy back the hotel for the party and picked up Brooke, I pinky promised we would sneak back in for the After Party.

Just kidding, we don’t pinky promise.

But we did return for the After Party, and I forced them both to hit the dance floor with me so I wouldn’t be the only one showing off my outrageous dance moves, we dressed up in silly hats for the photo booth and begged some of the USHJA girls to come join us for some much needed stress relief. They had all been prevented from attending the banquet from their boss, which infuriated me, so Kimmy and I were super keen to get them into the After Party. It was cute, they didn’t last long, probably fear of being caught, but they put on some Santa hats and got their photos taken, then hurried away back to the coat room. Why on earth were the hardest working people in the building being prevented from having a tiny bit of fun with us? Seemed so wrong. It worries me.

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Brooke, me and Kimmy at the After Party

In the last few months, there has been an alarming amount of turnover inside of the USHJA with nearly half a dozen girls quitting recently, and all I keep thinking is WHY? Why, why why? We need them so badly, they work very, very hard. One transferred to the USEF and is flourishing tremendously, even heading the licensed officials meeting where she has spent months hashing out an easier option to get more officials licensed on an easier to understand platform. Once she nails down the confidentiality crisis, she will have a very good product to bring back to us. Her passion for it is really inspiring. But is makes me very, very sad. In some dark corner of my head the one pestering thought is that damned anonymous letter. Whatever happened to the anonymous letter? Was the situation ever handled? We never heard another published word about it, but I cannot remove it from my head. Someone had to write it for a reason, otherwise, why bother? Maybe it was swept under the rug, maybe he went to some sort of employee training, but if we have to watch his picture get taken with every horse receiving an award at Derby Finals, then I want to know these girls are safe. Seems fair to me.

RETRACTION: I have been instructed by the USHJA President that this is not fact, and to offer a correction. The girls were indeed permitted to attend the party if they wanted. My apologies for the confusion. 

Wednesday. Breakfast with a headache.

Well, that’s how it goes, sometimes. The first meeting was a joint Hunter/Jumper Working group meeting, and here we reeeeeeally needed an answer on the maroon coat. We had 24 hours left. We were still looking for the RIGHT language for this rule to prevent people from being eliminated for the color of a coat, meanwhile please the ’traditionalists’, and make a tiny allowance for the coat to appear without the fear of it showing up in Derby Finals with Liza Boyd. (when pigs fly)

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LOL

By this point no one gives two shits what the color is, what we REALLY need is for HALF of the COUNTRY to STOP flooding the USEF and USHJA offices with calls and hate emails about being eliminated from the show ring because a steward is really taking the rule too literally, or IS MY MAROON COAT LEGAL???? In reality, the furthest thought from most judges minds is the color of the show coat, and every single judge in attendance (INCLUDING LINDA ANDRISANI BY THE WAY) was insisting they were looking at the horse when it walked into the ring. If you are a judge and disagree, but you were not in Tampa, sorry I can’t help you. Sorry, not sorry? Unbelievably, this was harder than you think. Kelsey (from USEF) was determined to get the line of ‘you cannot be eliminated’ into the wording, but dark muted colors also needed to get in there. Every time someone named specific colors, someone else threw out an example of a different color. Holy shit, what the literal phuck.

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Linda whenever we had to address the maroon coat. jk

I went for a walk and tried to tackle it myself.

The best I could come up with is a modern ‘sounding’ rule but was the closest to keeping the most people happy, in my mind. I thought it was ok, but maybe you can improve upon the language. you have until Monday to help. This is being thrown back to the National Hunter Committee for review, because it could not get resolved by Thursday…

Conventional attire following the tradition of fox hunting is encouraged and preferred with dark, muted colors. A rider may not be eliminated for choice of coat color, but the judge may penalize for distractions such as excessive adornments on helmets and coats. Shirts must have a choker or closed collar, or tie. Breeches may be buff, canary, tan, rust, or white.

As it stands after last Thursday?

The current proposed rule was passed with only a brief modification. I think they just removed parenthesis.

Attire. Riders should wear conservatively colored black, blue, green, grey, or brown coats which are free from adornment which in the judge’s opinion is overly distracting. Shirts must have a choker, similar collar or tie. Breeches may be buff, canary, tan rust, or white.

Now you see where all the brain cells went.

Next meeting, next meeting, next meeting. I was frustrated with overlaps of important ones and I was missing some areas I wanted to hear. I also started noticing fewer committee representatives at the tables. Some had one chairperson, and one other member, maybe two. Some never met a quorum to vote on stuff. hmm. I darted around, trying to absorb as much as I could but it was really a lot of information. I spoke up on things I had no idea about but asked anyway based on logistics. Charlotte Skinner-Robson offered to hug me in the halls when I questioned the logistics of the FEI Course Designer rule and felt it was discriminatory against foreigners, and by the way Americans are never asked to maintain multiple licenses when working in Canada, Mexico, or Europe, so wtf dude? Welp, I might have lost a friend in Steve Stephens today, but yeah, well, it needed to be asked, so I did. The day continued like that, and it was exhausting.  I am passionate abut the child/adult hunter team championships, but the program is on the chopping block because it cannot take off like the jumper champs, and the few suggestions I had seemed to fall flat. I hope not, they were good suggestions, and this is one of the few programs I happily endorse. The pony task force met with two committee members, again, couldn’t meet a quorum so they held a round table discussion. I asked (for a friend) why it was not possible for a professional to show them one day during the week but subsequently only allow the pony to show in the green ponies that weekend, not the regular division, since every other junior/amateur division allowed professional riders to show beforehand during the week except green ponies and was met with a barrage of exclamations, good and bad. This is actually a very concerning issue, when there are very, very few pro pony riders available, but maybe for another day.

We each have our own need with the programs in the USHJA. The hardest barrier is the size of this country. The models have to work from Maine to Alaska and Hawaii to Florida. Instead, the reality is each part of the country has a different dichotomy and piecing it all together is welll…. hard.

I was darting back and forth when I heard my name called. It was John Bahret from the first morning wanting to know if I still wanted to talk about the Foundation. Of course I did! It turns out he is the treasurer for the Foundation until this week, then he transfers his duties to treasurer of the USHJA, hence resigning from the Foundation so no one sees him as having a conflict of interest. Got it. He assured me the Foundation was up and running again, they had wisely decided to lie low for a year following the dramatic resignation of nearly the entire board over a major discrepancy of the by-laws, but were organized, happy and healthy and looking into the future… that word again. What is with the by-laws lately? A post resignation interview regarding the by-laws immediately came to mind, but I pushed it back for a few minutes so I could think.

This would be my third attempt to sell my idea to a Foundation board member and my last attempt for sure. The first two failed, I think, but I wasn’t ready to give up.

A few months ago a braider in Texas, Cat Wolstenholme was severely injured when a horse she was braiding swiped at a fly, caught his halter on her ladder and flipped her over, breaking her leg. She had little or inadequate insurance, and was forced to start a Go Fund me account which eventually found its way to my inbox, so I reached out to her to apply for a grant from the Foundation.

But it got me thinking, what are we doing for all the braiders, grooms and farriers with little options on insurance, and are not members of the USHJA or USEF, but help us every day? Could they not be a member of the Foundation instead, for like $35 a year or something and if they got hurt, be able to apply for some financial aid? There is no braider’s or groom’s union, so maybe we could hash it out and come up with options.

I have to say John relished the idea and made me feel very comfortable talking about it. He went to great lengths to inform me of the layout of the Foundation, it’s relationship with USHJA, along with everything else, and we tossed around ideas on how to make something like this available for the future. I couldn’t believe it. He was amazing, genuine, and forthcoming, and I was truly impressed with the time he took to give me a chance, which very, very few people had displayed before. It was the first time I was seeing just a little tiny spark of hope.

I wasn’t sure what to think after that meeting, but I was definitely in a lighter mood already.

The final meeting for me was the Sport Integrity Task Force meeting which drew a small but curious crowd. I noticed Tom was a bit late to the meeting, not unusual, but out of the corner of my eye, thought maybe he was hanging by the door, unsure where to go for a few minutes longer than normal. He eventually took a seat at the table. He looked really tired. I remember Mary announcing a couple of years ago this committee and at the time, she and Tom Brennan were the only two members. I distinctly remember not receiving an invitation, but also thought maybe I was being arrogant.

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Cricket Stone Morris

Eventually she recruited a few key people, including Cricket Stone Morris, who has really flourished in this area. She has done a TON of research from all over the world, and come up with a workbook which may work on the future of sport. My hand raised for the final time that week to suggest paying more attention to young people receiving sportsmanship awards across the country and maybe it will be useful to connect their ideals of Sport Integrity to Sportsmanship, especially with young people. Honestly, I don’t know where that came from, but Tom immediately raised an eyebrow, looked at me, and said you are on to something there. We carried on for a few minutes with that idea and the room came up with some other ideas how to connect it all. The conversation drifted a bit to judging somehow, and before long Sissy Wickes and Tom were sharing funny stories about judging fails, and we were all giggling about everything from bathroom breaks to exhibitors winning a blue ribbon but still wanting to ask the judge why they won a blue ribbon, to discussing the New England Equitation Championships. It was unbelievable. And Mary was at the head of the table as the Chairperson.

Thursday. The Drive Home. The Board Meeting..

I just couldn’t stay any longer. Things were falling apart at home, I had horses to ride, appointments, and I was seriously bummed to leave but I had to. Thursday is the final board meeting for the Directors, and the last chance for submitting the proposals to the USEF for approval. This year there was no further discussion allowed past Thursday since the USEF annual meeting is held earlier this year in West Palm beach in just a couple of weeks. Starting Monday the USEF committees would be reviewing all this week’s revisions.

I wished Brooke and Kimmy luck the night before and was awake and driving before they woke up, slowly processing what happened during the week while staring at white lines on the dark road.

It took me a few hours before I started thinking something was really weird about this week. I couldn’t put my finger on it exactly, but something wasn’t adding up.

Why did it seem so different?

Why were there so many committees unable to conduct business?

Was it intentional? The meeting was held in Florida, Tampa is really a good place to have a meeting for horse people, and many people who left before their meetings… were in Florida…

What am I missing?

I drove on.

My phone buzzed to tell me the nomenclature on the Greens didn’t pass. Fuck. My first thought was Tom was going to be so disappointed with that. He really had hopes of restoring the original names and had the entire room agreeing the day before by describing branding processes, and this is one area which he strongly felt a should not be modernized. Damn it, what changed overnight?

I thought about that. What changed overnight? What did I miss?

Phone buzzed again. Coat rule was not reworded. Fuck. Square One.

Ban of cell phone use in schooling areas passed. Good. Now everyone will buy an Apple Watch and be flipping their wrist over every five seconds.

I drove on.

Kimmy finally called me at then end of the meeting and seemed a little breathless. Alarm bells started going off.

Apparently departing BOD member Shelley Campf had dropped a bomb at the end of the meeting and had made an eerily creepy demand for the first order of business to the incoming board to investigate the real reason Tom Brennan was left off of the ballot for the 2018 BOD.

Wait, WHAT??

I actually had to pull over.

Fuck me, nothing was adding up. My head was spinning too fast. No wait, actually lot’s of things are adding up. My mind flew back to to the Foundation by-laws when everyone on the board resigned except one person.

My mind also flew back to Tom’s warning of reading the by-laws.

I hung up and pulled back on the highway, more determined to get home and pull out the by-laws of both organizations.

If Tom was really not pulling back from governance because of time, like he told me, that must mean it was something else. But what? A forced resignation? What on earth for?? I have known this man a very long time. I was at his wedding. When I broke my leg in Gulfport and was carted off on a stretcher, he packed up all my shit for me. When I ask the dumbest questions you can imagine about governance, he patiently explains every single angle so I never get confused again. He is one of the most respected judges in the country. He also is not easily influenced, which at times has made him a threat to others.

Something was really wrong.

A threat. Wait a second. The only reason you wouldn’t fight to have this man on your team is if he posed a threat to your position……

Shiiiiiiiiiiiit. My mind went straight to where it really shouldn’t have.

Without Cause.

My dad taught me about his law of re-occurring frequencies. It’s kind of his way of saying he doesn’t believe in coincidences. And I am my fathers child through and through.

Remember when the Plaid Horse interviewed Mary Babick following the disintegration of the BOD on the Foundation? I do.

https://theplaidhorse.com/2017/07/17/what-happened-to-the-ushja-foundation-board-of-directors/

Sooooo many things stick out from that article.

Why would she say ‘There should be no gun trained on Kevin Price” ? Why does his name come up again? Why is she protecting him of all people? I mean, if I were president, I would seriously be looking for a resignation from him as top priority. Wait, is that it?

I pulled out the Foundation by-laws and found what I think, though I am not sure, the original and then corrected parts.

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Original language?

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New language?

I started there, but something told me I wasn’t on the right path. Then the article about the meeting came out, and at the very end was a VERY weird and flimsy explanation regarding the nominating procedure.

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Wait, WHAT?

Cripes,  was I looking in the wrong place?

So, all I could find about the nominating committee was that Tom was on it and had to resign when he submitted his name. It says immediately, but what does that mean exactly? There is no specific time frame, like immediately as in rush to the hospital? Or like immediately, where like over four years then ten days would seem immediate to me. Dang, the Sumo wrestler has returned on the Fourth of July.

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So, what exactly is up with these modifications from November 19th of 2018? That was only a couple of weeks ago. Something isn’t adding up, Here is the link.

https://www.ushja.org/application/files/9415/4404/3142/11.19.18_Approved_Amended_Policy__Procedure_Manual_Redactedfor_website.pdf

I smell a rat.

Why would Shelley Campf be so insistent? I cannot wait for the video of the meeting to be published. I expect it will attract quite a few views.

Why do I have so many questions??

WHY did I leave the meeting?

I am still not sure where to look, what to do, or what to think. It is going to take me forever to pick apart by-laws because let’s face it. I am only so bright. I wasn’t trained for this and the ironic thing is – very few horse people are. We ride horses, show horses, clean up after horses. Who has time for all of the rest? I seriously hope I can find an answer, or if I can’t, maybe someone else can. Maybe you can. I now realize I was dependent on my faith in the leadership, but honestly, my faith is severely shaken right now.

  

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!

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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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The TCP, or Trainer Certification Program. Can it be saved?

The Trainer Certification Program has been in place with the USHJA for a number of years, but has failed to gain much traction.

For one, it seems illogical to think you need to be certified to go to a horse show. Two, it is very pricey for something which requires renewal every 5 years. Three, it doesn’t have a clear direction.

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I understand being certified to run a boarding or teaching facility, but to write a check? I am riding my horses either way, but being certified to compete sort of gets lost on me. And this country is too large to begin encouraging all competitors to be certified to compete.

I also disagree with the concept of the wealthier clients you have, the higher tier you are in the the certification program. Actually, I might be a better trainer than a lot of people at the top of sport with deep pockets, and sometimes they might even send me one to fix, so because I choose to not compete on that level, or teach kids anymore, I can’t be considered a top tiered trainer? I beg to differ. I have also seen multiple TCP trainers which I have really questioned how they achieved the certification. I even know of examples where TCP trainers have been written up by stewards for borderline abusive behavior.

One of the biggest faults with the TCP is that it is lost between a competition world and real world. This country is making it seem like showing horses is the same thing as training horses, and it is not. They are two very different things.

I looked on the website to see what kind of information was put up for each trainer and I was a bit shocked, actually. They are recording in graphs and charts how many ribbons are won. Holy Crap. That doesn’t seem right. And it proves my point about how this country perceives horse training. Ugh.

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You also need to think about it as a future process. Established trainers do not need the USHJA to tell them they are established trainers. If you have been in this business for more than 20 years, forget it, the TCP is useless to you, right? Zero benefit. You have the clients you have, that is not likely to change. You find the horses you need to find for your clients. The TCP doesn’t help you with that, does it? The TCP needs to aim toward the next generation, not the existing one. And clearly, with incentives, and with benefits. Start thinking about how to entice the under 30 group. Trust me, I have been watching the TCP flail for what, ten years? I’ve lost track. Those members who learned about it at the age of 18, and ignored it are now 28, and lost. gone. uninterested. Let them go. Trust me.

IF TCP wants to have better equipped competitors the fix is easy. Offer classes restricted to TCP professionals. They could be really interesting classes actually, not just 8 jumps and a ribbon. They could be wildly technical, too, with the freedom to incorporate each discipline, hunter, jumper and equitation. Or, similar to what the TB’s have done have a TCP Hunter, or TCP jumper class.

Those classes would be judged with score cards, the rating of the judge would be noted, (i.e.: you have just been judged by a R or r judge, or learner judge) and you may either enter the class yourself or choose a student you train to participate (but you would get credit for). The TCP Restricted classes can even have a finals, so accumulating points throughout the year would qualify you for a final, which maybe you win a County Saddle, or a complete Pony Club Manual set, who knows. It looks like Markel insurance is very involved with the program, which seems like a smart move, since they offer insurance for Professionals, so maybe they might offer their own incentive.

The Score Card would be filled out similar to a dressage test. Say a Dressage test scores ten movements, then has four little boxes at the end to score Submission, Rider Position, Impulsion and whatever. The Score Cards would be generated within the TCP program, depending on what the TCP feels a professional should be required to perform, and put online, and could be downloaded by the horse show secretary as needed.

The score cards would also satisfy the rising desire for feedback. There seems to be a steady increase in really wanting to know what the judge thinks about your round. There was even a push for numerical scoring this year to become standard practice for A rated divisions. Instant feedback for each round.

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If you need a Tiered program, which I don’t think you do, you can offer a tier based on points accumulated during the year in these classes. Maybe with double points offered at the Final.

If the Finals or classes were offered with prize money, the incentive speaks for itself. Have a $10,000 TCP Finals? I actually would consider participating.

I think people like to be reassured that the monies they are putting up for programs are being recycled within those programs. So if the total costs are nearing $2,000 for each individual to be certified, how much is coming back to the individual?

rundown of discovered costs for TCP, according to the website…..

