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.

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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 horses. I forget a lot, get busy, then feel bad I forgot about a horse someone told me about once.

I don’t attend every show in the area. I travel. I miss some shows. There could be a hundred young horses not aligned with my local show schedule I just haven’t seen. And, get this, sometimes I don’t WANT to go to another show, even to watch. I want to stay home and teach clients every once in a blue moon!

The show record phenomenon. We have created a society who can’t seem to purchase a horse without a show record with has results from at least ten Premiere Rated Shows in the country. This is ludicrous, and makes me crazy. Sorry, go ahead and judge me and my young horses, but I am not putting them in jeopardy of injury because of some unexplained expectation to fork out hard earned money for 10 cent ribbons. They get plenty of mileage with what I do, and remain sound, and happy.  Not all young horses should see that many shows! It is not healthy! This could be a great alternative.

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People get intimidated to make a call to tell me about a horse, or show me a horse, because the American expectation is that you have to PAY a trainer to show them a horse. I would like to erase this about our culture. It is one thing if you meet a trainer at a show and take advantage of the ticketed warm up, or can shout at a trainer within earshot “will you please stay and watch this one go??” But that puts a lot of pressure on a young horse. What if he/she isn’t really having a good day? What if the paint pony is freaking it out? Not all young horses should have their first introduction to flowers and boxes while surrounded by the tiniest people on the tiniest animals on the planet, who can barely steer. How many horses have had setbacks from this their first time out in public? Bad impressions get talked about amongst trainers, then it takes an extra 6-8 months to get people to believe you again. It is another situation entirely if you can introduce a young horse to a new arena without nerves, too much activity, and give them a chance to sniff the flowers first.

Will it work? No idea, but I think it has a good chance. I would much prefer to stand behind a recommendation of a young horse I have seen ten times rather than just once. I would love to have more knowledge than simply a video. I would like to see the young horse, help it, and help the rider improve results! Every trainer does, because it is a reflection on your own work and talent.

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Owners now have an alternative to a show record! If the young horse completes the program over a period of time, shows progress, talent, potential, they can use that as a sales tactic. Yes, this baby went through the Young Horse Education Project, did not stand in a field for six months and do nothing, and a potential buyer can call me up to verify it’s progress. I will tell them that I saw the horse X amount of times and the results are this…

It raises the integrity of sport. This took a lot of consideration. Really, I am tired of money being the sole motivator of the horse world. Money has such long term and not always pleasant results that it has really warped the America equestrian lifestyle. If this project doesn’t have a big turnover rate, I really have lost very little except a few hours here and there doing what I love – which is to teach and educate young horses. I am leaving it up to the owner to make a choice about cost of education. In this day and age, with social media, people really need to raise their own integrity because so much can be brutally abused online. I don’t think too many people will intentionally cross me, and by signing the applicationyou a choice between paying a commission or donating to a charity. Both work for me.

The format can be copied. I don’t expect people to jump up and down across the country to replicate the program, but it is possible to do so. Maybe if the demand from young horse owners eventually became high enough, it could spread. Hopefully, good, capable professionals would see the benefits, or at least watch it for a period of time. Lord knows, I share enough information with everyone so it is not too difficult to stay informed.

Sponsors. This is an incredible way to develop loyalty from future customers. I firmly believe there are a lot of talented equestrians and horses who are simply unable to show at expensive venues. Yet, they might one day, and you know who those equestrians will appreciate the most? Sponsors who may have provided them with their first leather halter with fuzzies. I have already approached County Saddlery about options, because I have SEEN and FELT a difference, and truly believe this new generation of saddles will make a positive impact on horses in the future without the exorbitant costs of french saddles. I am not saying that lightly, and if you want to try mine, you can. A drawing for a free County Logic girth would be incentive to start, I would think. Maybe? People do love incentives, after all, so we will see what I can come up with regarding County.  After filling out a half-dozen surveys sent out by our parent organizations (USEF/USDF) this winter, I would think the Manna-Pro or Horse Health Companies would send a free sample of something! I spent a long time on those surveys! lol, I am probably the only one. Stay tuned for more interest.

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If you want to check out the website for more information, feel free. It is updated, the application is there to view or download, and if nothing else, I will earn feedback on the views of educating young horses in America! We are totally capable of being better horsemen, all the information is out there.

http://noblestables.com/young-horse-project.html

View an application:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/12kmkQDOb3G_c39-TQ5HkyFk464F9faiTs4OqA0kPAsQ/edit

I watched the Workshop….

Frankly, I think the horse show world has bigger problems than the use of Medroxy-progesterone / Depo /Regumate / Altrenogest. However, since the past high profile abusers of harder drugs, (like GABA and reserpine), have paved the way for us by demonstrating poor competition tactics, we are all stuck here thinking the same thing…. what is going on? Why is the new regime of the US Equestrian suddenly pinning us all up against a wall? El Chapo is on the run and we are all paying the price? So we need to deal with this, apparently.

The rumors of banning hormone usage cut deeply into our horse show community and it didn’t take long to realize the adverse affects the ban would have. Trainers have trusted their own veterinarian recommendation to use hormones to control unsavory behavioral issues which have been known to potentially put not only horses at risk to their own self-inflicted injuries, but humans as well, (i.e.: When Mares Attack).  Now those same trainers were befuddled by the sudden contradictory claims by a horse show organization. The USEF, now known as US Equestrian chose a path toward ‘Clean Sport’ in what some people think of as a harsh manner. They seemed to be claiming we should all wake up and see the horse world in the same manner as outsiders see us. As horrendous drug abusers. K.