$100 Application Fee

$225 Exam if Application is approved

$500 Clinic attendance (required)

or

$200 Online Certification

$20 Background Check

$?? 400 insurance – varies

$65 Manual fee

Travel Costs for clinic – let’s estimate $500

$75 Renewal Fee every 5 years

The George Morris Equitation thing? Remember when it started and there were all these horsemanship requirements to participate, but no one would do them, and everyone complained, so it was decided to just drop those requirements and expectations? so now it’s just a clinic or something, I don’t even know. or care. Welcome to real life. no one cares, right? bingo. However, I believe it is a very different reality on the State level.

I think encouraging horsemanship comes from a different area in this country. I don’t think it should just come from the USHJA, which is still relatively low on the popularity scale. However, chances are there are more horse people signing up for the state level organizations, such as the Maryland Horse Show Association, Virginia Horse Show Association, etc. When introduced to horse showing, more people than you think start with their own state horse show organization, see if they like showing, and move on from there.

Exploring options on the state level. In order to become a member of a State Show organization, what if you had to pass a ten minute written horsemanship test? Would you do it? Junior memberships have two different categories (members under 12 exempt)  12–14, and 15-18. Adults have two different categories – Professional and Amateur. Members over 50 are exempt. Then, add on from there. Safe Sport Training, for example. If the USHJA wants to prepare the tests, fine, use the money you take from us and issue them to the affiliate organizations and you can even take it one step FURTHER. If the MHSA member has passed the test, and taken Safe Sport, the USHJA MEMBERSHIP fee for that year is REDUCED. Give credit for the MHSA membership which meets USHJA criteria. That is your incentive. right there.

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Remember the affiliate organizations have to PAY the USHJA to be an affiliate organization. A whopping $250 per year! There are hundreds of affiliate orgs in this country. (There are some State organizations who refuse to do so because they don’t see the benefits, and I tend to not blame them. There are none) What does that money get used for? Maybe it should be directed back to the members who choose to do their education through the affiliate organizations.

The background checks could work the same. This is a hard sell for a lot of people. Yes, there are children and every show. What worries me is that there will be a growing number of people who simply avoid showing on the national level just because of boosted requirements, like background checks. However, if you were to give credit to the membership for doing the process, you might not continue creating a gap.

What if there are too many affiliate organizations? Most states have more than one show organization, so how do you solve keeping track of them all? Well I have news for the USHJA, maybe it is time to start amending relationships on the state level and do a little extend-a-paw thing work WITH affiliates instead of against them. Data collection is the way forward? Use your staff to start collecting data on affiliate state level organizations.

I have never seen any movement from the USHJA which would indicate they would support discounts in membership dues, but even the USEF has made strides with options, so I think maybe we are seeing the writing on the walls here.

We have too many classes, no show manager wants to add yet another class. I get it, but what is worse, losing the program all together, or finding a way to put a TCP class in the schedule? If there is one thing I have seen is the lack of ability for all factions of horse competition to work together. Each group in this country is fractured and separating more each day.  You have to start somewhere, right? Or maybe another idea is out there, I feel like the answers are right in front of us, we just have to look closely.

Bore me with the details, please. 2k17 USHJA Annual Meeting.

Where was the AM meeting this year? San Antonio, Texas. It’s nice there. Food is good. Temps are nice. Not that the temps matter because meetings are generally held inside, in windowless rooms. Sometimes small rooms. Stuffy rooms. I arrived, was handed a packet of information and a schedule. The schedule is a handful of cards with a list of meetings and events.

The first item of business is reading the giant book of rule proposals. You have heard me discuss this before. Brian Lookabill is the MC, from the stage at the front of the room, he quickly reads the intent of each rule in the book, pausing for two seconds after each one, and looks up into the audience to see who is brave enough to stand up at a mic and start discussion. This is when I start sweating. Actually I started sweating when I awoke at four am Monday morning. But now I am reminded once again why wearing black is so important.

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Book 1 of 2, not including two more smaller amendment booklets.

I had questions and issues. and not just two questions and issues. several questions and issues. Throughout the week, in all of these large forums, or small, stuffy rooms, or in the hallways, I did the best I could to get my voice heard. I know I wasn’t right all the time, and I didn’t feel the need to be right all the time, but I found a way to at least speak out loud. I have to say, this year, more people knew my name. No one lynched me. People did sit next to me at meals. (at least a couple anyways)

The process from Day 1 to Day 5 is the longest five days of your life. From opening the Rule Book for the first time to watching the Final Vote the last day can suck the life out of your brain cells in your head. I have an enormous amount of respect for people closely involved in EVERY aspect of Governance.

So let’s get to it…

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I personally think all falls from either horse or rider at a sanctioned competition should be noted and recorded. No matter the severity. No matter the circumstance. I don’t even think the amount of detail is necessary. But record keeping and data collection is the way forward now. Any sport which you are REQUIRED TO WEAR A HELMET probably ought to have an idea of how many falls from either animal or human occur on a yearly basis. To me it is a no brainer. pun intended. (Pun was used by several other people besides me). Some stewards are already comfortable recording all falls, some are not.

Now it is being discussed that falls of HORSES in a competition ring must be recorded by the judge and a steward must be immediately called, so it can go in the stewards report. Not just anywhere and all over the grounds. Just the ring. Let’s start with the ring and go from there.

I grappled with the fear people must have. I have a hard time identifying with fear of other people. I refuse to let anyone have that much power over me, unless they are literally holding a gun to my head. (that’s probably pretty scary).  To every steward who is influenced by a show manager to withhold information regarding a fall FROM a horse or fall OF a horse, please help me out. Are you being pressured by a show manager to avoid recording falls at horse shows, because the show managers are afraid the data collected will affect their licensing? So is it easier to push back against a rule change rather than risk not getting another gig at the show? Am I saying this right? What if it was your own child who fell? Would it change your loyalty?  If so, you should be reassured, you are so valuable as a steward right now, you will absolutely be hired all through the year by various shows around the country. There are not many of you out there. You are valuable. Please think this through.

And then I really started to worry, just exactly how many falls go unreported? Damn. By Thursday, this proposal was approved.

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carrying a vote forward

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Numerical scoring required for A rated divisions. I’m a big nope, but on Monday I didn’t stand up to discuss it. Other people did, however. Passionately. Eventually the proposal was voted down this time around, but it might be back again, who knows.

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The mandatory use of Safety Cups took up more hours than you can possibly imagine in discussion. I am not even going there. For those of us who already thought Safety Cups were mandatory everywhere, I think you should just assume this again.

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50 shades of cruelty.

The new schooling rule proposal really set me off. Apparently a group of stewards (ironic, I know, right?)  got together in a task force and created several pages of schooling rules to unite ALL the disciplines (Hunter, Jumper and Equitation) and respective schooling areas. Like… what? Since when are the jumpers preparing their horses like the hunters? and vice versa? The task force wants to see Swedish Oxers (still allowed in hunter/eq warm up) reduced to an almost imperceptible height difference of 6” from low to high and high to low. 6 bloody inches. And walk jumps? nope, they don’t want walk jumps. Regardless of the fact walk jumps are still allowed to be used in hunter course design…

Apparently it is deemed ‘cruel’ by some members in our community to achieve a ‘rub’ during the warmup of a class. I don’t think of it as cruelty, I like to think of it as smart training. Maybe you think I am wrong.  I prefer not to have a horse be anything less than careful when in the show ring. I think it is terrifying when a horse hangs a leg or forgets to bring his landing gear up properly and falls over the jump. So yes, when I stood up in front of a room full of people and said “you bet, I need a rub sometimes for my warmbloods”, (not really the TB’s I ride) I was met with resistance. I wonder about the future of how we warm up horses is going to evolve and how far the regulations of this will become. If there is a constant push from a task force to eliminate the Swedish oxer for Pete’s sake, when will the jumping of a cooler become obsolete?

By Thursday, the proposal was set forth from the Jumper side, but disapproved from the hunter and equitation sides. (The rule is in the book three times) Although that doesn’t mean it won’t get pushed through in January, it gave me a small sliver of hope that we will still be allowed to set proper Swedish oxers in the future.

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Bonus monies. Bonus prizes. You know when that cool wheel spins at the World Equestrian Center and gives you a cash prize if you win the class of the day?  Know someone who won a saddle? A car? Lease of a car? Those “monies” or cash equivilants are supposed to be put toward the Jumper rating of the horse show, and directly affects the mileage rule and rating of the competition.  Since the material in this rule change needs more clarification, it has been referred to January.

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Stallions? Stallions in the Maclay? Thoughts? Yes, juniors can ride stallions in the jumpers, and in the talent search of the USET, but there is a bit of pushback to see more stallions in the warm-up areas and national equitation classes.  I was so surprised to see the Jumper Working Group readily approve the rule proposal, but at the end of the week, the Board of Directors voted it down. Try again next time, I guess.

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Notification of Special Competitions.

The debate is about having two Special Competitions occur next to each other. Unintended consequences? Example – One full blown national show is holding it’s regular horse show and offers a National Hunter Derby on Saturday Night. However, ten minutes down the road, a Special Competition pops up, and a generously funded National Derby with five times the prize money and better prizes. Everyone at the national show leaves for the day to go compete in the fancy National Derby. Should this be allowed or prevented? Who should the Federation protect here? It won’t matter right this second, it has been referred to the January meeting for further discussion. This is actually a bigger deal than I give it credit in this blog, and a lot of people should be very concerned about the term Special Competition. If you are one of those people I would highly recommend you read the rule proposal.

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Dropping the age of Steward applicants to 21. At the moment, any 21 is allowed to apply for licensing within the USEF except as a steward. To meet the demand and fill the void of lack of stewards in this country, the suggestion to drop the age came up. and was shot down. But I questioned this, actually. It takes a long time to go through the process to become a steward. It is highly unlikely that a 21 yr old kid (probably still in college) is going to successfully earn a license within the year. Stewards get vetted very heavily and can be denied for a variety of other reasons which have nothing to do with age. The maturity aspect I get, but I am not so sure this proposal should have been disapproved.

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Lunging. Should there be a rule about how many horses to lunge in a 10,000 square foot area?

Over legislating the show prep? Is this horse welfare? Sissy Wickes believes this is the start of grappling the harsh realities of lack of horse welfare at many competitions. She says we have to start somewhere.

Trainers are not taking responsibility for their horses being sent out to lunge. True.

I actually think it is about staying ahead of a serious issue. However this is also referred to January meeting.

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The rule regarding nose nets was withdrawn. Maybe that should come back again next year with a nose net sponsor (kidding). Correctly written and promoted, it would stand a better chance.

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Catch riding now has more definition within the rule book. Well, it will, anyways. Chances are this additional description will come into play at some point in the future, but will you have to have letters from peers to prove you are actually a Catch rider? There are some overlapping influences which blurry the lines between Catch riding and actual training or coaching. I am already thinking hmm, maybe I should start carrying an affidavit from the people I ride for. Yikes.

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Think entering a ring, circling and leaving the ring without jumping a jump constitutes as a completed course in the hunters? Not anymore. That practice will have a rule change behind it now to prevent cheaters from splitting divisions.

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We are still going to be jogging all sections of Green Hunters.

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Background check for criminal activity? Start getting familiar with those words together in your life now if you haven’t already. This will be the future of our sport. If you want to sign an entry blank, you will be expected to go through Safe Sport Training, concussion education and a criminal background check. It might be shelved for now until the next meeting in January, but we have not seen the end of the discussion.

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The practice of non judges judging Year End Championships (i.e. equitation) needs to stop in the eyes of many people. Those are not really all of my own words, but I did hear them this week. And I have heard this a lot.  Remove the guest card for the Medal, Maclay, and whatever high profile classes riders qualify for. A third person is not out of the question, but two licensed judges need to be in the judge’s box.

So the USHJA put a proposal forward to add the newly formed USHJA 3’3” Jumping Seat Medal Finals class to the list of exceptions for ‘Guest’ Judges as it is currently allowed with the USEF Show Jumping Talent Search, US Hunt Seat Medal, WIHS Equitation Final, and ASPCA Medal Final. Guest judges do not necessarily have a judges card, in other words. There was overwhelming static about this practice, so the other classes might be reverting to the same guidelines in the future, and we might eventually be seeing an end to ‘Guest’ judges to those classes someday. Fingers crossed.

The rule was disapproved, by the way, so no ‘Guest’ judging likely for the 3’3” medals. Too early to tell if someone will put a rule change forward next year to remove other Finals from having unlicensed judges, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Now is your chance to think about how to start that ball rolling….

**CORRECTION: THIS RULE PROPOSAL WAS WITHDRAWN, NOT DISAPPROVED.**

 

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Dangerous rule suggestion. Adding this sentence into GR702 Violations: Making untruthful statements, misrepresentations, or engaging in fraudulent behavior in any horse sales or lease transaction. This is where being married to an attorney is so helpful. When I pointed out this proposal to him, he said the challenges of enforcing that rule would exceed the capability of the USEF. So when I stood up sweating and said that I think this was why we already have attorneys in place to cover bad horse deals, I also took the chance to remind people we are all horse dealers, and that horse dealers go back to the beginning of time as having shady reputations. We all know what we sign up for here.

This was followed by a slightly condescending reminder that this was a direct request from the membership to put this proposal forward, and that USEF was simply listening to the requests of the general membership. The room was then told we were stubborn about accepting Safe Sport and it took 5 years to get Safe Sport to pass though the rule change process. When the scolding was finished from the USEF exec, I glumly sat down in my seat. Actually, I said to myself, when Safe Sport was introduced to us five years ago, it was being slammed down our throats with little or NO EXPLANATION. Five years ago we were all told we were in some sort of violation of sexual misconduct. Five Years ago, a room full of shocked horse people looked at the stage and said WHERE IS THIS COMING FROM? WHO MOLESTED WHOM?? It took five years to correctly learn about Safe Sport Policies, and understand where the hell it was coming from. Learning, Understanding, and Acceptance is a process of yeah, just about five years with horse people.

So there.

**

Hunter Breeding outcome. One horse per handler per class? What exactly happened? I can guarantee you each voice was heard. I can guarantee each side was argued. I can guarantee you the BOD felt they each received too many emails over this one.  In the end a sort of compromise was made. Only at National and Premier horse shows will the rule of one handler, one horse, one class apply. At Regional shows, it will be entirely up to the show manager. This now has to go forward in January at the Kentucky meeting.

From Kimmy: “To say this has been a long and emotional week has been an understatement. Breeding people are a passionate group, I think after this week there’s not a one that can deny that. Passion derives from an intense belief in something, and that is how I describe my experience and opinion this week. Passionate Belief. I believe that hunter breeding is an excellent tool in the toolbox of young horse ownership, but unfortunately that tool has gotten a bit rusty creaky and on it’s way to being replaced. I came this week, along with my fellow committee members, to bring about a plan to revive this ‘industry’ and bring in new blood, as well as encourage our current exhibitors to stick with it. We as a committee educated ourselves to the needs of the members as a whole, and I can assure you that every one of us made these decisions based on our total commitment and love for hunter breeding and young horses. I am walking away this week with a renewed belief in the process of USHJA, albeit a little less naive, but most importantly feeling that I put my passionate belief behind a rule I feel will be one step (among many steps) to revive hunter breeding and the involvement of the horse industry.”

From Emily: “I wish the Board would have left the entire restriction up to the individual horse shows. Many struggling areas only have access to the HB through A and AA shows where multiple handling is taking place to keep the shows filled like Florida, Connecticut, and PA . The best compromise would have been the recognize the regional differences and allow the horse show managers to restrict as their individual horse show’s exhibitors needed/wanted. Not all A and AA shows are created equal in the terms of Hunter Breeding. While I am extremely appreciative to a small concession, I know from experience that this was not the best choice for the exhibitors in each sect of the country.”

**

Extreme Side Note: Kimmy Risser received the distinguished service award forth USHJA at the awards banquet Tuesday night. This is a big deal, and I am happy for her recognition!

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Kimmy Risser receiving her award from the USHJA

**

Moving on from sweaty armpits. Some meetings were about information gathering, not about rule proposals, and how to move the sport forward, and maybe to get a feel for what the members are going through this year……

The vice grip of horse show managers…

I cannot even imagine the dinner talk about my daily explosions regarding various horse show managers in this country. But I likely couldn’t help it. Why couldn’t I help it? Because I had to endure a presentation of a new USHJA Championship event..>>> A Finals to be held in Las Vegas geared to all of the C rated divisions in the USHJA, think Children’s, adult and children pony hunters… Guess who was running the presentation? I’ll give you a hint. His name was Tom Struzzieri. The amount of energy he is putting toward this event in Las Vegas? Apparently an enormous amount of energy and time, which I wonder should not be put toward his own existing facilities and shows in this country. Forgive me if my reluctance to jump on the USHJA Vegas Championship train is a direct reflection on my view of HITS horse shows.

But that wasn’t all of it. Later, I walked into a Competition Management meeting and took a seat. The room quickly filled up to standing room only. The chairman had prepared and distributed a spreadsheet. I looked at the spreadsheet. An eye twitched. It was my eye. I started sweating again.

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So the Chairman flew his own plane to the Annual Meeting the night before his committee meeting, distributed a piece of paper which basically says, “see? horse shows are not the problem”, and sat back to let us consider that a bit. I am pretty sure that I was so set off by the arrogance of it all that I made little sense when I stood up and questioned it. But I was fuming…..Why was I holding the spreadsheet in my hands? What was the purpose of putting it out there? Was it because there is concern that horse show managers are seeing a drop in business??? Ya think?? Where is the innovation you need in a business model to attract a clientele? Where are the horse show managers who answer the multiple pleas of exhibitors for a break?

Oh wait, World Equestrian Center. Did I mention the World Equestrian Center was this year’s main sponsor for the Annual Meeting in San Antonio? I meant to, sorry, my bad.

Maybe that’s a bit too snarky. I actually have heard appreciative gestures and reduced office fees of a few show managers around the country, so there is some action between managers and exhibitors. You are being noted, and I hope those gestures are working. But I am still fuming. Being part of the solution might be a better way forward for the horse show managers.

Later in the week, I reacted similarly in the Competition Standards meeting..

I. sat. on. my. hands. for nearly 90 minutes while the room around me disclosed the deepest and heartfelt problems horse shows/managers are causing to our lives. Yes, LIVES. The lives of horses and people depend on the quality of show standards. Mainly Footing. Most of us can live with other subpar conditions, but footing? Not so much. Not enough science is being contributed to improve footing right now. And wow, horses are really, truly breaking down at a much faster rate than they should be.  It was suggested that the veterinarians provide some data about the effects of bad footing to the USEF, so we can better help the industry, our lives and the lives of our animals. I listened and listened and listened. So did the committee. But the elephant in the room? Guess who wasn’t there? The irony was not lost on me that the one person who should be hearing the 90 minutes of gruesome details of the realities of crappy footing refused to be in the meeting, nor was he ever seen again after making his Vegas Championship presentation. My hand crept toward the sky and that was all she wrote. My apologies Frank Madden, but this is why you are in the Chairman seat, and not me. What else can I say? I am really pissed off.

It appears the compliance officer of the USEF IS working hard to meet the demands of exhibitors, (mainly requiring improvements on show grounds) but in all honestly, we are probably a few years out before those demands can be met. The only hope is that the realities of removing licensing from horse show managers will make them care a little more.

Irony is a funny thing. Someone like me never forgets about irony. And I never fail to notice an opportunity for hush $$$.

The also very grim reality is convincing you to fill out the three questions on competition evaluation when you see something bad at a horse show. (Like footing). I think you would like the USEF compliance officer, Matt Fine. He is super calm, super patient, non confrontational, and appears compassionate for our cause. But he can’t work without you. How do I implore the importance of filling out competition evaluations? It is a simpler process, it is now fully anonymous, and here’s the thing. Sally Ike really does read them. Every single one. So does Matt Fine. And without the information from the members, we really are in an uphill climb. It is online. It is three questions. Please, Please, Please.

To me, (and I said this out loud) the perception is one of two things.. A – The Horse Show managers are in denial about the fact that horse shows have footing issues. or B – Horse Show managers do not give a shit.

Another very alarming discussion (not a rule proposal) was about reducing the amount of Premier shows in this country. I guess there are people who believe the national and premiere points are so similar, that it shouldn’t be a big deal to lessen the over 200 shows listed as premier. Just make most of them rated national. (or single A.) Let me tell you the fall out of this…. Have you seen how many points it takes to get ponies into Devon and Indoors???? It is outrageous. Those ponies will end up showing more, not less, to get into those big shows in the culture we have created, and it will be really, really bad for ponies. Don’t do it. But if this does happen, in order to prevent a monopoly, take the suggestion from Swan Lake’s manager Mary Bast, and limit each show manager to no more than 2 premier shows a year.

**

The TCP needs it’s own post. stay tuned.

**

It is done. I am heading home. There were other issues popping up here and there, but I would be surprised if anyone is reading this far into the summary of the 2017 USHJA Annual Meeting. I mean, it is dull, I get it. But each year a little more clarity is earned. Just a little bit.

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The point of Two-Point

Now that it is November, and every horse in America will be suffering from some sort of back pain and raising a hoof begging for a massage session for Christmas, maybe we could follow it up with an equally, if not more, effective method of learning to ride better, and have a Two-Point December.

The two-point (jumping position) could possibly be the most important and least practiced position when it comes to riding horses. It forces you to balance on your feet, not the mouth of the horse, and strengthens your core all the way down to your heel. If you are one of those people who takes No-Stirrup November seriously, try following it up with a Two-Point December and in those total 8 weeks, you may revolutionize your riding. Forget about looking silly, or wonder what your friends might say when you are spending hours with your butt up in the air, because you will forever give yourself an edge. And I am not talking a few laps around the ring, try an hour.

If you gallop horses at the racetrack, your life depends on knowing what a good two point is, but not as many people these days start on that kind of oval.

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Exercise Rider Tara Lewis 

 

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Tara jogging a horse, relaxed and not interfering 

Fox hunters also have an advantage. If more riders disciplined themselves without waiting to be told how to get better, we might be able to accomplish more things as instructors.

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Stacey Lewis keeping pace in near perfect two-point position, PC Tammie Monaco

If two-point is intimidating, think of it in another light. Think of it has the high part of your post. You don’t need to bend over with strain awkwardly placed on your back. Number one problem people have going to the high part of the post? Keeping the heel down. Second problem? Gripping too tight with the knee. Third problem? Using the mouth for balance. That is what the mane is for. Once you get past these weaknesses, you will be amazed at how quickly your body strengthens.

You can give yourself free lessons just by spending more time in the two-point. Your horse might….. no HE WILL….. even thank you. Then maybe your trainer can do more fun stuff with you. Eventually, you will understand better when to use the two-point, and when to use a deep seat when you are on a particular horse, in a particular class, or just simply riding around.

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This year the judge asked for the Lead Liners to demonstrate a two point for the MHSA Regional Finals. 

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Winner of the first Lead Line class Kate Williams. She might be going places. 

When you conquer November with No-Stirrups, December in Two-Point, then January combine the two. Two-Point with no stirrups? I have seen it done. Recently. I believe in ride-off of the Medal Finals….just maybe watch Cooper Dean…

https://www.usef.org/network/coverage/PennNational17/

Here is the thing about riding. It isn’t supposed to be so easy everyone can do it. I don’t think it should be like golf, or soccer. It should be hard. Because it is hard. Equestrians all over the world are constantly trying to prove why riding is hard so making excuses for your horse’s behavior is counter productive.

“My horse scoots away when I go up to the two point…….”

Yes, I am sure he does, I would too if I were him.

Two point is the “up” part of the posting trot. So if your horse scoots away from the two-point, then something is changing from the “up” part of your post to what you think is the correct two-point position. Are you walking or trotting? Walk it out. Perfect the walking two-point, complete with changes of direction, circles, and halt transitions. Then, STAYING in the two-point, ask for the trot. What changes? You have to have enough self-discipline to be open to learning, so are you willing to do ten walk-trot transitions until your horse doesn’t scoot away from you?

Personally, I think No Stirrups November took off in popularity because it didn’t make people feel inadequate, or green in their riding, it made them feel committed. The difference with practicing in Two-Point is that there will be a general crisis in how people are perceived…..as a beginner. However, in reality, you should be considered more compassionate to your horse, and maybe even a better horseman. Horse welfare has become the top priority for this electronic age we live in, whether we like it or not. We string people up for a variety of wrongdoings in the horse world on every level of perceived abuse. So using the two-point more in your riding will not only help you become a more sophisticated rider, it will have a positive outcome for your horse when performed correctly. (ie: Use the mane, not the mouth, for balance.) Your horse will love you so much more than you could ever know. I guarantee it.

One last thing. Don’t tie your stirrups to the girth. This isn’t a good idea. This is one of those examples of common sense, at least in my eyes. This is one of the most dangerous learning techniques I have ever witnessed, and it will not necessarily benefit your riding. It could also blow your knees out.  Do the two-point instead, that will change your leg and your life. Feel the burn.

Handle? I can’t Handle.

Have you read your emails from USHJA lately? The annual meeting is fast approaching, I have no doubt it will be a lively one, (it has been a rough year) and there will be heavy discussion, I can almost guarantee it.

One rule change proposal addresses Hunter Breeding, a struggling division at best, as we all are hearing day in and day out.

The rule suggests enforcing a One Handler to One Horse/Pony per class per show. Have you ever heard of anything more ridiculous? This is actually being proposed?!

https://prc.usef.org/documents/ruleChanges/2017/Proposals/183-17.pdf

If this doesn’t bother you it should….

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I get to ride multiple horses in the hunters. You do, too. Jumper classes as well. Kent Farrington became number 1 in the world with multiple rides. Multiple rides for a professional is not unusual. It is called business and being a top jockey.

I get to watch Scott Stewart ride multiple horses in classes at shows.

I get to watch an open gate for ten minute because of multiple rides for a professional in a class.

I have had the classes stay open so that I may show all six of my horses in a class.

THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE.

What is next? One horse per rider for every other class offered at a horse show? How’s that going to go over?

Who is going to walk up to Scott and say sorry, pick your favorite one, you can only ride one today in the Pre-Green Incentive Finals. Or sorry, Liza Towell, you can only ride one horse in the Derby Finals. We just feel your owners should do a better job of delegating to different jockeys……

uhhhhhhhh, my head just exploded with the thought of this.

Who can jog a horse for Scott Stewart when he is only one person? A groom? Do you think the groom should have a USEF number to jog a horse? Is that a serious question?

I am not offended by a non-USEF member jogging a horse back in the ring to check for soundness.

Do the two relate?

Yes they do. I can understand why one handler will want to show all of his or her horses in the appropriate classes, then hand the horse to a groom or helper to hold for a final pinning. It is called horse showing.

Is this a personal thing? For me? no. For the perception of sport? Yes. I am seeing something like a personal attack on a specific handler who wins too much. Or has too many rides. Get over it. Some people are better than you. Sometimes I win more than you, sometimes I don’t. But now you want to make a rule for me to keep me from doing my job?

If this proposal goes through, we are finished with hope. I will give up. I can’t look at this happening and think this association will survive. I hope it is no longer even a discussion by the time I get to San Antonio.

Instead of placing more restrictions on a struggling division, try leniency for a change. Try introducing proposals for reducing costs for Hunter Breeding.  Try answering the breeder’s pleas for help. Try offering more prize money. Try a mentorship program. TRY ANYTHING to help breeders get a stronger foot hold in this country.

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Look at the sport for what it is – our future. Placing strangle holds on exhibitors because they win too much is not a philosophy which should be supported by the USHJA. Don’t like the fact that Heritage Farm produces top winners year in and year out? What are you going to propose? A rule which says they can only bring one equitation horse to a Final?

If the Devon horse show would like to restrict handlers from having more than one horse in a division, that is their right as a horse show to keep everything moving along. We have also seen special Grand Prix classes limited to one horse per rider. But that is a decision made by horse show management, not a rule put forward to the USEF.

I hope all of our members read through the rule change proposals. Because if sweeping changes across the board are going to start with the Hunter Breeding classes, we could be in for a helluva ride.

 

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WIHS, the jungle.

WIHS is one of the most talked about shows in the country isn’t it? You either love it or hate it, the hassles that go along with it seem endless, but let’s face it, it is a unique horse show, and with it comes a unique experience. I love it. It’s stressful, tiring, but when it goes right, it is incredible. It takes at least a week to recover from WIHS, sometimes longer, and there have been loads of competitors satisfied with one and done, like please Lord, never let me make the stupid decision to walk this concrete jungle again…..

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The ramp of tears can also be the ramp of glory as you rise from the basement of the Verizon Center onto a world of complete strangers looking sideways of your outfit which you either borrowed from a friend or spent thousands on custom tailoring. The strangers carefully step around the poop on the sidewalk and pause only to watch a horse or two descend from a tractor trailer, before moving on with their lives. I cannot imagine working in a city. I cannot imagine being forced to work in a bricked up, windowless, and smelly room, with a coffee pot and microwave to help get through the day.  How lucky we are to do what we do. Maybe the strangers walking to work, or walking through the city think we are part of the circus, but that is just fine by me. At night, the city sparkles and speaks around you while the country mouse voice inside you whispers a thousand times, do you think my car will still be where I parked it?

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It must be so expensive to run and operate the week of craziness in downtown D.C., in late October, but to me, it is all worth it, and for the most part it is executed beautifully. The learning curve took a while, however, and I remember the utter chaos the first year, destroying the city with a line of trucks and trailers backed up all the way around the Capitol, waiting to unload one horse at a time, then one pitchfork, a trunk, one bale of hay, two buckets, a feed tub, a saddle, a muck bucket. You get the idea. It was an awful mess, and we have come a long way since then, baby.

Now, perfectly orchestrated shuttles provided by the best transport company in the country, (and the one with the most tractor-trailers – Johnson) carefully deliver a dozen horses horses at a time, complete with equipment, and an entire trailer can be unloaded or loaded in under ten minutes.  It is like watching a pit stop at Formula One. Brilliantly executed and inexhaustive in their efforts, the Johnson team has a lock on the constant, cycling horse movement from the Prince George’s Equestrian Center to the Verizon Center, and back again.

You need a special kind of horse to compete downtown. Lungeing is limited, warmup is dangerous and ridiculous, and doesn’t match the actual atmosphere of competition, so most horses are surprised when all of their friends are held back in a corner of the basement as they return to step into the ring for the first time alone, to be judged. Often it is merely who can survive the course without a major spook and not really a level playing field of judging the best horses in the country. Since the numbers accepted are so low for each division, you hardly need to pick up a pen for the judges card to determine the winner. Just kidding, sometimes it isn’t that bad…

Not that my opinion matters, but wouldn’t it be refreshing to have a class where the horses looked more comfortable with their surroundings and not suffering from shock as they stepped into the ring, and would it kill anyone to provide ONE actual show jump to sniff before slamming them with ferns and giant walls and blinding lights at show time? Just leave one big oxer in the ring while the masses are swirling around in a mad dash to get quiet. Is that really asking too much? I don’t know, I can’t stand watching classes which are merely determined by the course, and not given a chance to be properly judged, but maybe thats just me. We have seen the best of the best try to be a proven winner, only to have the horses question reality at the first jump. Is it really good for sport to watch a horse lose it’s heart in front of everyone? I guess it is, because you won’t find any green rails, decoration, or even a fake wall in the tiny warm up area.

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This year the very first horse of the week entered the ring at 7:52 am on Tuesday morning, only to suffer a heart wrenching rail and leave with a score of 45. Some way to start a long week, no?

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Scrolling through the start lists, I also noticed an odd number in a division, which I always find peculiar, since in the past numbers accepted in each division are fairly consistent and locked in at an early date. This is to keep the show moving at a precise and accurate pace. Yes, horses scratch, and it is nice to fill a spot at the last minute, so the waitlist is constantly being accessed right down to the wire for each division. Some might even claim there is manipulation in timing a scratch just right in order to skip over a competitor on the wait list who might live too many states away…But I don’t ever recall seeing the accepted numbers increase to include a competitor still on the wait list. 12 is 12 is 12. right? Unless you are wealthy? Special? Pretty? 13 is my new favorite number, it just pops out of nowhere when you scroll through the list of horses competing today.

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So I had to check the guidelines. again. Maybe it is nothing to accept a 13th horse into the Amateur Owner division, but it leaves me a little queasy. Do you think anyone else noticed it, too? Is it ok because the horse is already competing in another division, so while it’s here, by all means be the 13th horse in the A/O division? Is that how it works? Does that work for me, too?

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Then I am reminded how these big “Indoor” shows are costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to put on, so need an extraordinary benefactor, or fifty, to put on. But is it really good for sport when it looks as though an extraordinary benefactor gains an advantage, just because of being an extraordinary benefactor? I guess it is. I guess it is also how a show manager is able to escape responsibility for poor conditions in Virginia because he can sponsor an annual meeting in Palm Springs…. Or similar to the FEI refraining from scolding endurance competitors for treatment of horses because the FEI General Assembly is being held and funded by those same Sheiks in Bahrain. Maybe I digress.

It is fine. Fair. Of course. We NEED the money to see these great shows continue, we NEED participation in order to pay for the use of the giant scoreboard. Play on, but maybe don’t think some of us will forget about the lucky number 13. The other exhibitors in the A/O division will have to suck it up this year, because the money has spoken, once again. Our culture, interesting, varied, and extraordinary as it is, will, honestly, never change. What a shame. But it is noticed, at least by one person.

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Guns N’ Horses

October 2017. 10-1-17, 1-10-17, depending on which country you reside. I am in America. I like America, most of the time. Month, Day, Year,

When I eventually crawl my way out of the quagmire of sadness this week, I will be grateful for simply still being here. I will look at each horse with more affection, I might even feel a little more compassion to naughty horses and also to riders, but I also think I will be asking a really hard question of myself. One of those questions we don’t really want to say out loud……Am I a hypocrite?

It is hard to deny how lucky horse people are. Horse people will always have a certain responsibility to an animal who depends on you to show up every day, manage their existence, think about their futures, and somehow co-exist (some better than others, depending on circumstances) but whatever, we get our connection, right? We get it. Horse people are unlikely to pick up an automatic weapon, or five, and kill 59 horses, or injure another 500 at a horse social gathering.

But are we hypocrites? As horse people? I feel like we are. I feel like I am. I feel like we are enabling gun manufacturers every day. I can’t get out of my head the connections we have to gun makers. However, the chatter on the subject is minimal, at best, and most of you probably have never heard of what is bothering me.

This week I watched a video and the speaker asked out loud “What are you willing to do about Las Vegas? And Sandy Hook? Virginia Tech? And every other tragedy we have endured? And when? What will it take? When will you make it your problem?”

The thorn in my side may just be mine, but how do I wrap my head around my guilt?

Every year this one horse show comes around in a remote place around Treffen, Austria, maybe not really connected to too many Americans (maybe a dozen at the most), but each year it grows in popularity, the money is extraordinary, the parties are totally insane, and the horses are so sensationally pampered that no equestrian can help but drool. It seems like no one ever frowns, and every consideration is taken to ensure your time spent here is some sort of euphoric experience. Additionally, they breed, they develop, they promote Olympic champions in Dressage, in Jumping, maybe even some hunters have been acquired there, they have the most state of the art facility, jaw dropping scenic backgrounds, gifts for every groom, exhibitor, patron, sponsor, blacksmith, employee and horse that attends their horse shows, or is in their training program, and their reach is extraordinary.

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When the 5 star competition is not in full focus, the family is a full supporter of everything equestrian. The breeding program is off the charts. No expense is spared. Mares likely get the best nutritional program to produce the finest foals possible, the stallions are in regimented programs and valuable, producing the top offspring, the competition records are made at the highest possible levels in multiple disciplines.

But I feel like a hypocrite when I see their name. I feel like a hypocrite when I tune in on the free live coverage of their horse shows featuring the top riders of the world. I feel like a hypocrite when I fall in love with the beautiful chestnut stallion who will produce the best progeny for the next generation. Not only that, but I used to work for the very family who manages his career and found them the most kind family in Europe to learn from……

Springequipe pakt zilver in landenwedstrijd

LONDEN – Gerco Schroder in actie op zijn hengst London tijdens de finale van de landenwedstrijd op de Olympische Spelen. Nederland heeft in de finale landenwedstrijd het zilver veroverd. ANP OLAF KRAAK

And I find myself admitting to the most fatal flaw a human can have – judging others who enable their existence. If you are an American and have competed here, I might have passed judgement. I might have been disappointed. My stomach might have hurt a little.  Am I a terrible person for this feeling? Am I that person who feels if you breed to that incredible chestnut stallion, you are part of the problem? Do we need to start really considering the sources of wealth in our industry as a horse community?