So a “Workshop” is scheduled for March 13, 2017, to discuss Hormone Usage. In Orlando, Florida.

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Mary Babick speaking during the Workshop

A rough start to the Workshop could possibly be conceived as a gross understatement. Members were promised a live feed, which would have been great since travel to Orlando is not a luxury most of us can afford. We were blessed with an apology on the website, stating the technical difficulties would be preventing us from actually watching any discussion and we would need to tune in later for the ‘On Demand’ version. Meet me when I am boiling hot angry.

Then suddenly, someone announced it was up and ……..buffering. The buffering was quite possibly worse than having three root canals in a row without novocain. The crew was obviously scampering to fix the horrendous problem, but to no avail. It buffered continuously for three hours, making speeches and questions impossible to follow fluidly. From the camera angle, seats looked depressingly empty.

Struggling to hear the first speaker, I made out that he was insisting we, as horse lovers, have a better commitment to welfare of the horse. The demise of the circus was discussed, the animal rights groups were discussed and it was a well rehearsed speech to scare us into thinking we were torturing our animals by injecting them with various pharmaceuticals. Awesome, but if that is the case, we really shouldn’t be horse showing at all, and our horses should just be kept in our backyards stuffing themselves with round bales and carrots. Let’s be real here.

The second was Stephen Schumacher who spent a painful amount of time detailing scientific research about Depo Provera simulating the same receptors as GABA, and how it acts as a proven tranquilizer in horses. With little proof. GABA is given on a strict timetable for effectiveness in calming horses, Depo is used for a longer term curb on unruliness in horses, not the same thing, in my book. To me, this was a reach, to him, it was evident we were abusing the hormone.

The third vet to speak, Jim Heird,  did not seem to substantiate what Stephen was proclaiming, and produced a 2009 University of Colorado study on mares in heat and teasing stallions and each set of test mares on three different hormone treatments and the effects of estrus on all the mares and the stallions being in close proximity, blah blah blah. Are you kidding me? Since when does a competition mare compare to a broodmare while a stallion is sniffing her ass? Outside behavioral issues were not recorded in the study.  Only whether they were coming into heat or not. He was never aware of Depo being a lethal drug. He was not aware of any health side effects. The horses were not retested after one year for comparison. Is it just me or are we are really not breeding our mares during the 3’3” Performance Hunters?  It just didn’t seem to apply in a helpful enough manner.

Then Canada stepped in.

In case you haven’t heard, Canada is a freaking mess right now. The amount of resignations in the last few months has crippled Equestrian Canada and left all of its members without leadership, organization, or direction, to the point where their PONY CLUB had to send them a letter and say ‘GROW UP and SOLVE YOUR OWN MISTAKES’  so the irony of using Canadian representation to educate Americans on hormone usage was kind of like someone from Siberia educating American sports fans on Baseball. https://www.horse-canada.com/horse-news/equestrian-canada-in-turmoil/

My favorite question from the panel was “How have the judging standards in Canada compared to the American hunter industry?” and response…..crickets. He didn’t know.

Instead, Mr. Canadian guy admitted there were way stricter controls on pharmaceuticals in Canada, similar to Europe, so access to large bottle of ANY drug was really quite difficult. K.

Amount of hunter horses in Canada right now? Should we do a numbers comparison to the amount of hunter horses in America right now?

He specifically noted, by the way, that Equine Canada could have done a way better job at implementing the start of testing (which was only in the last year), and notifying exhibitors as to a formidable withdrawal time, but they didn’t. They failed to recognize the implications of the adverse affects of the use of Medroxy-progesterone and the reality of U.S. riders crossing the border to compete in their events. So, to avoid persecution, they decided competitors would only be given a warning, not an actual sanction for having the hormone in their system. I believe he said only blood and urine was used for testing. Is Medroxy-Progesterone found in blood and urine?? He also said that it was banned because it was considered by Equine Canada to be performance enhancing, no studies had been performed regarding adverse affects.

The next speaker, our USHJA president, Mary Babick, was indeed validating ALL of our concerns about the use of hormones in ALL facets of sports, not just the elite high performance hunters. She addressed every example of hormone usage saving the animal and rider relationship, not destroying it. She also tried to make it clear that she FELT she was doing the right thing, her VET HAD RECOMMENDED hormone usage, and she was shocked at the impression she was an abuser by having only two horses in her barn on Depo-provera. She explained specifically why those two horses were better with hormone usage.  I imagine this how most of our horse show community feels. She also stated that she felt WAY more discussion and research needed to happen before taking the stance that clean sport also equated to ‘no hormone usage’.

Again, the question arises as to whether FEI rules should apply to the children’s hunter ring?

Sissy Wickes was next and had loads of membership data defending even more benefits of hormone usage and how increasing the gap between members and an “organization” was not in the best interests of any horse lover, much less the USE members and their counterparts. She was eloquent, direct, and very easy to listen to. It made you want to hold up a sign saying GO SISSY! Unfortunately, one of the participants on the panel took offense to hearing that the USE was not listening to its members and strongly denied the accusation. Balloon slightly deflated. Stay tuned to the Plaid Horse for more details.

So where are we?

We are asked to take a closer look at our culture, and our tolerance for pharmaceutical usages, the effects it will have on our next generation, and in return we are asking the US Equestrian to take out more time to actually research the amount of horses using Medroxy-progesterone/Depo/regumate/ etc and specifically why they feel it is so harmful. Education, education, education.

I do see why using the argument that women suffer from bone degeneration or arthritis is absolutely not comparable to usage in horses. It is not, to me, a viable argument. Yes, there are concerns that using Depo on women for birth control affects bone density. But human women live about 80 years. Horses live about 25, and most compete about 15-18 years in whole, if managed properly. So the possibility that horses will have a greater risk of bone fractures is actually not at all a viable argument when it comes to equines. That does not change my PERSONAL belief that it should not be used in young horses, but I understand the argument. Humans outlive equines. Horses will most likely be long retired from the show ring before developing bone deficiencies and fractures from Depo usage.

There are still many other arguments which go back and forth, and the abuse or overuse is still a big factor, but somehow this whole mess imploded onto itself. What was initially intended as a crackdown on ALL pharmaceutical use in the hunter ring has backfired, and somehow performance enhancing tactics is coming into question.  “Performance Enhancing” tactics are impossible to regulate!! That would mean no martingales to one person, or no aluminum shoes to another. It would also mean no ear plugs. Am I right?

What a shame we have wasted all this time on a silly hormone, now there seems to be no end to the possible arguments which will occur between the US Equestrian and its members. And we were off to a pretty promising start this year. well Road… meet Long.

All studies are published on the website. https://www.usef.org/network/coverage/2017workshop

Here is the three hour long video https://youtu.be/fFwKtXRUxUw

You know what really irritates me? If this particular issue had been rolled out in a five year plan by Murray Kesslar and he was able to truly address changing the culture of showing horses in America, and provided education, multiple interesting seminars and town halls, how many of you would have gone, “yeah ok, we see the vision, we can be on board with that,” and in that time frame we could make changes within your own communities. This setback is real, and it is a shame. Do I know if it will affect our entire industry? Well, I guess now that depends on the decision of the US Equestrian. Best of luck people. Best of luck. Follow this up with the other news articles, I am sure there will be many.

Aiken, breaking my heart.

This is us.

With the new commitment to the dressage ring, I recently discovered that around me, recognized dressage shows in the winter are rare to non-existent. Queens either flee south or simply train and take lessons all winter in preparation for spring. Super if you only do dressage, but I am juggling dressage and hunter shows, which limits available weekends. I would like to take advantage of time in the ring if I can find it, and waiting until April to show was frustrating to me, since I was anxious to get started on First Level…

With a little research, I discovered Aiken offered both dressage and hunter shows. jackpot! Stable View Farm (new to me) offered a clinic with Silva Martin, followed by a recognized Dressage show, and the same weekend Highfields (not new to me) was offering an A (National) show for the weekend, including a national hunter derby. I couldn’t believe my luck. My only hesitation was Aiken in February has a somewhat impossible weather pattern to predict, and these were outdoor facilities. The heck with it, I sent my money in, found an AIRBNB host, and packed my bags. I had a horse for each facility, the well traveled and complacent Westin for the hunters, and the less traveled and sometimes anxious Sandoro, who had limited experiences away from home.

I knew nothing about Stable View, but as the gates automatically rolled open as we creeped up the driveway on Monday afternoon, I didn’t think I would be disappointed. There were carefully constructed and beautiful barns on either side, houses, paddocks, all unfolding around us, even one of the areas infamous Painted Ponies to greet us on the inside of the gates.

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We found our barn easily (all stabling info/maps/guidelines are emailed prior to arrival) and discovered the stalls we were assigned opened from either side, were 12×14, and lined with healthy interlocking mats. We chose which side to work from, bedded the stalls and set the horses up as quickly as we could after the long drive. It was warm, so they were happy to be undressed and roll in the fresh shavings. I poked around, found the bathroom immediately across from our stalls, and there was even a washer and drier we could use for $1 each in our aisle. The two wash stalls were also rubber matted, large, clean, held a shovel and broom, and the long hose reached our stalls. Perfect.

Then I discovered the rings. I nearly fainted from happiness. One large covered, one large outdoor, and one dressage size ring all with the all weather fancy footing we are seeing at all the best facilities across the country. The kind you have to pick the poop out of.

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Everyone picks up poop!

 

Atwood Equestrian Services set these rings up if you are curious.  http://www.equestriansurfaces.com/our-clients.html#client-1 

Just beyond the rings was an impressively constructed cross country course (built by Eric Bull) and as Maddy and I walked the two horses around sniffing and smelling all the pretty things, we snapped half a dozen snaps of the sun setting over the jumps, with the new rye grass giving the green glow of a little piece of heaven.

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We saw some activity in the covered ring, and I realized it was Boyd Martin and his minions setting a jumping course up. I paused. It was Monday evening. 48 hours earlier, Boyd was in Florida winning the Wellington Showcase for eventing. I know this because I had been following the event online. Does this man never rest? After the course was set, I watched him hop up on the tractor to drag the ring. Around 7 pm he and his minions had disappeared. Lord have mercy.