Is that a real question?

Because when it comes down to it, it is blood money. It is a gun manufacturing company which has poured millions (truly millions) of dollars into the sport we love, and somehow, for some reason I may not be able to get past it. It is the Glock Horse Performance Center. It is a zany family with loads of domestic drama to fill a few novels with bizarre stories, but their love of equestrianism prevails through all the disfunction, and we all benefit. We watch Glocks London, with Gerco Shcroeder, we watch Edward Gal and Glocks Voice. There are five celebrated riders on the Glock team. There are five stallions in the Stud Catalogue. Dozens more offspring in training. There are multiple training facilities. There is an intense competition schedule on the road with both Jumping and Dressage horses. The horses win. A lot.  Every foal is professionally photographed and celebrated as the most valued creature in existence. Their Facebook page is nothing short of brilliant and beautiful, capturing every aspect of our hopes, dreams and surreal reality we cannot even imagine. https://www.facebook.com/pg/GlockHorsePerformanceCenter/photos/?ref=page_internal

And then I wonder what our federation feels about the Glock Horse Performance Center? Does our federation support athletes competing here? Why wouldn’t they? It is not a political domain, is it? I popped off an email, curious if US Equestrian had an opinion on Americans competing at the Center.

“The USEF has no opinion on this issue and believes this matter is best left up to the individual decision of each competitor.” Bill Moroney, Chief Executive Officer, US Equestrian.

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ok, but why do I feel like I have a problem with it? And how would we feel if the Glock Horse Performance Center wasn’t located in Treffen, Austria? What if it was located in Nevada? Just outside of Las Vegas? What would we do if Zone Championships were held there? Or the World Cup Final? Would we go? Or would we boycott? Take a knee against gun ownership?

**

 

Gaston Glock designed and invented the Glock 17, introducing it to the public in 1982. In 1986, the Miami shootout, which resulted in a massacre of two FBI agents who (with several other agents) were under-prepared against two ex-military individuals on a bank robbing rampage. Their current government issued firepower (Smith  and Wesson) could maybe get 6 rounds off before having to reload. During the incident, the officers were assaulted with a barrage of gunfire and couldn’t even get out of their own way to reload their guns against the thieves, who seemed to be firing hundreds of rounds per minute. It was so gruesome, forensics reported human tissue was jamming the officer’s weapons, leaving them sitting ducks as the two bad guys got out of their car and descended upon them. Eight agents against two, four minutes of chaotic firing, left the bank robbers dead, two dead agents, three permanently crippled, and two more severely injured.  It sent shockwaves through the FBI. The ill-preparedness was too much to handle. After discovering the genius behind the Glock 17, and a sharp sales team within the company, it was only a few short years before nearly every FBI agent and police officer in America became equipped with a Glock, which had a nearly impeccable reputation for never failing to due to heat, rain, mud, snow, ice, underwater submergement, human error, or manufacturing error, and the Glock 17 initially held up to 18 rounds which would fly out of the barrel immediately. It was, and still is, considered a perfect gun. And it can shoot a lot of rounds at one time.

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Gaston Glock made a deal with each state law enforcement agency and the FBI to ensure every cop and agent in this country had a chance to own a Glock. The company even established trade in policies for newer models at no cost, which raised the eyebrows of critics as to where those traded in guns were heading down the road…  Predictably, we saw Glocks on rap singers, in gangs, with men on the street, with women, at home, then, eventually, in the hands of madmen.

Seung-Hui Cho used a Glock in his rampage on the campus of Virginia Tech, which killed 32 people in 2007. A year later it was Stephen Kazmierczak’s turn at Northern Illinois University to murder 5 people. It earned the nickname Hijacker’s Special. Gaddafi obsessed over them, especially after he learned about how easy they were to get through airport security when completely dismantled. So many types of Glocks were developed in the next two decades following the Miami Shootout, for men and for women, that imports to the United States alone soared to over 200,000 guns per year. Fans were nicknamed Glockmeisters, Glocktalk.com engaged discussion on an array of gun topics, including rabid comparisons of the Glock and the AK-47. The point is Glock’s guns are everywhere, on both sides of the law. Gaston Glock was catapulted to billionaire status with his company not far behind in a very short amount of time.

**

If we look at this particular source of wealth, do we examine any others? I am still bothered by the treatment of endurance horses in Zone 7,  and I am sure the FEI looks the other way, but the Arab influence in our own Kentucky Horse Park screams “hush”. Do we delve further? Or leave it alone and be grateful for the influence…According to author of Glock, The Rise of Americas Gun, Paul Barrett, Gaston Glock has a particular disdain for Americans, lumping them all into a group he labeled incompetent, foolish, and crooked. He did not discriminate. Being fortunate enough to be born in this country would never endear you to Gaston Glock. He was well known for absolutely terrorizing his American employees and his frequent visits to Atlanta often showed him speaking trash talk about his workers (in German) right in front of them. The tales are endless. After screaming at his employees all day, I imagine him sitting around a fireplace at night, reading up on all the countless shootings in our country and smiling to himself, maybe raising a glass to all the shooters who have ever existed, and hoping for more.

Was it Karma that tried to catch up with Mr. Glock in 1999, with his own advisor hiring a French assassin to take him out, hoping to cover up an embezzlement scandal within the company? Ironically, The Frenchman did not use a gun – he used a hammer….and failed. Glock managed to fend him off, although suffering several severe blows to his cranium and an incredible amount of lost blood, he barely managed to survive, but survive he did.

The amount of money the Glock company has paid to lawyers and pro-gun activists is staggering, but it also could match amounts given in his charity work. Gaston Glock is well known for favoring mental health checks before purchasing a firearm at the same time, building walls to prevent users from ever successfully suing his and other companies in the gun business. He rewards GSSF members with constant swag and the GLOCK Report (magazine) receives pictures of babies adorned in clothing with ‘future glock owner’ printed on the front.

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be careful what you search for…

Am I guilty of breeding more resentment? I don’t think I want you to hate the Glock Horse Performance Center, but I wonder if Americans, who MUST have felt SOMETHING after Las Vegas might think twice about the Glock empire now. Do you feel anything? If the money and parties are too hard to resist, then they hard too hard to resist, but I wonder if it is time to consider other options. Or is it ok, because they have horses? The horses we like, not the ones we don’t like. If Gaston Glock had taken a particular interest in Arabian horses, how would we feel as a horse community? Divided? Every mass shooting leaves a scar, and every debate leads nowhere, and weapons seem to fall into the hands of madmen so easily. If it has been someone else’s problem and it can’t be fixed, is it time to start making it our own problem? Is that really a fair question?

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People are always going to attend shows which offer good prize money, good horsemen will continue to breed to the best horses in the world, and it is probably unrealistic to think people should link Las Vegas to Gaston Glock, or the massive influence he has had here regarding gun manufacturing. His influence on horseflesh in Europe will continue to thrive brilliantly…the parties will continue with the cast of Dallas as guests, or Robbie Williams and Mariah Carey as entertainment, but, could you ever ask yourself….. if you feel like a hypocrite?

hush…

Derby this, Incentive that.

Derby and Incentive Finals!

When the Monday following the 2017 Green Incentive and International Derby Finals rolled around I was able to ask Katie Francella her thoughts on the experience. She assisted Katie Cooper and Sandlot (Star baby Star) and in their first International Derby Final. I was very interested in her take on it, and in general she thought it was great. She also had thoughts for improvements. Additionally, Katie Cooper showed Dapper earlier in the Green Incentive Finals, as well as having a few other horses along for the ride to show in the regular horse show put on by Kentucky Horse Shows, LLC (Hugh Kincannon). There is no denying the extraordinary prize money in this USHJA program for hunters, with nearly 2 million for Green Incentive horses and 11 million for International Derby horses distributed since it’s inception, a remarkable feat in this country for Hunters.

Side note: Despite my personal feelings on this event, I am totally interested in how the week works for other people, and if they like it, I like it for them, and I also can appreciate the amount of  work which goes into a Championship Final.  

During my conversation with Katie Francella, she asked what is stopping this from being an exclusive USHJA/USE Special Event? With Pony Finals occurring the week before, why can’t we pull in Junior Hunter Finals to have an absolute all World Hunter Finale? Remove the actual ongoing horse show and have all of the horses and people attending be focused on the one ring show. Pony Finals can end Saturday, Junior Hunters can move in Sunday, show Monday and Tuesday, Hunterdon Cup Tuesday Night (Equitation), then Incentive Finals Wednesday and Thursday, Friday morning if necessary, then Derby Friday and Saturday, ending with a big gala Saturday night following the class. (Denim and Diamonds anyone?). Saturday would also have room for a NATIONAL Derby Final, maybe with top 30 money earners invited. Sunday is for traveling home and recovering from the party so you can be fresh for Monday. (ha!)

**Francella’s Hunter Week Schedule – A Prototype: (Following Pony Finals)**

Sunday: Ticketed Warm up, Horses shipping in

Monday: Junior Hunter Day one

Tuesday: Junior Hunter Day two, 3pm Hunterdon Cup, *WELCOME PARTY*

Wednesday: Walnut ring – Green Incentive Round one, ticketed warmups Claiborne/Stonelea

Thursday: Walnut ring – Green Incentive Round two, Rolex  stadium – 3’3”, 3’6” performance hunters

Friday: 8 am Rolex Stadium: Derby Classic Round. 3 pm Walnut ring – Incentive Final, *EXHIBITOR PARTY*

Saturday: 8-12 Rolex Stadium – Invitational NATIONAL Hunter Derby, 1:30 Challenge Round Int’l Derby, 3 pm Tier B, 4:30 pm Tier A

8:30 pm *GALA*

Two weeks of all the fancy hunters in the country showing in Kentucky. With big parties.

With next year having the addition of 3’6” and 3’9” horses, there will be plenty of horses for the horse show to make money on. And hopefully with the addition of two new heights, prize money can be distributed further to the top 30-40 horses, not just 20. Nix the Grand Prix (or offer it in the Alltech arena, complete with stabling). Offer a Performance Hunter division or class in the Rolex Stadium so we don’t see any horses completely freak out before they make it to the first jump. I know I know it is a championship, but seriously, it is heart breaking to see a horse not get to the first jump. There are loads of other places on a course which will be scrutinized, what is exactly the harm in a Performance hunter class to acclimate the hunters to a ring they only show in once a year? Equitation finals offer a warm up, no?

Kentucky is considered one of the best facilities in the country, right? Footing is great, stabling plentiful, camper space adequate, they have running water, electricity and speakers in every tent, even cameras. Is there a reason we can’t take advantage of this facility for all of these events? It is hard to find people to complain about the horse shows in Kentucky. The Horse Park is just spectacular and if you have never been, you are missing out. There is a museum right there, all breeds of horses, trail riding, it is a massive facility, permanent stabling, (mostly) and worthy of attracting extra spectators, especially with additional parties. I like parties.

Still room for improvement.

Secure Stabling. The secure stabling for the horses was very close to the two schooling rings. However the schooling rings were not exclusive to the horses in secure stabling, which made it crowded with random horses from the horse show also schooling. It would also be encouraging to fence in the adjacent field for the horses to have an area to hand gallop. Or graze under tack. These horses are special they worked hard to get there, they should be treated special if they are in special classes, no? However, with ALL of the horses being at the show for these special classes, there would be less confusion, all of the horses could be treated equally. The “Secure” stabling really is in need of being addressed. Any petition floating around is usually a pretty clear indication of ‘Halp!’

Schooling in the Stadium. Because the regular show was crimping on available ring time, the Derby horses could only hack in the Rolex Stadium DURING the Incentive finals. Uh no. I don’t like this. Sorry, but pulling that many people AWAY from the Incentive finals is really not a good idea. Everyone needs to be watching those classes as much a possible! However, there was no choice, because the jumpers needed the ring back for their own classes. Another reason maybe the jumpers could just wait till next week to show, there are how many Grand Prix Classes each summer in Kentucky?

This brings me to Katie Cooper’s experience and perspective, which she was happy to share with us and you.

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Katie Cooper aboard Sandlot (Cherry Knoll Farm) PC Shawn McMillen ’17

“That Katie Francella – She’s so smart! She is exactly right. I echo all of her sentiments. 

I wanted to take Star (Sandlot) for a walk on the xc course and I wasn’t allowed to graze him while I sat on him – that’s a key part of our program!

I was honored to be at derby finals and to participate in such a special week in both green incentive and derby finals. Dapper and I enjoyed the galloping course in Walnut once we got our bearings! Star was enthusiastic at derby finals and we are coming home having learned a lot – and certainly it was the experience itself that offered those lessons.  

The facility is incredible – the course was difficult but appropriately so. 

The format was slightly confusing with the A and B sections (tiers) but I was grateful to have the opportunity to join the night class with the handicapping of the B section. 

Being amidst such amazing riders, trainers, and horses made me appreciate this sport all the more. And – appreciate my very special team of both people and horses who work hard for us to compete amidst the best. 

The USHJA is putting forth great effort and it is exactly what this industry needs – a boost for developing horses and an event that will gain exposure and interest. I agree with Katie Francella in that it would be a benefit to have a limited or nonexistent show schedule outside of these feature events. And therefore less restrictive stabling perhaps – we were claustrophobic with only one schooling area and a limited patch of grass to graze while being on the most impressive and horse-friendly facility in the country! 

The cash prizes are hugely important in gaining legitimacy and interest. But to further these efforts, some greater organization would help. We would love to have the opportunity for our clients to show the week before or after – but perhaps not during the very class that we came to do. It was financially a hardship to qualify and attend – we are not an operation that can afford to staff a groom per horse. And beyond that, we cannot be in two places at once.  Yes, this is a common challenge for competition, but is the one saving grace at indoors and feature events – this event deserves the same attention.” 

**

Side note: During the rider’s meeting it was announced a small patch of grass adjacent to the Rolex Stadium would be cordoned off for grazing horses stabled nearby. It is easy to miss announcements, however, and although I don’t express views of EVERY competitor, one of the few joys people who love horses is being allowed to find a lush patch of green for a horse show horse. 

Will we ever get to a total ‘Utopian Event’? One has to rely on a little bit of hope, no? It seems so close…..Show managers across the country may have a hard time losing their own hold on National Championships, however, logic may have to prevail in the end for the better of the entire industry. It is the BIG picture which is most important.

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Alan in the tower

I also asked Course Designer Alan Lohman what his thoughts were, too. He was impressed..

I thought that it all went well. It is amazing to see everything that goes into making the whole event happen. I got to see it from both views. They [Kentucky Horse Shows, LLC and USHJA] are extremely detailed oriented.”

Alan rode earlier in the week in the Incentive Finals aboard Kristin Silon’s Four Score to a 55th place finish out of 148 starters. As an owner, Kristin was treated with lots of goodies which definitely made her feel special as an owner who has made a considerable financial commitment to get here. She bemused it was definitely the toughest course her horse had seen all year, but appreciated it was a Championship Final so it should be. She also echoed my sentiments from two years ago that splitting the 3′ and 3’3″ would allow more horses make it to the Day 3 Final round, and maybe two sections of the Final round would really be beneficial. 

This is still my biggest concern as we are about to see more horses included in next year’s final with the addition of 3’6″ and 3’9″ horses….that’s a large field.

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Alan Lohman and Kristin Silon’s Four Score (pc Shawn McMillen’17)

Deciphering what is USHJA and what is US Equestrian.

Here is the everyday question. US Equestrian is our penalty and points keeper. USHJA is our program and education keeper. Points need to be updated and kept very current so that these events invite the appropriate people. If US Equestrian is BEHIND on point tracking, it is up to volunteers within the USHJA to call horse shows, seek results, and calculate by hand who should be attending these finals events. No one wants to hear that US Equestrian was four months behind on point tracking and an army of unpaid and kind volunteers were putting their own businesses and lives on hold to verify data by calling around asking for results…. I feel like saying really US Equestrian? You had one job, just do it. Stop wasting time worrying about Depo, penalty guidelines and all the other crap. Keep our points current and correct, duh, otherwise we should be handling that job ourselves. It is really beginning to feel as though we can handle A LOT of the responsibilities ourselves these days, without the assistance of an arrogant Federation, but maybe that’s just me. Every day that rolls by is just one more day people are calculating whether or not the USHJA can pull away from US Equestrian.

Cost of media.

I didn’t pay. The Katie’s didn’t have to, they were there. SO MANY feathers were ruffled at the decision to charge for watching this event. But who should pay? Should the USHJA or US Eq pay, a sponsor? What is the answer here? I sent an email to EqSportsNet to ask for a statement regarding the fallout. I asked how much does it exactly cost to provide coverage for a week, house their staff, lug their cameras around, set up scaffolding, feed employees, replace broken equipment, fuel, vehicles, and how much hate mail they received, (just kidding) and was it worth it… (still awaiting response. I would imagine they are still trying to fill video orders). There are only a few shows left offering free live coverage, and I feel like we are split down the middle about what should be free and what should be a nominal fee. In hindsight 50% discount on $10 doesn’t seem all that terrible, but at the time I was thinking ‘no way’, I’m going to have to read about the results later.

Maybe this would have been less painful had we had some warning and explanation before the event actually started, but once again, we all felt a little late to the party. We also felt a little stung from recent membership dues increasing, so the timing of it all simply sucked. This is most likely the new norm, so I would say be prepared to pay in the future.

I would think that overall this is a pretty well received event. The organizers, the show management, volunteers all put in crazy hours to pull this off. I am sure behind the scenes there was a lot more aggravation which doesn’t always make me smile, but as far as the way forward, the template seems to be working. Each year should get better, each year should get easier.

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Johnny Barker offering Sara Taylor on Carento (Sherri Crawford) a high five under a rather large camera… pc Louise Taylor/ USHJA Archives 

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future champions? meeting Jenny Karazissis aboard Legacy (Emily Sukart)  PC Louise Taylor/USHJA archives 

Special thank you to contributors to this piece, Katie Francella, Katie Cooper, Alan Lohman, Kristin Silon, Louise Taylor, and more…xx

Forgive me FEI

This feels like a squash the bug year for any kind of members of Equestrian organizations. The US Equestrian is operating in a squash the bug mentality. Squashing the cheaters, squashing opportunity with raised dues, and inherently squashing their own proclaimed ‘Joy’ in sport. Then we nervously watched board members in the USHJA Foundation be squashed and were left wondering what could have possibly led to that complete upheaval in apparent negotiations? Two words? Ouch.