Maddy and I headed into town to meet our AIRBNB host, and find dinner. I had spent a large part of the drive describing various eateries I had remembered from a decade prior, mainly TakoSushi, and had guaranteed her eating experiences in Aiken would never be disappointing. Her faith in my ability to understand the importance of food would not be shaken this week. Food amazing, host equally so. Beds inviting.

Tuesday.

My first experience with a dressage clinic had to be partly explained to me, and I discovered Silva Martin would be spending about 30 minutes with me to a Ride-A-Test, which meant I would ride my test, she would watch, then she would work on improving it for the show. Easy Peasy. My time was at 10 am so at around 8 am we tacked up Sandoro, to give him a chance to be ridden around the rings, so there was less possibility he would embarrass me too much. He wasn’t sure he wanted to be anywhere without Westin, so Maddy walked Westin close by while I rode around the rings for 20 minutes. I creeped into the covered ring with all the jumps, which was already buzzing with activity, and immediately bumped into Boyd who greeted me with a friendly smile, so I fangirled him, stuttering a congratulations, and asked if he was also giving a clinic, he laughed and responded he was trying, schooling, showing horses to clients and teaching lessons, to which I tried to seize an opportunity by asking for a lesson. He shrugged and said sure! Great! I forgot to even introduce myself, but whatever.

Sandoro seemed relatively ridable after his warm up ride, so we headed back to the barn to get ready. I watched a few rides in front of me to get the idea, and at 10 am headed into the dressage arena to get drilled. Maddy recorded what Westin would allow her to, so I could refer to it afterwards, and if you never have experienced it, you might want to take a look. Silva is good. Like really good. I am pretty sure I impressed her by combining the two tests I had learned and inventing a new test, which I performed flawlessly and fluidly in my head, heading down center line proud of myself and completely clueless to my mistake. After a slight pause she said she had never witnessed anyone performing half of one test and half of another, and when the realization finally sunk in, I couldn’t do anything but laugh. WTF? only me. A bit of coaching and her reading the test out loud for the second ride proved much more successful, and my horse obliged to all of the questions asked of him. It was awesome. I enjoyed it very much. you can see part of it here..

https://vimeo.com/203367352

After we put him up I spent a few hours watching Boyd in the covered. He had two or three people warming up horses while he jumped one around, a jump crew who literally ran between the jumps to adjust them, or pick up poop, or take said schooled horse out to walk out after he was finished, and although I couldn’t count, through the day, it seemed he sat on about 30 horses. Clients came to watch, chat, or whatever, all the time his feet never touching the ground for more than thirty seconds between horses. I eventually just moved to the middle of the ring to watch closer and actually help set jumps and pick up poop too, because it was just all too fascinating. I gave up on my request for a lesson, because plenty of other people needed his attention, and happily settled for about 8 hours of visual education. Later, when I decided to ride Westin, I simply practiced riding like Boyd. With longer stirrups. His position is stellar, I mean STELLAR. His core is so super strong, his hands are quiet and soft, (I never saw much more than a snaffle, maybe a pelham with single rein on one strong horse) and all the balance in his leg came from the heel and calf encouraging the best canter the horse could physically offer, which meant they were more confident with each ride, (I am guessing that is super important to an eventer, having a confident horse). I snapped all day. After 4 pm, I watched him teach for a couple hours. When Maddy finally found me to let me know the horses (and herself) were ready for dinner, I reluctantly left the arena to address hunger issues. He was still going when we pulled out of the driveway, and he had horses on the show schedule for the next day, which the minions still had to get braided and ready. We had managed a few quick conversations with some of the working students (minions), learning it was quite the international group, representing other countries like Latvia and Ukraine. Interesting.  Boyd and Silva base their businesses out of Stable View for the winter months, there is little occupancy the rest of the year, and the wonderfully kind owner Barry is content to leave it this way. Amber Lee filled us in on the details, cost of dry stalls for the season, management of the apartments and facility, and the predicted expansion to a final 1,000 acres. It is impressive. There is a waiting list.

 http://stableviewfarm.com/

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our barn

 

Wednesday.

After listening to an entire night of heavy rain, I couldn’t imagine what the rings were like. Then, after stepping foot into the rings, I couldn’t imagine why I even thought to worry. There was NO sign of water in either show ring! It was unbelievable, and EVERYONE was talking about it. It was PERFECT. I had an early test, Sandbag had gotten over needing a babysitter, and it all went fairly well for the first time at First Level.

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Meghan Benge Photography, #testrideacounty 

 

You can see a bit of the farm behind this ring in this video, and keep in mind, behind Maddy is the second half of the ring we were competing in…that is where the rest of the exhibitors were warming up. It is a big ring.

https://youtu.be/7KJ_zw5Skkw

The buzz with all the excited ladies was palpable, and Maddy and I enjoyed the activity. My second test was much later in the afternoon, maybe by then, my overstimulated brain was getting fried, and well,  I went off course twice to which the judge added a little sarcastic humor in the notes…ugh. lol

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Yes. Yes, I am. ooops.

I was not far off the mark for a qualifying score, and I ended up third in that class, fifth in the first class, so it wasn’t really a bad day, but there is obvious room for improvement.

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Do we look as hot as William Fox-Pitt when he did this? Equi-Trek is seriously cool. I want one.

We hurried to pack and scoot down the road to Highfields to set up for the Cupid Classic. At Stable View, you are responsible for stripping your stalls if you want the cheap rate, ($50) so we made sure to leave everything in tip top shape before pulling out of the driveway.

Twenty minutes down the road made a big difference.

Highfields was one of the first shows I brought students to years ago during my time at Garrison Forest School. It looked almost exactly the same, except with the addition of a very impressive grass GP Field and overlooking stone pavilion, the rest I remembered immediately.

At our assigned stalls, we were greeted by a goat.

I have never been greeted by a goat before…. Within 20 seconds of pulling my ramp down and opening my dressing the room door, the goat was ransacking the horse treats and anything else he could grab and run with. We were kind of in a hurry to get the horses set up because after the long day at Stable View, we still had to get Westin in Hunter 1 before it closed for ticketed warm up that day and we had 30 minutes to make this happen, get the stalls bedded and equipment unpacked. The goat was not helping.  Somehow we managed to get me up on Westin and I left Maddy to figure out how to unpack only the minimal items we needed, as our available space was now limited to approximately 8 square feet, less than the room you have at WIHS in downtown D.C. The stalls were 10×10, cobwebby, and I instantly felt we were intruding on someone else’s personal space. Come to find out later, we were.

The rings are sandy, holding the water on top, so Westin and I splashed through the puddles from the overnight rain, but basically I thought he seemed pretty content with himself, and smoothly sailed around the ring just before we were kicked out at 5pm. Back at the barn, we met the rooster. Yup. A rooster. I am pretty fairly certain neither Westin nor Sandbag had ever met a rooster, and this was not a shy rooster…. My horses were growing increasingly suspicious of my life choices. Sigh.

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I shrugged it off, we played a puzzle game of how to get a trunk, saddle stand, grooming equipment, feed, and hay close enough inside the stable to not get wet from the weather, tucked everyone in, and, exhausted, headed out for food and a few hours of sleep. Once again it rained, and the winds came.

Thursday.

We had a plan for the morning arriving at 6am to get everything organized for a 9 am division, and all was basically routine for us, with no real science behind the preparation. We pulled in the driveway to hear an alarm going off from the office and equipment shed, a loud piercing wail that I am sure the campers just loved. No clue how long it had been going off but it continued for two more hours. Walking into the barn, Sandbag had us completely stumped. We arrived to find him bouncing around his stall like John Travolta, performing athletic feats I had never witnessed before. He seemed totally distraught. Westin was literally straight across from him in full view, the barn was packed, but he was violently searching for a way OUT of his stall. I couldn’t understand it. Westin was completely unfazed, but his friend was overcome with emotion, and neither one of us could figure it out. I blamed the cooing rooster, Maddy blamed the cedar tree branches scraping overgrown branches along the aluminum siding creating an alarming crescendo of intolerable noise. I started braiding Westin, watching Sandbag, scolding him every two minutes. It was tiresome. We tried to tie him, but that made it worse. Maddy finally convinced me to let her take him for a walk, but it was dark out, and windy, so I succumbed only when there was enough light. She attached the lunge line and off they went. I shook my head, no clue. She returned forty minutes later, after touring the grounds, and said he was fine, with the exception of being startled by the alarm restarting every ten minutes. oh, and the cow….

Christ, I thought. Now there is a cow. He returned to his stall and munched hay. We hadn’t seen any of that behavior at Stable View.

We busied ourselves with Westin who was basically fine but the wind made him friskier than usual, so we were basically just ok for the division. I went off course in the warm up and made life harder on myself. In the end, I just wished I had been a better professional, but no tragedy. By 10 am we were finished showing.

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After lunch we both stared at Sandbag and wondered what to do with him. He was looking at us kind of sadly, like he wanted to go do something. He wasn’t circling anymore, but he clearly didn’t want to spend the rest of the week camping out in a stall, so we tossed the hunter tack on him and dragged him up to the warm up ring. The rest is history. The next day his official debut into the hunter ring was an incredibly successful one, and he walked away champion in the baby greens. Not one step out of place, courageous and full of pride. What a weird horse.

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the moment we decided maybe we should show him

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first hunter show, first champ #drunter 

 

That evening we noticed the Sharps container…. I felt I had been keeping a pretty good sense of humor about the second half of our week until that very moment. Then the wind was sucked right out of me.

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I just stared at it, trying to make sense of it. This is what one step forward and two steps back FEELS like. The distance between the two farms and shows was less than five miles, and the worlds were just light years apart. Duck.

Ten thousand questions rolled up into my brain at that very moment.

Maybe it all started making sense when I looked into it. Sort of. Most of the occupants of our barn were actually there on a longer term basis, not just for one or two shows. Stalls were being rented for a kind of season thing, due to personal circumstances or whatever, which had not been the norm in the past. This explained the goat, (who had since been locked in a horse trailer) and the rooster, who still greeted us every morning (loudly), and the chicken coop, and the cow, and other things. But what if I hadn’t looked into it? What if I had misunderstood that this was not a weeks worth of needles and syringes, but a few months worth?

I am not pissed at the show management for not checking the container, and I literally have no idea if asking it to be replaced annoyed them or not, but what do you want me to say?

Now it is a competition of who has the most depressing photos?