Meanwhile, in their own unique fashion, the FEI (Fédération Equestre Internationale)  insists on squashing bugs who treat their show jumping horses with compassion, but ignores the absolute unacceptable tolerance of abuse among endurance horses in the far East. What on Earth kind of double standard is that? God forbid you use Neosporin to treat a minor cut, but nawww boys and girls, it’s totally ok to have a horse saunter in on three legs at the finish line of an FEI sanctioned Endurance race with zero repercussions. Because….. jurisdiction. Forgive me if I am slightly bitter.

Forgive me if I find tolerance of running FEI Endurance sanctioned races at the exact same time and on the same course as National sanctioned races, when meanwhile, in the West, a rider is handed a yellow card for her groom handing over a piece of useless equipment over the fence of the stabling area instead of walking an extra 200 feet in the 90 degree temperatures to go through the front gate. Forgive me if these tired as f**k grooms are just trying to get through the day on little to no sleep, food, or wages, just so you can back up an over zealous steward who cannot wait for some insignificant infraction to report, but still turn a blind eye to multiple dead and missing horses in Endurance racing. Forgive me for making a comparison.

http://www.chronofhorse.com/article/henri-prudent-and-marilyn-little-issued-fei-yellow-cards-during-wef

We are just bugs trying to abide by your rules right? I wonder if your rules of Zero Tolerance seem a little less applicable to Arab countries because maybe they are about to host the FEI General Assembly next year? Oh snap…. I’ve seen that rodeo before….

 

But back to the weird year we have witnessed. Your Zero Tolerance couldn’t prevent a hay vendor in Portugal (France, Switzerland, Germany, or a field in between) from unknowingly skimping on pesticides, gathering up some random weed while cutting hay, which eventually gets ordered by a show manager at a major competition then sold to a rider from Holland, Belgium or the U.K., who didn’t have an extra lorry to ship his own 6 week supply from abroad and BAM, his jumper tests positive for some mystery ‘performance enhancing’ substance? FOUND IN HAY? Sparteine is not performance enhancing, especially in trace amounts.  So let me get this right, we should be prepared to test our feed, our hay, not use Triple Anti-biotic creme, or, let’s face it, just don’t treat wounds when you travel halfway around the world when your horse wasn’t wrapped in bubble wrap and arrived with broken skin somewhere, and really they should just starve.

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Broom carries Sparteine

When a person looks at the table of suspensions and sees 7 horses from the UAE testing positive for four different drugs at the same time (Paraxanthine, Caffeine, Theobromine, Theophylline), then sees only a 3 month suspension issued for each of those horses and makes a comparison to a horse who is also serving a 3 month suspension for ingesting a weed in hay (Sparteine), it makes a person really think on it. I had to google all of these drugs by the way, and I have a hard time believing in a possible contamination with 4 stimulating drugs at the same time, but maybe you can come to a different conclusion.

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So why do I click on the report? Because you can imagine my concern of 7 horses with the same four illegal substances found in them…

  http://inside.fei.org/news/new-prohibited-substances-cases-under-fei-anti-doping-rules

 

In the middle of the report however, where it tells me to click “here” for case details, I get one of these lovely messages….

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I thought it was 2017, no? Anonymous can hack into any website in the world, and here we have a ‘missing webpage’. interesting.

 

This Zero Tolerance is bullshit. These multiple year penalties are bs, too. All you are doing is encouraging horrific horsemanship and fear among people who actually care about their animals. Why do Show Jumpers care? Because it is SO extremely hard to compete at the top level of sport, it is so competitive, and the animals are now treated BETTER than they were 20 years ago. You think these show jumping riders are doing anything they can to torture their animals? Doesn’t that sound absurd when you say it out loud? This isn’t 1990 anymore. Good 1.60m horses are hard to come by.  The scary thing is that US Equestrian seems to really want to copy the standards of FEI. My concern is that we have never had the proper education offered to get there. How many of you knew about Pramoxine? How many of you know how many products Pramoxine is found in? Caladryl, Aveeno, Callergy, any poison ivy cream, or even anti-itch medicated shampoos. How did you feel when you heard about Paige Johnson facing a year long suspension for  her horse testing positive for Pramoxine? This isn’t about slaying the groom and saying that Team Johnson should have known better. This reality where treating a wound with Triple Anti-Biotic Cream and the FEI regarding it as a performance enhancing offense is completely and utterly unacceptable.

I get moving drug classifications around is supposed to alleviate some of these silly offenses, but FEI needs to take a hard look at itself and reconsider the damage it is doing in THIS discipline. Because if you punish all the people so severely over nothing, where do you think eventually riders are going to go? Where do you think the divide will be widened? Do you know if Paige will think twice before joining a Nations Cup Team? I don’t know her, I have never met her, but I have watched her grow up here, and she has always presented herself on extremely nice horses, has been very well educated from the ponies on up, and we all know is part of a well funded and highly supportive family. I just for the life of me cannot picture her as a criminal here. I just can’t.

What makes this groom blunder situation even more alarming is that in an Arab country a groom’s blunder is also noted with a one year ban, however that groom INJECTED a horse with MULTIPLE DRUGS (phenylbutazone, oxyphenbutazone, and dexamethasone) and “forgot” to inform the rider before a race. So Paige’s groom who SMEARED A CREAM on a wound is actually the same thing as Ibrahim’s groom who INJECTS DRUGS into the vein of a “sick” horse a few hours before the race??  https://www.horsetalk.co.nz/2017/07/25/suspension-fine-endurance-horse-drug/#axzz4nq6QVFou  Am I crazy here? Did anyone else pick up on the “one member tribunal panel”? Forgive me for not being satisfied with this outcome.

Will the riders who proved hay contamination from a weed in Portugal or Germany, France, or Switzerland (where the hay was made, maybe) regard their commitment to FEI differently now? I would. You don’t see Jan Tops behaving in any similar manner, that’s for sure. I cannot even imagine what was going through his mind when Scott Brash was eliminated for a barely visible spur mark this year at one of his shows. I met Jan one time, and instantly realized he was one of the most calculating human beings I had ever seen. And that was well over two decades ago. How much have the wheels been turning since Scott’s incident?

I still compare the spur marks from Scott and even Irish rider Bertram Allen to the multiple dead horses we had to witness and read about this spring. What will come about the next season over there? Will the letter from the World Arabian Organization be enough? I thought the Prez’s response was a bit weak, but that’s just me. https://www.horse-canada.com/horse-news/world-arabian-organization-shames-desert-endurance/ As of now 6 countries have disallowed their endurance riders to compete in the FEI Group 7 Countries? Shouldn’t an organization be alarmed by this?

Funny, I have yet to see an Endurance horse retire with a tearful ceremony at the age of 18 or older.

 

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Cedric adored and loved by everyone, in his retirement ceremony.

So let’s be realistic, let’s try separate rules for Endurance horses. You want Zero tolerance? Then put it on Endurance horses and continue to force them to clean up their act. Because what is happening in that world is inexcusable. What is happening in the show jumping world is not inexcusable. Yes, spur marks suck, but spur marks are not the same thing as a broken leg or disappearing horse in a competition. Vehicles on course is also NOT PERMITTED in sanctioned events. At the VERY least, maybe you could clear the course of multiple vehicles kicking up sand in horses faces. Let’s also not use the excuse of more media coverage for tighter FEI sanctions on show jumpers. I won’t buy that. Just because show jumping has figured out a way to stay in the media limelight doesn’t just give permission to hand out harsher and more ridiculous penalties. Spend the energy where the horses are really suffering. And prove you can make a difference. Separate the rules between disciplines.

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Why does it seem like we keep spinning? So far this years events have created more void, more unhappiness, confusion and more instability than ever before. Is that what we want? Are the bugs going to be constantly meeting the windshield here? I feel like we are so capable, but yet it’s one step forward, two steps back, and forgive me, I am tired of that tango. I don’t even expect to see transparency in the future. It is not seeming like a realistic goal. But what I don’t want to see is a top international equestrian organization on the struggle bus, then see our own national federations trying to jump right on board. This makes no sense to me. We have to be better than that. We have to avoid using the FEI as the ultimate standard, because it is not. Until the president can stand up to the money train, prove he is capable of managing disciplines which appear to treat horses as disposable commodities, then I can offer no respect for such an organization. It needs to be fixed. Am I arrogant in suggesting the Show Jumping discipline should have a different set of FEI standards than Endurance or even Dressage or Eventing? Maybe I am, or maybe it is just time to consider such a  possibility.

 

 

I had to make a decision to withhold more photos from endurance races in this post because most of the relevant ones I uncovered were too gruesome to share.

Conjecture

Conjecture: an opinion or conclusion formed on the basis of incomplete information.

Also a good name for a horse.

This year has provided an enormous amount of opportunities for conjecture. We have seen more interest from members to participate, we have seen efforts to get to know who is in these positions, because they are all among us, competing, training, judging, and we know their names. Maybe that is part of the problem. We know too much. We connect with too many people, and the double edge sword is now we cannot dismiss their opinions because we KNOW who is holding those opinions, and it is painful.

The USHJA comes with a boatload of problems, but that is simply the way it is. Ironing out the problems. Constantly. There is no dismissing the organization to branch off and create a new association without dropping the Olympic Games from Equestrian Sport. The Ted Stevens Act specifically prevents more than one governing body for each sport partaking in the Olympics, which is why we pay the US Equestrian one fee, and the USHJA another fee. Our money goes to the Olympic path on one side (so we can watch McLain Ward), and the accessible programs we all support on the other side (so we can participate in Championships, EAP,  Derby Finals etc.).

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In order to keep Equestrian in the Olympic, Paralympic, or Pan American Games, there must be only ONE National Governing Body to oversee all recognized equestrian sport.

You can read the By-laws here for the USOC.

If you want the hunter discipline removed from recognized competition and out of the umbrella of the US Equestrian, sure, you can do this by forming a new organization and simply compete locally or unrecognized. That means, short stirrup all the way up to International Hunter Derby would be unrecognized. On the local level only. Nothing in the hunter disciplines would be recognized by any National Governing Body. Maybe each state could have a Governing organization, but it couldn’t be national. Only Show Jumping, Dressage, Vaulting, Reining, Driving, Para- Eq, Endurance, and Eventing would be recognized on a national/International level, like in all other countries. But you CANNOT have two National Governing Bodies overseeing equestrian sport and still have the United States be eligible for the Olympic Games.

So, do we want to drop out of the Olympics?

or,

Do you want Hunter to be removed from US Equestrian and those classes be recognized on the local/regional level only?

Where would Equitation go? Recognized or unrecognized?

How would horse shows work?

The United States Hunter Jumper Association.

Dressage riders pay the USDF, event riders pay the USEA, Reiners pay the NRHA, etc. And we pay the USHJA.

But do we need the USHJA?

USHJA

Supporters of the EAP (Emerging Athletes Program) will say yes, because the EAP will not exist without the USHJA.  Supporters of the education (H Quiz) will say yes, our kids know nothing, we need USHJA. Do we NEED the Incentive Finals? Supporters will say yes. Do we NEED the Derby Finals? Supporters will say yes. So these classes and programs cannot exist without the USHJA? Current status dictates yes. The US Equestrian is not likely to take over these programs are they? So, of course, we NEED the USHJA.

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The conflict with the USHJA Foundation is another situation which has to be ironed out, somehow. Most of us can only speculate about the conflict, and the ones involved are restricted over possible litigation.

The Association wanted a level of control that we were advised by legal counsel was not required and in our opinion was not in the best interest of the Foundation, it’s donors, or mission. The potential of litigation prevents me from discussing the subject further. Thank you.   —– Geoff Teall

The speculation over what caused the conflict has included everything from appropriation of funds, to breaking away from the USHJA all together and somehow running as a stand alone operation. We don’t know. We got a sort of lame press release which left a lot of questions (no offense, but really). We have to hope what DID happen is correct enough to move forward, and thankfully no scholarships or grants will be affected. Arguments for both sides might be valid arguments, but how does one declare the winner? Not possible, and worse, we know, love and respect all the people on both sides of the argument. How awful to watch this happen. Even more awful to be inside the walls trying to figure it out.

I think two things about that situation. 1, we elected Mary Babick to make the most difficult decisions possible, and she does, and 2, if  those 11 dedicated board members envisioned something together, then they shouldn’t give up on it’s creation. This is America, it is a large country, and any motivation for a way to give back to our horse show community will ultimately prevail.

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Litigation is hard. It prevents the desired transparency we all seek. I’m married to this, so I know when conversations come to a dead halt over a private matter, or worse, can’t even start because of the subject. Litigation is there to protect us and hinder us all at the same time. I despise potential litigation, but am one of the people who will probably need it the most in my lifetime.

What you can do is be as knowledgeable about the organizations as possible and not turn your back on them. Know enough of what is going on so that you may be called upon for your service, advice, or input down the road.

Read the rulebook, read the bylaws. Listen to the podcasts, whatever it takes to NOT TURN YOUR BACK. Whatever it takes to absorb the information, think about it and maybe even be part of the solution.

Opinion.

The US Equestrian is a riding club. The rest of the world views it as a riding club. If you don’t like the riding club’s rules, then become part of governance and change the rules, or leave the riding club. However, ripping apart the organization with litigation because they are not  following YOUR OWN RULES is hardly constructive. Yay, you are suing. Again. Great, now we can all pay for that litigation while we were sitting here playing by the rules and you are not.   I can’t believe people can justify cheating by tearing into the process, and I can’t believe the process is so broken we need someone to tear it to pieces to get it to change.

We are literally watching two wrongs making a right. How did we get HERE? it is 2017.

Maybe a new board of directors is a good idea, but how in the world is that even an option? Who would want that job? Admit it, it’s an awful job. We are gonna have to work with what we have for now.

Maybe recreating the testing process is the only way to go, but where do you even begin? Even the FEI isn’t really getting it right, with suspensions handed out regularly for random crap found in WEEDS which make their way into the food source and cannot possibly be prevented from entering the horse’s system. wtf? I don’t know, the world is a mess, with only a few exceptional leaders out there to navigate the muddy waters the rest of us don’t want to wade through, but maybe it is time for more people to get down and dirty to really think about what is best for the entire group, and not just best for an individual. Embrace the setbacks somehow, so our group can move forward. But of course, this is all remains conjecture.

 

USHJA By-laws.

USHJA Foundation By-laws

USOC By-laws

US Equestrian By-laws.

 

Compare if you dare. #drunter

A year ago I attempted my first dressage show. A year ago I had a little bit of success. A year ago I couldn’t help but make comparisons to the world I was coming from. A lot can happen in a year.

There was no getting around scheduling this horse show back into my calendar. It is a Rosinburg Events LLC show held at the (now infamous) Commonwealth Park in Culpeper, Virginia, and last year I had an absolute blast at a VADA Event (different management) in the same location. My social media, at the time, blew up with pictures, treasure hunts, activities, score percentages, food, and ribbons. Despite the location, I couldn’t wait to get back. It seemed to be a hub for dressage queens, and now that I have thrown myself into First Level, I really needed a competition to give me an idea of where I am in my training with my dressage horse, Sandoro. I managed to get entered and paid for by the closing date, and thankfully not put on a waiting list. These Dressage shows are getting noticeably harder to get into lately.  My bff Brooke was offering a stall for Sandy, and a room for me, adjacent to  the show grounds, just a short walk away, so I packed everything up into my trailer and set out Friday morning for the three hour drive.

The Drive.

I made it twenty minutes before something went terribly wrong. As a light turned yellow in front of me, I tapped the brake pedal, heard a pop, and realized my foot was pushing the pedal all the way to the floor. However, my truck wasn’t slowing down. Oh shit, not good. I felt the trailer brakes kind of kick in, and pumped the pedal hoping this wasn’t actually happening. I shifted into neutral, then risked losing my transmission in the process, and put the truck into reverse as I closed in on the now red light, and was still in a precarious position. It worked. The truck stopped, albeit, kind in the middle of the intersection. I glanced around, thankfully in farm country where people won’t actually kill you with road rage, put my blinkers on, then edged off to the shoulder, the trailer brakes working just enough to get me into a slightly safer position on the side of the busy road. I was amazingly calm and calculating in my next moves, once I took a deep breath. I couldn’t simply scratch the horse show, entries were prepaid. That would be silly. I just needed a truck.

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It worked out beautifully. I reached Nicole, who had the ability to come to me with her truck. I called the mechanic, who was able to send a tow truck for my broken child. I called Liz, who was out of town and asked to borrow her truck for the weekend, and I put Katie on standby in case none of these scenarios worked out. (She cleared her schedule just in case.) Then I called the local cops and asked if they had anyone on a lunch break who could hang out behind my trailer so no one would accidentally hit Sandoro, who was completely oblivious and munching hay inside the trailer. Shockingly, they sent a patrol car for exactly forty minutes, which is all we needed. As the tow truck loaded my broken child up and pulled away, Nicole was right behind him to pull in and hook up the trailer. I couldn’t believe the timing. She drove me another twenty minutes down the road to Liz’s farm, and within then hour, we swapped out vehicles again, and we were rolling. I ignored the teeny tiny little voice inside my head, whispering “maybe God doesn’t WANT you to go to Culpeper this weekend”….. ehhh, whatever. #gurlpower.

 

I finally arrived, with loads of time on the way to think about how lucky I was that a more serious incident had not happened with the loss of brake power while hauling a horse trailer. No matter my enemies, I will never bestow this fear upon anyone. It is not a good feeling. I was genuinely relieved to pull into Brooke’s driveway with Liz’s truck. Sandoro exited the trailer fine, a bit sweaty from the heat, but otherwise in good spirits. He rolled ten times in the fresh sawdust. Lovely. It didn’t take long to empty the trailer and get everything set up, hang a fan to cool him off, but when I was finishing up, I heard a distant rumble of thunder. Aaack, I still needed to get him in the rings. I biked to the show office to pick up my show packet, was greeted warmly, offered sponsor gifts, chocolate, water, and other amenities, and handed a thick program. Good grief, how many exhibitors were there? Apparently a lot. Enough to run 6 rings for two days. SIX RINGS. SIX. 1,2,3,4,5,6… ok you get the idea.