Are we that far gone? WE?? Yes, you, me, the professional in front of you at the coffee stand, the grooms, the riders, we are all in this and we have all somehow done this to ourselves.

We can’t get out of this, can we?

When our USHJA prez sat in the airport after the last USEF meeting, and a dressage representative looked at her and asked why she wasn’t embarrassed, I knew she was embarrassed, and probably thinking, what now? The words she wrote the next day echoed in my head over and over again. http://www.phelpssports.com/viewarticle.php?id=10014876

That container right there is the difference, and I am walking a line between both worlds.

The Weekend.

The container was replaced by Saturday morning, and following the derby later that morning,  Maddy and I packed up and headed back to Maryland. Westin earned a ribbon, but I was tired. I genuinely felt like I had made the best of the week, and found sheer joy in some moments, using social media to involve people in my decisions about the horses, braiding in pink, touring Aiken, discovering another beautiful, pristine facility – Bruce’s Field, which is on par with Stable View, (and I discovered has dates in May and September, Yassss!) experiencing the horse shows, and I met LOVELY people, like really lovely, and had so much fun in our endeavors, we ate the best food, saw nice horses, laughed hysterically, and all the good stuff that goes along with horse showing.

However, my voice inside is wondering do I stay silent when I see things?? Is my blog going to close the doors on me in the future OR will it invite people to raise the standards of….well, everything? Do we want higher standards? Am I going to be squeezed out of the hunter world? Will it matter? Will I care?

I do care. I want to recognize good things, too. Like this…..

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NO CHARGE TO ENTER!

Uh, I think a $1,000 Scholarship is a pretty big deal, so I want to celebrate this a bit. Zone 4 riders, do you know how lucky you are right now? 

That is a fabulous class to see, and should be quite an honor to win. Mary Ann Parmelee did amazing things for her family, her grand daughter was featured here in a blog of Carolina’s Equestrian:

http://www.thecarolinasequestrian.com/special-features/in-their-boots?start=3

The people in Aiken definitely made my show experience at Highfields a good one. With only one or two exceptions, the atmosphere was exceptionally nice. If they would have me back I would definitely return. The shows at Bruce’s Field in May are peaking my curiosity, so we shall see.

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This team is heading to Pony Finals because she just won the USEF Pony Medal!! Rebecca Effron, Lainie Rubin and her pony Makloud

I guess I am willing to take the chance. We can do better, I am sure of it. It is all right there in front of us, like watching Boyd Martin ride for 8 hours. Free education right there. And priceless. God help us, hunter believers, I hope we find our way. It actually starts with better exhibitors, ones strong enough not to break my heart, I don’t think there is any other way… 

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go get ’em Lainie. Best of luck this year, you are one of the reasons some of us try so hard to get it right. 

From YouTube to Depo

When you see something say something.

Well, no, not really… I saw something. But I can’t say something. It isn’t true is it? Pointing out obvious rule breaking is not what is going to make this sport better.

You can’t say something without a lawyer. Or a team of lawyers. How irrevocably frustrating and sad.

Say you see a horse with it’s penis hanging out of its sheath down to its knees. Do you do the whole SMH routine, roll your eyes to the heavens and think to yourself, I am useless here…. like I did? I was advised against speaking out against a video published on YouTube because my attorney felt I would be instantly burdened with a defamation lawsuit. Since I am married to my attorney, I guess I have to listen to him. It angered him as much as it angered me because he cannot deal with people who take advantage of the legal system, and burden judges with their own atrocities. Especially on a public platform such as YouTube. So I had to let it go. Maybe it just had to pee. Maybe it had melanoma that weekend. I doubt it, but whatever. I have no fear to raise a red flag, but I do have a family. Even my clients implored me not to speak out against someone with known mafia connections.

So the answers evade us once more. It is so hard to speak out. I am constantly considering the factors which contribute to cheating. Silence is one.

I think that is why so many people are calling for the judging to be altered, less ‘rewarding the horses in a coma’ syndrome that creeps into the voices on the rail… Yet judges left and right are going ‘hey! We can only judge what is in front of us that day and guess what? We ARE taking into consideration that young horses are proud of themselves sometimes and express it following a great jump. Or the best technical jumper can score higher with a swap or rub’. But junior hunters are judged differently than green hunters. And Pre-Adult divisions are judged differently than Amateur Owner divisions.    

It is not solely the judging.

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Say you send your horses on trial to a known rule breaker with the hope of any deal made?  Do you make excuses and say you need to send them to stay alive in this business?  What is that even? Staying in favor of doping? The horse comes back with dried blood caked on its hair, or a sore mouth, cotton still stuffed in its ears, but you brush it off as necessary for staying in the sales business. That, to me, is symptomatic of fear, a deeply embedded insecurity that cannot allow you to put the horses welfare above your own fear of disappointing someone you feel is better connected and more powerful. The kind of fear which speaks inside your head and convinces you something terrible will happen to your horses if you DON’T do what is asked of you from the perpetrator. The fear is so genuine, so real, and so strong, so tangible, and will not fade. You won’t be ‘friends’ openly with the person who gives you this fancy gift of fear, but you will answer the calls, chat brightly on the phone, and make the promises to keep him or her happy. It makes it simpler when the horses are considered a commodity, not really something you become attached to. I have news for you, you have already secured judgement by your peers for attempting business with a crooked horse dealer. You are now an enabler. You don’t need that fear in your life, get rid of it. Sell horses without doping them.

There is no pinning the problems of cheating on one demographic. Everyone plays a part. Everyone. Everyone contributes to cheating in some way.

Parents of young riders. Parents can do enormous amount of damage to a child’s development if they have little understanding of the sport they are involved with as a family. Just as a parent will verbally attack or negotiate with an academic teacher, the same can happen with trainers. Pressure from parents can only be controlled by the parents. And what are they protecting them from? Too much work?

“Find me a perfect pony/horse no matter the cost, so my child can win as much as humanly possible. By tomorrow. And no, he/she doesn’t want to learn to pick out feet, clean a stall, or put together a bridle. I want this to be fun for her”

Until parents come to terms with their own expectations in the horse world, how can trainers move forward? Parents have the highest demands of almost anyone in this sport, and we see the ramifications daily. The ‘well rounded’ child not only has to ride to perfection on a 1200 lb animal, he/she has to play hockey, tennis, basketball, play an instrument, get extra tutoring, make honor role every semester, knit, create a field of dreams, act out every desire of mom, dad, grandma and grandpa, figure out a solution for world peace, etc. etc. Parents are not sure the term “barn rat” really fits into the family schedule, so you are left with part time barn rats, and those rats really just want to show. Let’s be real. Only a few genuine barn rats really exist.

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Show managers. Scheduling, believe it or not, plays a big part in cheating. Not that anyone can help it, but if a horse is cooped up in a tent stall 24/7 from Wednesday to Sunday, or longer, sometimes for a 6 week or more circuit, no turnout access, what do you think happens to a 1200 lb creature meant to roam free on the plains and deserts of the world. hmmm. They get feisty. We feed carbs. The shows offer so many classes compared to a few decades ago, and the demand is apparently high for all these classes, and the rings all go at once, how can a horse possibly be prepped correctly? One of the craziest things in the fall last year was to discover a class starting at 4:30 am. 4:30 in the morning. Now maybe this can’t be helped, maybe there really is no option, but it happened. Junior riders were required to be riding at 4:30 in the morning the day before a national championship.  Interestingly, in Europe about a week later, a very well-known dressage rider walked out of a competition in Germany because she claimed the schedule was completely intolerable to the welfare of the horse. It was pretty big news, and she was strong enough to disappoint fans in GERMANY, by making a statement that she considered her warmup at 2 am to be unfair to her horse(s). I am positive she was criticized and put down by her peers, but she was adamant. I wonder if anyone was adamant about a 4:30 am warmup class?

You could argue this all day long, without coming up with an easy answer (someone will always be disappointed) but show managers play a part, too.

Course designing. Good course designers don’t mind to take into consideration the depth of education in the riders of certain classes. Certainly the more profitable divisions for show managers have been under 3’. However, a course designer who sets lines too long for a 2’6” division is not inviting riders to be more educated, but he/she is inviting the horses to be more quiet, so when hustled down a 6 stride set at 86’ the horse doesn’t unseat his novice rider with a simple head toss or high five, or worse a chocolate chip and stumble out of the line. Again, the courses end up doing the judging, not the judges. The venom of the reptile creeps in to replace the short stride of a horse whose step has shrunk from a natural 12’ to a dangerous 10’ long. It is all about the math….and the venom…

Grooms. Do you know how hard it is to find someone to sacrifice their entire lives for next to nothing, trying to juggle an entire herd of show horses and be finished within a 16 hour workday? The turnover rate with barn help is staggering, the risk of injury is steep, nutrition is scant, and well, people get tired. If six horses have to be lunged before an 8 am start time, what is to stop a groom from setting horses on fire on that lunge line in order to hurry up and get to the next one. Before long you have 6 crippled horses for the 8am class and guess what fixes a crippled horse? Medication. Trainers are desperate for good grooms, you see it all over the world, not just here, and a nightmare of a groom can wreak havoc in a good show barn.

So Trainers might think it is just easier and safer to give reserpine, dormosedan gel  or GABA to an animal and stifle it’s energy long enough to get a good performance in the show ring. Customer happy. Customer pays the bills. Trainer gets to keep going to horse shows.

Owners. How many owners know or care what is given to the horses as long as the horses show up to the ring on time? Seriously, most owners are not around much. Should they be required to be around more?

Kids. Well, certain kids. The youth of today….What baffles me the most is that the internet goes crazy whenever a story comes along about someone who has beaten the stereotype of privilege, has worked their butts off to achieve his/her goals and experienced some sort of success. It is nuts how hungry people are for stories like like that and how difficult it is to find those stories. Some kids really do it right, really try to get educated, push their friends to learn more, and understand how important the horse is, understand that 10 tubes of Perfect Prep is NOT the answer to winning in the junior hunters. Only some, though.

I live for those stories and have found horse people have a genuine connection with hard working young people. The gracious juniors give credit to ALL of the trainers who saw them through their youngest years, educated them, built the foundation, and created the passion for sport, not just the current one(s).