No wonder there was little choice to use this show grounds. Where else are you going to find a facility with six rings, plus warm up rings?

I pedaled back to Brooke’s barn to get the slightly sweaty beast out to take a tour, hoping to beat the storm. I hadn’t actually performed in a real dressage arena since Aiken in February, and was desperate to practice my tests. In the rush, I forgot two things. My number (a big no-no) and the note informing me which rings we were actually showing in….. Crap.

I took a wild guess and visited three of the arenas, took a quick tour around a scary judges tent, and made it back to the barn before Mother Nature unleashed an afternoon storm. (again, teeny, tiny little voice)

During my warm up I noticed an odd thing. There was a light pole a little off kilter. I couldn’t give it much attention, because I was really focused on remembering my tests, but it was bothering me.

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The next morning, it was bothering me more. I went for a closer look. It was directly above the show secretary building and aimed toward the Grand Prix ring. A narrow cable seemed to be holding it in place. It didn’t look good. I put it on my Snapchat Story. The teeny tiny voice suggested I steer clear of the broken light tower, because if it was destined to hit someone, it would probably be me.

I put a lot of pictures on my Snapchat story that day.

Duct Tape and baling twine seemed to be holding the place together, but again, where else can you accommodate over 200 dressage horses for the weekend? This group is just a renter of a facility, nothing else. I tried to put myself in the organizer’s shoes. Every hour I was impressed with how the show was running, and I continued to take mental notes all around me.

 

Sandbag was amazing. He performed beautifully, we received our baseline scores, and I was super excited to make improvements, based on the judges comments and scores. I borrowed Brooke’s working student Morgan to help me video, and she shared her observations.  In between my ride times, I watched, found familiar faces from previous events, chatted with strangers, and started conversations. It was refreshing to be unknown. There were not huge crowds showing up just to spectate, but I managed to run into a few very willing conversationalists. I met a girl who was braiding for a couple of barns, she gave me tips on those big ole button braids I am working on.

 

When I asked if she was competing, she said no, she was going to bring her pony stallion for the breeding classes, but ended up too busy, and then carried on about breeding when she realized I was from the hunter world. Her frustrations were made quite clear, and I listened. She couldn’t show her pony stallion in the hunter breeding world, and the expenses were astronomical compared to the classes held at dressage shows. She held my attention. I have a problem with stallions not be allowed in breeding classes past a certain age, when I see the whole point of those classes being about actually breeding. She then brought up the score sheets, and how nice it was to know exactly how your young horse or pony scored with the judges, during the year. She is not wrong. Hunter breeding has big problems right now. The focus seems to be primarily on the handlers. Why is the focus not on the horses?

Last year at the USHJA convention, I wandered into a hunter breeding meeting, raised my hand for around twenty minutes, and finally asked some pointed questions. I wanted to know why there was absolutely no information given to the breeding of the horses being shown on the line. It made ZERO sense to me to show horse without knowing the SIRE and DAM of each horse. You would have thought I pushed the red button for a nuclear attack. My logic was not received all that well, and I knew it. Apparently the discussion continued for a while even after I left the group. Were handlers on that particular committee? Why yes. Yes they were. Sigh.

Do you thing the Germans give a rats butt as to who is handling their stallions for a presentation? Ummmmm, no. They do not. Because the focus is on the animal, not the human, for the purpose of breeding horses, not people.

In the dressage world, all horses entered in the breeding classes come with extensive details, Sire and Dam information is shared, and score cards are filled out and delivered to the exhibitor. Public Information. In a year, you enter enough shows, and can receive a pretty good indication as to whether or not your young horse will make it or break it.

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I see this in the Young Horse Show Series as well, which is why I support it whole heartedly. It is called Transparency. I believe this transparency is why the Young Horse Show Series is dramatically growing in popularity. Well, maybe the lower cost has a role, too.

Hunter Breeding in America? Wake up, or put it to bed. “Overhaul the entire thing now, before it is too late” is what I want to scream from the rooftops….. Politics should have no role here in Hunter Breeding. If the horses and ponies are judged properly, it will not require a human name to declare the winner. Why does it all seem so backwards to me?

The Program.

The program for this Virginia Summer Dressage Show is detailed. Sponsors listed on the front, exhibitor information, horse information, schedule, and ads. Horses for sale are noted! Names, addresses and phone numbers for each exhibitor are listed. The Officials’ BIOGRAPHIES are listed. Never heard of a certain judge? No problem, his/her achievements all listed inside the program.

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an FS under the number of the horse means for sale

So what about the Queens? Is the stereotype real? Well, yeah, Dressage Queens have a stereotype for a reason. However, open a bottle or two of wine, and you see a very different side of those same Queens.

The Exhibitors party.

Coordinating the show to finish in time for the exhibitors party is no easy feat. I actually have no idea how over 200 horses are scheduled at an event like this with multiple rings, multiple judges which you aren’t supposed to see twice, and multiple rides for a few people. There must be some sort of Harry Potter magic that goes into putting it all together.

As we were all making our way to the porch of the Showday Cafe, the rings were getting their badly needed maintenance, although still not enough water. Three water trucks dumping liquid would surely be better than one. I didn’t ask anyone about the relationship between the show organizer and Tom and his employees, because I am not really that dumb, but the questions were still floating around in my head. From what I could observe, half a dozen Spanish speaking guys were holed up in a dilapidated building together, and made appearances three times a day to water and drag the rings. Morning, noon during the lunch break, and night, after the show was over. The heavy heat and sun were taking a toll, however, and it was only an hour of rides before intense dust was swirling through everyones lungs all over the grounds.

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Ditto for this year’s show. 

At the party I made new friends. Queens have this air of politeness about them I wasn’t used to, and waited to be told the gorgeous food buffet was open. When it seemed to me pretty obvious no one was going to give us an invitation, and it looked like all the food had been set up, guess who stepped up to break the nervous tension? Yup, I was hangry, and willing to risk a scolding for my dinner, which of course, no one did. Similar to last year, the food was beyond outstanding, and relatively healthy. The dozen or so extra large wine bottles were being depleted rapidly, as well, you could visibly see the shoulders dropping on women all around me, and the volume of conversation rising.

I met Penny. I could tell Penny was a firecracker right from the start. When I learned she was the volunteer coordinator not only for this show, but Dressage at Devon too? I wanted to put a crown on her. Volunteerism is a huge financial savings for horse shows. Many dressage organizations incorporate volunteer requirements right into their memberships in order to offset high costs of labor, so you may think you have qualified for a championship final, but without those minimum volunteer hours met, you don’t get the honor of competing in those championships. I had a feeling this was also the ticket to getting into big events. Penny admitted to having to coordinate 125-175 volunteers just for Devon. That is an impressive number of people hoping to catch a glimpse of the rides of Olympians.

Do hunter organizations have the tolerance for volunteerism? We certainly hear a lot of bitching about rising costs and inability to compete at the highest level anymore. Another simple solution right here in front of us, and no one willing to crack open that can of worms. Sigh.

Penny’s knowledge about Dressage was astounding. We spoke freely on all sorts of topics and spent a great deal of time throwing ideas and stories back and forth through the evening. She answered a lot of my questions, and I was grateful for it. Throughout the weekend, everyone I met and talked to actually defied the stereo type of a dressage queen. In the rings I stupidly grinned and said hello to every rider I passed, which got me a cooler response and loads of weird looks, but, granted, the level of concentration was significantly higher. I didn’t hold it against anyone, just thought it was funny. If I caught anyone in conversation while riding around, guess what the topic immediately turned to? The surface below our feet.

Beating the dead horse.

In general, not a single person riding on the grounds knew who I was, or knew about the issues I address. The anonymity was fantastic, because it invited real conversation about real concerns. I didn’t have to say a word past asking how their day was going, to unleash the high level of frustration riders were feeling about the footing. It was beyond treacherous in certain places. The ruts, the sudden transition from too shallow to too deep, the difference of surface from warm up to show ring, all of it was exasperating riders left and right. And we weren’t even jumping on it.  One warm up ring was ignored by most competitors, which clogged the only other area to prepare, and I marveled at the way there were no accidents. Lateral movements are pretty common in dressage, so for all of these people not to run into each other with all the tiny circles, side passes, transitions and zig zagging across the ring was remarkable, but I don’t think too many people had the warm up they intended or desired, which, in my eyes, probably left another 200 people disappointed in the Hits venue.  What a shame. For all of the intense hard work which Lisa Gorretta, Rosinberg Events, Janine Malone, Penny Hawes, and countless others did to put on this amazing show, at the end of the day it was once again Tom’s apathy which reverberated throughout the community. I just don’t get it.

I love dressage. People ask me all the time what it is like. It is hard. It is challenging. It requires more leg than I am used to. It is satisfying when you get it right, and depressing when the wheels fall off, but there is ALWAYS room for improvement. You go back, read your scores, look at the comments, and dig deeper. I was able to raise my scores from Saturday to Sunday and finally earn some coveted 8’s in movements which had previously only deserved a 6.5. I listened earnestly to complete strangers willing to offer advice and encouragement.

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I video taped every ride and will go back and watch again and again to look for areas to improve, until I can be the highest scorer in my division. Yes, you mostly compete against yourself, but at a large, high caliber event, it is incredibly rewarding to be handed a top prize among your peers. It is also a far cry from the hunter world, and I can visibly understand why people come to the dark side and never return. It is still too soon for me to really find all of the faults of Dressage competitions, I have no doubt the Queens have other things I haven’t even thought of which keep them awake at night, but at the moment, I am getting a serious kick out of this weird and still relatively new world.

The American Horse Council?

There really is one woman listening. Her name is Julie Broadway.

 

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Julie Broadway presenting an award to Senator Mike Enzi (Wyoming) 

Governance and any sort of legislation is not on your radar. I get it. No one cares. No one has time.  No one likes the boring discussion, we would rather gossip about silly things, complain about all the things,  ignore vague referendums, (until it directly affects you), and then freak out and wonder how a law is passed without your vote. But this is reality, and apathy is a problem. Because laws DO pass, legislation DOES happen, with or without your consent, and other animal organizations are highly funded to follow the change in tide, or maybe even push for legislation against you —> the animal lover. The horse owner. The trainer. The parent of a horse crazy kid. The farrier, veterinarian, dentist, hot walker, amateur, announcer, groom or show manager.

I just attended one afternoon of the American Horse Council Forum in Washington, a yearly event, similar to the Annual Meetings of the USHJA and US Equestrian, or any other organization, but without all of the heated debates, shouting, mudslinging, and exotic, fattening meals. Yep, the first thing I noticed was the professionalism, and politeness. After I stifled a few yawns, I thought well, this is actually refreshing, probably more productive, and I should really make an effort to pay attention.

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I listened to Julie speak, and I like what she had to say. I also managed five minutes with her at the end of the day, because I have this crazy idea to solve some of the immigration issues, she sat down beside me and listened to me with absolute intrigue. Do you know what that feels like? When someone really listens?

The American Horse Council (AHC) is your voice on the political side of horse ownership. Remember when your home veterinarian couldn’t really help you while you wintered in Florida? The AHC helped fix that. Section 179 business expense? It is permanently set at $500,000 due to the AHC. Money for the Recreational Trail Program? $85 million to be exact so you can enjoy the world from the back of the horse anywhere in the country. Time to Ride program? Yeah, that’s huge when you are considering grass roots programs, our future clients, hello.

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So where does the money to run the AHC come from? I had to ask. Thankfully, I have a friend within the AHC, and she is constantly answering my questions. Meet Ashley Furst, director of communications.

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Ashley Furst (left) at WIHS with Jessi Lohman and Davenport

The AHC is completely funded by Individual and Organizational members. Members are from every segment of the industry—recreational riders, trail organizations, racing organizations, show organizations, veterinarians, CPA’s, Equine lawyers, carriage operators, and more.

So, people like you and me and the organizations we belong to. Got it.

Why is it set up that way?

It’s set up that way because we are the only organization in Washington that truly works on behalf of the entire industry—not just racing, not just showing, not just trails—EVERY segment. By having Individual and Organizational members from every facet of the industry, it gives us strength in numbers to show how diverse and important this industry is to representatives here in DC.

How many people make up the AHC?

 There are only 5 full-time staff members.

What is your relationship with the HSUS? (You can imagine why I need to know this.)

We do not have any relationship with HSUS. While we do support the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, it is purely coincidental that they also support it. We took a position on that particular bill because it is what the horse industry wanted

Where is headquarters?

We are based in Washington, DC. Right next to the White House actually!

 Do you lobby for legislation? With whom?

We are a lobbyist group- but we strictly work on the federal level.

How can I become involved? Where can I ask the questions I always seem to have?

 You can become involved in a couple of different ways

(http://www.horsecouncil.org/take-action/):

1-      Join the AHC!  Like I’ve mentioned, we are the only true organization based in DC that works with Congress and other federal agencies to ensure all segments of the equine industry have a voice and are represented here in Washington. We can’t continue to do this without the support of members.

2-      Congressional Cavalry- The Congressional Cavalry is the AHC’s grassroots network. We let members of the Cavalry know when action on federal issues is needed and how to contact their Members of Congress via our AHC ACTION ALERTS. There is no cost to join the Cavalry and you will only receive Action Alerts from us when necessary. 

You can always contact us directly as well if you have any questions or concerns- 202-296-4031 or info@horsecouncil.org

 What studies are in the works for the next two years? 

  In particular, we are seeking to update the National Economic Impact Study- hopefully we will be able to start data collection within the next few months. Several states (Maryland included) are also getting State Breakout studies done. This study was last completed in 2005, and it’s certainly more than overdue to be updated. I cannot stress how important it is for us to be able to get this study done—the equine industry is often overlooked when it comes to economic impact in comparison to mainstream sports. We really need to be able to show how important this industry is to the U.S. economy, especially when talking to members of Congress.

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 Sooooo, why would an Economic Impact Study affect you as a horse owner?

Economic Impact Studies affect everyone in the field they are directed. Life lesson #1, money dictates productivity. You want to be productive? You want to retire at 40? GREAT. All aspects of the horse economy will help you get there. The industry is sustainable with money. In Washington, D.C., where laws are made, proof of Economic Impact has a great influence on future legislation.

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Mark Bellissimo

Mark Bellissimo. You either love him, hate him, or don’t have an opinion about him. He has one of those larger than life personalities, he gets sh*t done, he is all over the place, involved in a myriad of events, and now has WEG. We aren’t going to stop hearing about WEG for another year and a half so we might as well buckle down and get used to it. Sho ‘nough, his presentation was about WEG. It is a good presentation. He is by far, the most interesting person to listen to when it comes to vision, productivity, horses, the future… and himself. He made videos and brought them with him, playing musical segments of horses in slow motion on fancy fields and in arenas (his arenas) which left goosebumps on horse owners all over the room. He encouraged us to work together, make connections, bond the Western riders with the English riders, spread the love of sport so far, so wide, that no one in Washington could deny our existence ever again. The more connected we are the more media attention we can get, the more chance Coca Cola Company might endorse us and maybe put a horse on a future soda can. Who knows? The possibilities are endless. (I made that last part up, I don’t think Coke will put a horse on a can, but neat idea, no?)

It was interesting to hear Mark’s presentation, I closed my notebook, sat back in my chair and simply watched, (with the exception of one or two snaps to my snapchat story).  He has coined one phrase about horse people and the challenge of being in the horse world. It seems to be his constant goal to link “Tradition, Continuity, and Innovation”. He repeated that a few times so we would remember.  While he was talking, I only rolled my eyes like two times, which is pretty good for me, and I could see other people in the room were really following his charisma. He finished to resounding applause, of course, and shortly after, the lights came on and we stood up. There was already a line to talk to him personally, and in typical awkward fashion, I stood behind three women gushing about how they wanted their horse organization to be included at WEG. Not me, however. What did I want with Mark Bellissimo? I wanted him to use his Central Park Horse Show to make a better connection with the Carriage Horses and help gain them more recognition and protection. I want to see him give back to the horse community in New York City, the heart of the Big Apple. If he does that, he might gain one more loyal follower.

We changed rooms, and dispersed into smaller groups of round table discussions. I was unprepared for this, admittedly, and sorry I couldn’t bounce more between tables, but luckily, I chose an interesting one for me and my business, the Import/Export table. Next to me was another self proclaimed “pot-stirrer” from California, and she was one of the most knowledgable and interesting personalities I have ever met at one of these conventions. Her name was Katie, and she was with the California Department of Agriculture. She knew ALL the rules about transporting horses across borders, shipping from other countries, diseases, requirements, trends, people breaking laws, governments making questionable decisions, and more. There was a veterinarian linked to US Equestrian present, Richard Mitchell, (who was really trying to lead the discussion over Katie), and Chrystine Tauber from US Equestrian was also among our table of 8.

Had I known I would have the chance to ask more questions, I totally would have come prepared, but the best I could do was a quick FB post to get people involved in the conversation… Quarantine times are locked in for now, no chance of shortening up the days just yet. Various diseases were discussed, Pyroplasmosis was addressed (this always comes up) and of course, the horse movement through slaughter trucks and ‘where we are now’ with that issue. Recently Canada implemented new legislation saying horses have to sit in feed lots for 6 months before they can be put into the food chain for human consumption, so we were catching up on whether or not that was affecting horse movement through auctions at all. I must have missed the conclusion or there wasn’t one, but it was discussed.

So what does this all mean for you? If you are still with me, we need to get back to this Economic Impact Study rolling out this year. In whatever way it reaches your inbox, you need to click on it, fill out the survey, take the time to answer the questions. Julie Broadway is here for you, and she needs you to be there for her. She is most important to all of us, leading an organization larger than all of the other governing bodies, which will influence programs and initiatives affecting all horse people in the future. Read through the Strategic Plan, store it in the back of your mind, keep an eye on the American Horse Council, become a member, follow their movements, you won’t regret it, and together we might stand a chance in this weird world we live in.

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CEO Roger Dow of the US Travel Association

Virginia is for lovers…

The demise of ‘Constructive Criticism’, and the unraveling of structure.

 

The absence of a veterinarian to discuss the drug Medroxyprogesterone Acetate (MPA) was heavily noted at the beginning of the Town Hall meeting in Upperville, Virginia this week. This much anticipated opportunity to discuss the science behind using MPA, commonly referred to as Depo, had a shaky beginning.

We need these meetings. We need these discussions. Without them, there is a constant murkiness lurking in our drinking water.

This particular meeting was attended by the President and CEO of US Equestrian, Murray Kessler and Bill Moroney, (both in suits), Mary Babick from the USHJA, and Matt Fine (also in a suit), the compliance officer from US Equestrian. Notably missing and supposedly busy with another emergency issue within the USEF was Stephen Schumacher. Around 100 people filled the tent, many of us exhibitors at the horse show, coming directly out of the show ring or from the stables.

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I think everyone came prepared. However, I would assimilate the preparation to the Battle of Middleburg, rather than a meeting of the minds at the country’s oldest horse show, which quietly continued on in the background. The first few minutes were, unfortunately, completely off-topic, but surprisingly started to set the tone for the evening. From the first few heated words, I knew we were in trouble. I glanced around and saw some nervous changing of weight among the couple of people standing. No one was making moves to rein in Mr. Kessler, and no one was taking deep breaths.

The thing about being defensive, is that it is an emotion. When you are accused of being emotional, it is not considered a compliment. So here we were, twenty minutes into the meeting and the mood was quickly becoming defensive and emotional. The initial request during the introduction to be polite and respectful was completely disregarded.

In his opening lines Murray Kessler brought up the legislation currently being tossed around on Capitol Hill revolving around the racing industry. It was an interesting tactic to remind us, as layman, that drug enforcement may one day be out of our hands entirely, and placed in the hands of the federal government.  I could feel my lip twitching, what’s this about?

Luckily, I have a very good friend within the American Horse Council who was able to provide extensive clarification on the Bill (which he brought up) and she was able to assure me it was unlikely to ever gain enough support both in the racing industry and within Congress to move forward, at the moment is not even accompanied by a senate companion bill, and the odds of it affecting the show industry are incredibly slim. Keep in mind the racing industry involves gambling, and interstate commerce. The show industry is not the same thing as the racing industry. This particular bill is addressing creating an “Authority” to deal with an anti-doping and medication control program on a national level with the use of medication in Quarter horses, Thoroughbreds, and Standardbred racing, rather than continuing to follow state-to state standards, which in theory would make sense. Each state has a different rule for the use of medication on the racetrack, and this bill would standardize the rules so that a horse racing in West Virginia would have to follow the same rules as a horse racing in Florida. However, the likelihood of this bill gaining ground in an already tumultuous and fractured sport is minimal to zip. Additionally, the House and Senate have way bigger issues on their minds in the current political atmosphere.

For more on that bill, you can educate yourself here.

It was an interesting distraction, but highly irrelevant. Why was it brought up? 

I appreciate the President of US Equestrian attending the Town Hall, it certainly shows commitment to the job, but I don’t think he should have been there. He doesn’t have the temperament for it. He isn’t able to absorb and listen, refrain from engaging, and respond with assurance. Each of us felt it. Each of us had a finger pointed toward us and told we were wrong. Whether it was in regard to the Depo issue, or in regard to ideas on how to handle bully show managers, it was repeated too many times that we were considered in the wrong.

And there are certain issues which I am not wrong about.

 I was disappointed in both sides last night.

 

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Mary Babick, Murray Kessler, Bill Moroney

The misuse of MPA is a problem. Of course, the mis-use of Magnesium is also a problem. Which one is the lethal drug? 

This is how I see it right now:

1. People don’t believe the use of Medroxyprogesterone (MPA) is hurting the horses.

2. Veterinarians are recommending the use of MPA  for behavioral issues.

3. Riding a horse on MPA is not the same feeling as riding a horse under the influence of Ace-Promizine, Reserpene, or Magnesium.

4. If US Equestrian wants to tell us how much to use and when, we can probably all live with that. Good luck testing for it, but it seems people can be placated with the same restrictions as we have for other medications, such as Dexamethasone or Bute.

5. There really should be a set number of show/competition animals studied on the use of MPA by scientists and veterinarians before the drama continues any further.

 

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The Upperville Horse Show is one of the most iconic horse shows in this country. Everyone looks forward to competing under the oaks, and four years ago, Mike Smith stepped in with the heavy responsibility of pushing this competition into the 21st Century. It wasn’t easy. It never is. It requires patience, a master plan, and a sh*t ton of money. On top of that, people around here are notoriously resistant to change. But change it has, grow it has, and transformed it has. Imagine taking a pair of two hundred year old rings, ripping out the carefully manicure sod, and replacing it with state of the art footing to accommodate the pickiest of riders in the country, without harming so much as a bird’s nest in the oak trees. Additionally, imagine building an entire new arena which had to blend the history of the civil war era stone walls into the rolling green hills which have seen minimal development since General Lee marched across the plains to destroy the union soldiers at Gettysburg, and failed. In the last four years, this has been happening, under his guidance, and it is an absolute stunner of an accomplishment, and not nearly completed yet, as each year, the demands of exhibitors increases. Attendance to this competition is extremely high, and it is considered a treat to show here, but it does not reflect the gripping monopoly on dates in other parts of the country. It is not a circuit. Comparing the incredible uniqueness of the Upperville Horse Show to anything else is almost completely intolerable.

Circuit showing is regarded as a reprieve for exhibitors at times, a place where they can park in one spot for a month, find a routine, sell some horses, escape snow, and keep a business rolling. Without oversight from the US Equestrian, show managers running circuits with back to back horse shows can basically run their own little city of horse showing with the comfort of knowing that exhibitors have little to no options to go elsewhere. Show managers love it, and can take full advantage of it. Before long, show managers make bad decisions, cut corners, and get greedy. Oversight is lacking, written complaints are lacking, and people want to shift the responsibility elsewhere. If the same happened to the single, yearly, iconic horse show, people would simply skip over it each year, and it would eventually fade away, or be taken over by new management, and revitalized to be a winning event.

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As exhibitors, we want the USEF to be the oversight, but the USEF seems to want the exhibitors to be the oversight. Fill out the forms, they say. File the complaints, they say. Show up for hearings, they say. What should be the right balance? How much time do exhibitors need to spend filling out competition evaluation forms? Right now, we are in the middle of finding that right balance, but it looks like we, as the riders, trainers, and owners of horses in this horse world, are the ones ultimately left to steer the ship. We may not want it, but no one is leaving an option open for us, so this is where we are going to have to figure out how much it means to us. How much does it mean to you to fight for show standards? Ask yourself, then ask your clients. This road isn’t shortening up anytime soon, and our leadership has a lot on its plate right now.

 

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From the Bids to the Evaluation Forms

You have just driven out of your way to a new show grounds you are unfamiliar with, spent a lot of money for an unfamiliar setting, and you might be feeling you have to re-learn everything. The icing on top of the cake? It is a championship. On one hand, it is thrilling to be in a new environment, challenging, stimulating, on the other hand you are wondering, how the heck did we all end up HERE?

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Believe it or not, there is a process, and locations of championships are not pulled out of a hat.

For some championships, the process is the responsibility of the USHJA (CH/AA Hunter and Jumper Champs, Green Hunter Incentive, International Hunter Derby Champs), for others, the USEF is responsible. (Junior Hunter, Pony Finals)

The process differs depending on the championship or the organization coordinating it. Since I brought up Culpeper (in Virginia)  in a recent blog post, and it is a host for our Zone Jumper Team Championships, it was decided I might address the process a bit better.  (I might have stirred the pot a little. I also might have complained that the language in the rulebooks was stifling, so there’s that.)

Side note: No one can force your education on these topics, but you certainly can’t say there is a lack of effort here.

Before the application process is even opened, each USHJA Zone Committee determines whether they want a championship for just their zone or if they want to combine with another. Once that decision is made and agreed upon between the zones that choose to combine, the application process begins….

1) First, the USHJA opens host applications to all competition managers, about a year in advance of the competition. And only for 60 days.  Competition managers have to open their emails like everyone else, decide if they meet the requirements for holding a championship, and if it fits into their schedule. This is not supposed to be like a regular horse show, so sometimes it may not appeal to the show organizer to host a championship. However, sometimes adding a championship to the competition can boost the manager’s image, especially if done well.

2) Applications are submitted. Now the USHJA staff member reviews EACH application, to be sure they are meeting the minimum criteria. These requirements are not a secret, and are in place to make sure you, as an exhibitor, have a special experience. Applications which do NOT meet the minimum criteria are STILL presented to the committees, but red stars, arrows, and exclamation points are used to point out what they are lacking in the criteria. (Those applicants are also notified that their application did not meet minimum requirements.)

3)  Conference call #1 of many. Zone Committees (people like you and me) from the relevant Zones in question punch in the conference call number and during the meeting, we ALL review each application, and consider things like timing, school sessions, location, convenience, participation, and various other pros and cons of each site. Ideally, this is tackled way in advance of the competition. For example, the newly formed Zones 3 and 4 had a conference call December 6 and decided to hold the Jumper Championships at Culpeper in July.

However, that is not all.

4) The Jumper Working Group then reviews the Zone Committee recommendations and full applications.  (In this case, the Jumper Working Group met during the USHJA Annual Meeting and agreed with the zones recommendation)

5) the USHJA Executive Director reviews the recommendations of the Jumper Working Group and Zone Committees, as well as the applications, for final approval.

“All of the committees who review and make recommendations consider a variety of factors, including available competition dates, (to avoid conflicts with other major competitions), facility, nearby accommodations, experience hosting, prize money offered, etc.” said Megan Lacy, managing director communications at USHJA. “The committees try to find the best all-around option for the most members possible. The more host applications we receive with date options, location options, etc., the more likely it is that the committees will be able to balance more of those factors to serve even more members.” 

Side note: Without Megan Lacy, we would all be…… well, you can guess where we would all be.

Each part of the country is different, so each part of the country is going see different amounts of bids being placed on Championships.

Zones 3 and 4 had three applications last year. Sigh. 

How can you help? Guess what, you can. The USHJA encourages all of its members to ask their favorite competition managers to apply to host a championship.

In other words, if you LIKE a certain show, seek out the show competition management and ASK if they could hold a championship in the future. Show managers are human beings, they talk the same language as the rest of us, so spark a conversation, tell them you would be willing to participate on a team if you knew your favorite show was in the running for a big final. Plant the seed, at the very least.

Zone committee members are your voice, too. If you believe that school is a potential conflict, or not a conflict at all, do not assume we already agree. If you feel being at a championship on Thursday at 8 am is slightly ridiculous for an AA jumper and missing an entire day of work is not really an option, just so you can sit around and twiddle your thumbs all day, let a zone committee member know. We get the struggles are real, but we need to know what the struggles exactly are, so we can make informed decisions to best represent the needs of members, your needs to be exact.

What will you be seeing new this year following the competition? A Survey. The USHJA intends to explore the reasons behind your choice to participate on a team (or not participate), how you fared, and your feeling about future participation. The information is so vital, and every member will have an opportunity to incite better change and growth. Shockingly, they really do want feedback. Me too. Otherwise, why bother being here.

So, this brings up one more important exhibitor responsibility, which VERY FEW people embrace openly, and I’d like to know why. Competition Evaluation Forms. What is it about these forms? How do so many people forget the existence of these forms? Personally, I think whether you show at one recognized show or thirty a year, you need to be cozy with these forms. We all need to be cozy with these forms. Parents, riders, braiders, trainers, grooms, course designers, owners, your Jack Russell Terrier….  Why the hesitation? As much as people write and vent online, you would think it wouldn’t be too much to ask to fill out an evaluation form.

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Katie Cooper filling out an eval form. PC: Katie Francella

 

Questions I have heard…..

I liked the show, why should I fill out the form?  Eval forms are not exclusively for complaints. If you share what you like about the show, this is inherently useful information. Please let US Eq know why you liked the show.

The stewards take care of Evaluation forms, so why should I? Ok, well, you are still entitled to fill out your own form, even if it may contradict what the steward has noted.

What if the USEF can’t guarantee confidentiality? Competition Evaluation Forms are different from official Protests (which require a fee). It is not likely your form is going to jeopardize your ability to attend horse shows. Feedback is feedback is feedback.

While these evaluations are confidential, USEF will utilize summary data derived from the evaluations to assist in improving equestrians sport”

I filled out forms before, no one ever listened, and no changes were made. Fill them out again. Then get your friends to fill out forms. At the last Annual Meeting, I left with the impression, the new leadership would take a more active role in listening to its members about competitions. This is your chance to hold the organization up to that expectation.

The punishments just seem to be fines, so instead of making improvements, they management simply pays the fine, so why should I fill out a form? While we don’t actually get to hear the conversations behind the walls of the US Equestrian, I can assure you there are discussions taking place about how to be constantly improving our sport. Changes cannot be made in a week, and often times it might be a year or more before any noticeable difference can be noted. But this is not a time to give up, 2017 really needs to be the year we fill out a record amount of Competition Evaluation Forms.

Side note: IMHO, to work around show managers simply paying fines for problems, I think there is a place here for yellow cards. If riders can be issued yellow cards, show managers should be issued yellow cards. And if the show in question receives 2 or 3 yellow cards, guess what? They lose their rating. Maybe this can be a suggestion for the future, maybe you have another idea.

The forms are too long, and I don’t have time. Guess what, new forms! Shorter forms. The kind of forms you can’t really find a lot of flaws with. It is all of three questions. Online, you can actually not kill a tree and in two minutes fill out the three questions.

Here—> https://www.usef.org/compete/competition-evaluation

Just remember you are describing a show facility to someone who cannot see the actual show facility, so the questions exist to provide a visual.  Some questions may not be relevant to you, but might be relevant to the staff inside the US Equestrian. Start looking for the new forms soon, they are out this year.

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This form specifically addresses footing.

Look, if we had mind readers within both the USHJA and US Equestrian, we wouldn’t need these forms. Make a goal, one a month, or one every five horse shows. But do something, get involved, and push, push, push for better quality show grounds, when you KNOW better quality show grounds are needed. (I mean, for example. Clearly, there are other issues at horse shows, but show grounds, specifically footing, happens to still be on my mind.)

I feel like I could go on for days addressing each excuse I have ever heard about not filling out competition evaluation forms. In my world, I would attach a form to every horse show number handed out, and TELL people to fill it out and put it in an envelope before they checked out. However, this is not my world, I have to share it with others. I am certainly no Queen of the evaluation form either, but I do recognize my effort to be a better exhibitor, and this is one challenge I will gladly accept. If you can’t gain access to a form, there is one other solution……email this guy, he is serious about listening to competition issues. No form required……His title speaks to just that. Chief Compliance Officer, Matt Fine. Mfine@usef.org

An Open Letter to Tom Struzzieri

This is not a complaint about one horse show. This is not a whining because it rains a lot at your horse shows. Or the footing is an issue. (Which it is). This letter is about the decades long feeling there is a lack of empathy for your customers which continues to resonate through our little horse community. I am now totally confused as to where we stand with you. Where do your clients (exhibitors) stand with you? Where do our horses stand with you? Where does horse welfare stand with you? It would be comforting to hear some honest answers for once.

I have to admire your ambition for growth, we all have been impressed at one time or another about your remarkable ability to build some sort of business out of horses, purchase show dates, erect show grounds out of nothing, and throw huge prize money into a few classes, generate hype, and we all fell for it. We all wanted to be a part of the essence of the Million Dollar classes, gravitate to big money, big sales, big dreams, big business, and cool perks. I know I did. I spent years showing at Culpeper, Ocala, Indio, and even Saugerties.

There are reviews on your FB page which give you five stars and include all sorts of wonderful positive comments. To find them, you have to sort through some painfully familiar negative ones

Rachel *******· November 18, 2015

So this in many ways is a great well run show. My specific complaint is the way they treated my division. 2’6″ hunters. First classes were cancelled as the ring was too busy. Not rescheduled- which could have been an option. Second the last day of the show they could not be bothered to water and drag the ring. My poor horse has a respiratory problem and almost choked on all the dust. She was coughing and sneezing constantly. If you are going to take my money I deserve the same quality experience as folks showing over bigger fences !!

Jamie ***** reviewed HITS Horse Shows — 1 starJanuary 18 · 
Balmoral is for harness racing, not jumping horses.
Eric ***** reviewed HITS Horse Shows — 2 star March 24, 2014 · 
Decent footing in the rings with cool trees. But, the place is basically a dump, the temporary tents have inadequate electrical power, the pathways are rutted, office staff is hostile, and too few restroom facilities. Not going back.
Ann ***** reviewed HITS Horse Shows — 1 star     March 24, 2014 · 
After having to stand in line since 330 this afternoon for our tables in the VIP tent……got stampeded as we tried to get a table when they opened the doors at 5. Very poorly organized for the $ 1 million class
Margaret ***** reviewed HITS Horse Shows — 1 star     March 24, 2014 · 
HORRIBLE management at the VIP tent! Extremely disappointed in how the seating is being managed.
**
Marge ****** reviewed HITS Horse Shows — 5 star     March 26 at 11:26pm · 
Very good attendance , great competition and the weather was about as good as it gets. Ocala, Florida March 26, 2017
Donna ****** reviewed HITS Horse Shows — 5 star     September 12, 2016 · 
What a great place, hope some day my daughter rides there!

**

In Ocala one year I stood stoically as I was berated for holding up the children’s pony division because of the children’s jumper classic. Jerry Dougherty sped around me as I was wearily heading back to my barn, slammed on the brakes of his golf cart with one leg dangling out to the side, sunglasses on, and said if I didn’t manage my days better, I would have to find somewhere else to show in the winter. He didn’t want to hear my excuse of the shoe being pulled in the deplorable schooling area and that I chose to have it repaired by the farrier before continuing to allow the horse to compete. Meanwhile the long line at the children’s pony ring had dwindled and they had to wait 20 minutes for me to finish with the jumper. I didn’t argue. He didn’t offer me a ride back to the barn. I didn’t cry. When I look back on that episode now (which obviously had an impact) I cannot imagine that happening to me in Ohio, Kentucky, Vermont. or ANYWHERE.

I spent a summer in 2009 sloshing around in the mud and rain, watching the trailers disappear under several feet of water, helping stranded golf carts push through unpaved gravel roads, adorned with potholes so deep fish were spotted swimming in them. I trekked for what seemed miles to the show rings, telling my students they would be so tough and resilient after surviving Saugerties. I think they just ended up tired.

When I came back that fall for the special classes I qualified for, I had to leave two horses home, one sold, one was lame. I decided I probably wouldn’t need the extra grooming stall. Knowing you were sold out and had a waiting list I called you immediately and said I would be happy to sell the three stalls back or to someone else. When I got there, your secretaries refused to acknowledge such actions, forcing me into paying for three extra stalls which had already been promptly sold to someone else on the wait list. I tried not to be bitter about how much money you just made over selling those three stalls twice, but I couldn’t get past it.

I left your company for good right there and then, vowing I would never ever give you another dime. I would never, ever allow myself to be sucked into the HITS circuit again. But, you didn’t give a f**k. You didn’t even notice.

I missed nothing about not attending your shows, and instead made new loyalties, supported new venues. I raised my eyebrows when I heard you helped purchase Balmoral and renovate it. Same when I heard you were involved in a restaurant in NYC.  A running festival. A marina. There were so many grumblings about your current facilities, I thought it was odd you were expanding. Again. and again. Since I personally wasn’t showing with HITS anymore, it didn’t directly affect me. I thought it curious you were quoted in an article about your dedication to making horse shows better, however.

“Every day we’re trying to make the horse shows better,” he said. “I want to make sure Diamond Mills is doing well. I want it to be humming along.”

http://www.dailyfreeman.com/article/DF/20120818/NEWS/308189993

During the 2015 USHJA annual meeting (which you sponsored), I watched you come totally unglued during about how the location for the International Derby Finals are chosen. It is a pretty clear bid process for all of the major USHJA/USEF Finals, but the process did not seem to suit you and there was an enormous amount of angst expressed in the room. Apologies were apparently made later and outside of our view, but it was a pretty shocking site to us sitting in the chairs.

During the 2016 USHJA Annual meeting (which you ALSO sponsored), I witnessed some improvements being made in Coachella. We were all escorted to your facility, fed copies amounts of food and drink, and entertained with a pony club demonstration in the Grand Prix ring. What great fun.

Are you sponsoring the Annual meeting for a reason? Are people like me who speak up the reason? Or is it another reason?  The Annual Meeting needs to be more accessible to our members, less costly, so people will actually show up, and are you able to help with those efforts? I can’t help but feel there is a plot twist in this somehow.

The West Coast riders had been begging for years for improvements, and it looked as though you were answering them. New buildings, new rings, but what happened to getting each day started? No way to sign up for start times online led to lines at 7am similar to Los Angeles rush hour. A living nightmare of a way to start the day. The excitement over the improvements started to wane after dozens and dozens of riders, trainers, and grooms waited hours each morning to negotiate start times.

You also stung a few riders by lowering the height of the Million Dollar GP on the West Coast, claiming that the horses in Thermal would benefit from 1.50m height rather than 1.60. My first thought was maybe the horses are there, but the riders are hesitant to jump 1.60 on your footing. The reaction others had was way more tepid.

At what point do you sacrifice extraordinary prize money for actually just having top notch facilities?

Are you only making 1 Million dollar improvements to Ocala next year because of the threat of WEC setting up shop right next door? That’s what it took? After all these years? I know people who are so excited about that future facility, they are thinking of changing disciplines just to show there.

I don’t even blink about a $1 million dollar improvement happening in Ocala. Try 10. You could put in a $1 million dollar entrance for all we know,  just re-grading the roads to the barns would eat up that $1 million quickly enough. My guess is every year the operating budget alone is $1 million to even get the first two weeks running and we are being distracted with a press release. If you are only addressing 6 of the 12 rings with pushing back the footing and installing drains, that means there are 6 satisfactory show rings in existence? And the schooling areas? http://www.ocala.com/news/20170413/hits-plans-1-million-in-improvements-before-2018

You own this little Show grounds in middle Virginia, which used to be an incredible mecca for show people. I grew up eventing there, I galloped the cross country fences, flew around stadium courses like it was the venue of a lifetime. It is where Superman had that career ending injury. We listened to older trainers tell remarkable stories about a previous owner of the Commonwealth Park facility dropping dollar bills out of a helicopter an hour before the Grand Prix to make sure people would attend the big class.  For years, we watched it fall into a decline while you took on other ventures. You expanded in Ocala, New York, Thermal, Arizona, Chicago. I noticed my friends stopped wanting to show in the Virginia location. The barns were collapsing, the rings were struggling to be safe to ride in. The structures started to really rot.

Last year, when I was injured, my horses came back to Culpeper. My best friend was stabling next door, and she really, really wanted to show my horses at your show, so I agreed to let her show one. I hated to do it, not because of her, but because I had to give HITS money. It killed me, but I got over it, she and the horse were terrific, and it was good publicity for him in the end. This year the same thing happened. I am injured again, and I agreed to have a client take the same horse down to show in the adults this time. I couldn’t sleep. I was riddled with worry. When I woke up on Friday morning and checked my news, my heart sunk. There were several complaints about the conditions in Culpeper, and it was escalating quickly. The weather was not helping, but even with good weather, conditions were far from ideal. The list was long and getting longer. by the minute. By Friday half of the few competitors scratched and went home. Only 10 competed in your Grand Prix. Not even the horse stabled next door coming off a win in Ohio would set foot in that ring.

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No tractor available (broken part) to drag the rings for first two days. Ironically, this place is surrounded by farms AND a Kubota dealer right in town. 


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Constructing and moving a judges stand in the middle of the competition. 


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Seems safe


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One loose pony and it is all over. exposed stakes AND wires to trip over

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wires everywhere

Yes, I get the collapsing barns you replaced were supposed to make us feel better, but really, did you think about layout at all? Or, did you erect the barns simply to get us to shut up? These shows only take place in the summer months, so direct sunlight is actually an issue. There is literally no shade. And when it rains……It rained so much and so hard, water was pouring in from the roof into the actual ‘new’ barn aisles.

Why do so many of your show staff seem so unhappy? Why aren’t the rings seeing a tractor more often? Or, at all? Why does the simple act of retrieving a back number out of the show office intimidate so many people? Why ARE the stalls $300 a week this year? Why is there an extra fee if we choose to use straw? Why is there an extra fee to take deep breaths?

People come to this horse show because it is convenient. We live here. We are close to it. Like people live close to your show grounds in Ocala, bought property for themselves to be in the sunshine state, the same goes for Virginia. Zone 3 is pretty freaking healthy right now, we have a lot of hunters and jumpers. We have other shows in the same vicinity which sell out each year. We also are seeing other show managers think outside the box to help exhibitors.

I am just curious as to how you come to your conclusions with regards to exhibitors. You see, it seems as though you can get away with all of these mediocre to crippling facilities because you simply up the ante for special classes. 1 million for this, 1 million for that, $250k for the Jr/Am, 100k-500k here for hunters,  50k for the young ones. Do you think we won’t jump a Grand Prix for $750k? Or a Derby for less than $500k? Have you met us? Or, is this your way of suggesting we shouldn’t complain? Well, it is really hard not to complain when we can plainly see what’s happening around us.

We do love to compete, but we also really, really need our horses to stay sound to compete. Without the horses, we are nothing. I believe we would be more impressed with our horses LOVING the facility, just as much as that big paycheck, and I believe it is your job to find out exactly what the balance should be.

I don’t feel your blessing to push up the existing footing in three of the six rings and install drains will satisfy your customers. But apparently that will be happening in June. Is that really enough? Do the schooling areas count as being equally important to you since the horses jump more in the schooling areas than they do in the actual show rings? i can guess the answer.

In Virginia, the other event which suffers is our Zone championships. There are people who have no interest in being on our championship jumper teams specifically because the finals are being held at Culpeper. This is kind of irritating. With limited options to hold major events, we have depended on your facility to help us out, and it looks like we will not be able to experience the same competition we had envisioned for our (USHJA) members. I personally believe the priority of the USHJA SHOULD be for it’s members, and not for the show managers, but maybe I am wrong. I believe our members look to the Board of Directors and Zone Committee members for answers, not to you.  Maybe the bidding process for these events needs to be re-evaluated? Maybe the mileage rule caused this, and the responsibility lies elsewhere? A monopoly on the market doesn’t usually mean competitions improve standards each year, after all, where lies the motivation? The dates are yours to keep, after all.

You may have permanently lost the last of your Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and even New Jersey customers last week, I am sorry to say. I think people finally have realized you aren’t here for them, all the patience and tolerance has been wiped out, and that is a sad situation. I loved that facility once. It even could be nice again one day, maybe for the next generation.

Elitism, own it or move away from it?

I am absolutely gutted to hear about the giraffe cam will have to be pulled because of assholes. What else can I say? April has left such an impact on thousands of people, and the park is beginning to realize it cannot even function anymore because any observation of April taking a misstep sends the public into an uncontrollable frenzy.

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“We are well aware, long before the first email that April had a small twist of her leg today which has her favoring it. This is not unheard of in such long legged animals. Dr Tim was on site and all is well.

We appreciate concern but the bogging down of email servers and other platforms is the exact reason the giraffe cam will need be pulled.

While we appreciate the concern, it is interfering with normal park operations and preparation for opening; at a period when our resource of time is limited and cannot be hindered. Please allow our team to do as they are trained to do – we have their care covered!”

ouch. This will happen to us.

I have been mulling this over for months, and months, and months. I listen to people like John Madden, respected people, who seem to be driven to gain more sponsorship, more acceptance, more television coverage, more support from the every day folk to cheer our sport on, to support equestrians into the Olympic Games (most do not) and I think it is a bad idea. The human race keeps taking small steps away from animals. Away from captivity, away from ownership, and more and more people who struggle to feed their families have zero compassion to our lives with animals. The technology will actually harm us, not help us, and we really need to think about the ramifications of inviting a non-horsey group into our world. This is not the right time to argue about Show Jumping riders having to wear jackets versus rugby shirts. This is not the right time to worry about attracting more sponsors like Red Bull. I use this company as an example but I don’t see Red Bull sponsoring a Grand Prix in Miami, when they are happy to enough to be supporting PBR. Nor have I ever seen a Gucci banner on the side of a rodeo event.

We need to pay attention to the public, we need to acknowledge that a giraffe cam can be removed, or a circus be shut down, or Facebook can ban the sale of animals if they want to, (this last one even hard for me to acknowledge) because if we don’t, one day our children will not have this luxury of riding horses.

I am gutted about the giraffe cam, because I look at the highest level of equestrian sport and think yes, absolutely, the same can happen to us. Instead, we, as horse people, live with our own blinkers on, and cannot understand why anyone would NOT want to have a pony bring up a child, when it could possibly be the best thing that ever happened to a child. I see it in the city, I see it in the country, I see it in the suburbs. We need to be really careful how we introduce horses into the general public, and so far, we are not getting it quite right. I do love the GCT, but it seems to be heading in a less accessible direction, and if the show managers in Europe gain ground on globalizing entry fees, we really will see talented riders slip off the radar. What then?

Longines and Rolex. If you recognize those two names, you know they are title sponsors, necessary sponsors to a large portion of the highest Equestrian Sport. How many of you own a Longines or Rolex watch? Really think about that for a minute. And then ask, how many people in the general public own a Longines or Rolex watch or accessory? When I look at how the LGCT entices sponsors? And who are they? Mercedes, Longines, Gucci, and Hermes. Great. Yes, sure it is lovely the entire beach is open for people to walk up and watch for free, but if you want to sit at a table, be prepared to spend anywhere from $7,000- $15k for you and your friends to eat and watch for the week.

Exclusive brand exposure on a global scale…

Be associated with a dynamic, world class sport that reaches tens of millions of people across the world. Show jumping is an Olympic sport with a passionate and growing audience spanning high net worth individuals, and middle and upper income families. Exceptional networking opportunities are accessible through our sponsorship and VIP packages bringing your company to the audience you need to reach.

I have to question reaching tens of millions of people across the world, but ok.

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I was really uncomfortable when I listened to the FEI forum this year in Lausanne, Switzerland about dress code. The idea of stripping away the jacket and tie to replace with actual athletic clothing was really hard to envision. So we want our Grand Prix riders to look like Polo players? Or cross-country riders?  So ALL jumping or sport riders look the same? But maybe with a name on the back of a shirt??  What about the dressage riders? Take away the shadbelly? And if we do this, more of the public will associate with our top show jumpers and be willing to sponsor more events? I don’t think so. The word ELITE is so closely tied into Grand Prix show jumping, or Dressage, you cannot separate the two anymore. A google click to Elite Show Jumping will produce several pages of references you won’t want to sort through. Syndications often INCLUDE the word ELITE into their own business.

Elite is becoming a dirty word, yet it is everywhere in the horse world.

Elite Horse Ownership

Elite Trailers

Elite Equestrian

Elite Eventing

It is even in names of boarding facilities.

Yes, of course the public views us all as Elitist. How can anyone blame them?

I personally think there is only one way to get the general public even remotely interested in Equestrian Sport. More Wagering.

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I am a born equestrian with countless generations of horse women behind me. I chose to marry someone who prefers that I leave all my horse clothing in the car before I enter the house. If I asked him to name a single famous Equestrian, he would seriously struggle. However,  if he were able to easily place a bet on McLain Ward winning the World Cup Final, and walked away with a little play money in his pocket to buy beer, he might remember McLain Ward’s name for a few months. Ask him to name a player on a baseball team, he could name all of them, without hesitation.  As a tight horse community, we have watched what the wagering effect has had on the general public, have we not? The Triple Crown is easy to understand to loads of people. Why? Because you can win money betting on a winner. Do you really think the Triple Crown would be as interesting if no money was able to be won by Joe Schmo?

I am not talking about the little wagers behind the scenes on Grand Prix Sunday, I am talking about real life wagering online, or Vegas, with bookies, or betting windows beside the Tiki Hut, or surrounding the George Morris arena in Tryon, so as the locals come out of the diner they can place a $2 bet on Kent Farrington to win that night.  Betting websites dedicated to Show Jumping events (outside of the U.K. lol). Active, accessible, and cheap. This might have more of an effect than wearing a rugby shirt and worrying about a brand name on the breeches. (Or maybe that is just my viewpoint.)

I have to come back to the Giraffe cam. Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably have seen or heard about the comments, the concerns, the outcry that April did not give birth in a timely fashion. And once the baby was born, the utter rage that ensued when the Animal Park asked for $5 (only $5 made people explode in anger) for the baby naming competition (which would directly benefit Giraffe conservancy and other charities, maybe even to fight activists, who knows?), and hopefully you considered the impact on ALL animals we have in our world. We are not living in a blessed universe, we are living in a confusing, and chaotic, often mean-spirited world, where a high percentage of humans look another being in the eye and think HIM VERSUS ME. The more this percentage increases, the less likely the general public will have sympathy toward animals participating in the Olympic Games, and this will greatly change many of our lives, or the lives of our children, so just pause for a second, and imagine life outside the horse bubble. Because if you don’t someone else will, and gain an advantage.

Maybe we should be spending less time worrying about what clothes to wear in the ring, and worry more about important factors to help sport, like education. If the general public wants to join in on the fun, they will find us, but hopefully it won’t become a case of “Be Careful What You Wish For”

Young Horse Education Project

We have an education problem in this country when it comes to young horses. We certainly know how to show,  yet I have never believed education needs to happen solely in the show ring.

It is insanely expensive on the major circuits, with only a few managements here and there able to offer discounted divisions for the up and coming show horses. Classic Company offers $5.00 3’ and 3’3” Green hunter division for their winter circuit in Gulfport, which is very forward thinking, and I believe Nona Garson offers a Professional Young Jumper division and low heights with no entry fee for the first horse, but $35 for additional horses. Also forward thinking. Regional Shows are gaining tremendous strength and popularity for people with young horses, as many of them can be held in the same venues as Premiere shows… I can show in the PA Farm Show Arena for about 1/10th of the cost of the real horse show, which is an exciting experience, and the pictures and videos look the same without the yellow backdrop. Obviously, I am also a HUGE supporter of the Young Horse Show Series for the European way to start horses. Very affordable, and caters to multiple disciplines. Mileage is always good.

But what about plain old education? What about starting a young horse before it ever even gets into the show ring? Do we have a good enough system? Do we understand the time it takes and the steps to take to build a confident and secure young horse?

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I like to think breeding in the States has been gaining ground (maybe not if you talk to the pony breeders right this second) so we are going to need to accommodate these young horses somehow as they learn the ropes. Other countries and continents have a wealth of breeders and young, ambitious riders who know they might only get one chance to get in the tack, so… riding a baby it is!! I am sure you have seen videos of awesome rides to break a warmblood, and the culture there is obviously way more synchronized with young horses. Christ, you can hardly get lifetime equestrians over there to wear a bloody helmet.

But we need to address the changes in America, and sometimes, you just have to try crazy ideas without thinking about too hard about the results.

The Scoop:

I am going to launch a pilot project this year called the Young Horse Education Project which will entitle a participant (professional or amateur, doesn’t matter) to 10 FREE educational sessions with his/her young horse age 3-5 yrs old. The sessions can be me riding, you riding, or whomever riding, doesn’t matter. There should be less urgency to send horses out to strange environments to get broken, which can get expensive and nerve-wracking for owners.

The horse needs to be microchipped, and registered with either a State/National show organization like MHSA, PHSA, VHSA, USHJA/USEF, etc.,  or registered with a Breed registry. If the horse is for sale, it will be promoted on the website for sale and all social media accounts….for free. If the horse is not for sale, it will get as much or as little promotion as the owner chooses.

If the horse should sell as a result of participation the owner will have two choices. Pay UP TO a 10% commission OR donate to one of the two charities I support, The Arabber Preservation Society, or Talisman Therapeutic Riding, both holding a 501(c)3 status.

Why do this? It actually helps me so much, believe it or not, as I am constantly being asked for horses for sale. Not just horses in my barn, but from the community.  I don’t send out group texts to trainers saying what do you have? What have you heard? This hasn’t really worked for me. It’s time consuming, and easy to mix up horse