Maybe too depressing and all too common are the stories of kids who find their way to the top of their junior careers, in whatever appropriate ring, jumpers, hunters, equitation, and somehow forget the very people who taught them how to navigate their first trot jump. How could you turn your back on the first trainer who hugged you when your pony was being a rotten pony, and not recognize that without that hug, you might have left the sport and picked up a tennis racket instead?  Is that ok? Why not go back to that trainer every once in a while and ask if he/she needs help around the barn with the little kids, and be a good example for the next generation? Or, if you see them at a show, offer to clean some tack, roll wraps, pick a stall, fill a water bucket. The exhaustion level for trainers can be very, very high, and the temptation to medicate gets stronger once you realize how much more sleep you can get during a busy weekend. Be nice, you are a kid, help out so everyone gets plenty of sleep, it is not asking too much.

Which leads me to the Federation. That uneasy feeling I had about the new captain of the mothership grows steadily when I think about the calculated strategy of playing us like the pawns in a chess game. There is no fixing an industry, there is no fixing a sport. And the Hunters are not competing at the Olympic Level. Yes, some horses can be purchased for similar price tags as Olympic horses, but the more drastic the measures taken against the cheaters, the more the horses will suffer as experiments, as people take out their frustrations on a silent partner. Not to mention the few people trying desperately to do it right.

No official announcement has been made about the ban of hormone usage in horses, but the mere  suggestion for Depo-provera (medroxyprogesterone) being put on the banned substance list and Regumate (Altrenogest) being highly controlled might not go in the direction intended. Actually I am sure it won’t. The horses will suffer more, because people are people, and can only do what they have learned from other people. If you were taught that depo helps a spooky horse, tried it and believe in it, you depend on it. Imagine what that person is going to experiment with in order to achieve the same result as depo-provera.

Those part time horse ladies in the amateur divisions at WEF (maybe generous donors to Foundations)  who just want to have a nice photo of their champion ribbon on that special horse are suddenly being put at risk by an over zealous leader.  And we circle back to what? More time on the lunge line? Oh my.

We aren’t ready for that drastic of a change this soon into a presidency…… The science is also lacking when proving if hormone use actually has any effect on horse performance whatsoever, and the horses, especially mares, who actually NEED depo for other reasons will most likely suffer greatly. Actually mares will be avoided all together in the market when people don’t understand how to not use hormone treatment. Never mind that depo causes arthritis, which I can attest to in my own body, which pops and creaks and groans after too many years of usage. Now I won’t go near the stuff, but it was a hard lesson to learn when I thought I was doing the right thing.

I can just imagine stabling managers now at major shows wondering if they will have to dedicate entire tents to mares only, geldings only, or stallions only, segregating the horses, and splitting up barns left and right in order to contain the chaos, as the hormones silently slip out of the horse’s systems.   

Christ, and the mortality rate in hunters? My bet is an increase over the next two to five years as we come to terms with our own lack of education in the equestrian world.

So yes, even our own Federation is contributing to cheating in the hunter industry, even though they are currently spending 20% of their operating budget every year chasing the cheaters. That is 6 million dollars, in case you weren’t aware. 6 million dollars floating away from scholarships educational programs, benefits, and who knows what else. I wonder if ear plugs will be next?? They are already banned in Endurance and Dressage, what is to keep the message of a level playing field current if they do not address the use of ear plugs? Are we going to suddenly see an increase in deaf horses……?

Hunter Industry meet PETA.

Meanwhile pony clubbers are sitting over here, going….what are our member benefits again?

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What a world we live in, a unique, proper snow globe, shake it up, see what settles.

stick around

Nothing is more frustrating then seeing people walk out in disgust. Whether it is a room full of people, fans at a sports game, or the show hunter world. This is NOT a time to walk away from the hunters.

#ShowHuntersStillMatter

I don’t even care if it sounds cliché at this point. I would no more trade my business in for all the bourbon in Kentucky. You must be nuts to think I would do that. Why should I? I refuse to walk away just because I’ll never be on the cover of a magazine winning a derby, that’s just stupid. And wrong.

Peacing out of a sport or industry because you aren’t able to stomach the cheaters and the scandals will have zero effect on the cheaters. They will be like ‘don’t let the door slam you in the ass….suckers’. You know what will have an effect? Sticking around and doing it correctly. Learning how to ride a hunter well. Showing up at the in-gate proud of the horses you are on and not giving AF if you get 10th place. That is what will make a difference. Asking yourself ‘what can I do to solve some issues?’ will make a difference.

Are you going to get recognition or an award for it? Nope. Put a pic on Insta if you need to. #notcheating. Are you going to set a good example for a short stirrup kid you don’t even realize is looking up to you? YES. Chances are that cute short stirrup kid is completely clueless what is happening in litigation in KY or NY, but she really loves to ride her pony and she has been watching you from the beginning toodle around on your big, fancy horse. She deserves to have shot at a dream, too, and she is far more important.

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I had a really good client check in on me yesterday and ask if I was following the chatter about my post, I said not really, my girls will probably let me know if something gets out of hand and I need to block someone (I didn’t, everyone was cool). I was spending time in unbelievably warm weather with my horses. After they rolled around in mud for hours I washed it all off of them, tucked them away for the night. I taught a couple fun lessons, went home and ate a pizza.

I woke up with a migraine, maybe all the time at the computer this week caught up with me, thinking and typing can tax a brain, lol. I checked in on the chatter and realized how many voices were venting frustration on even being in the hunter world. and went back to bed. I was in a really foul mood when I woke up.

I get it. I know why there is so much aggravation in the hunter world. It is a hard world to make it in. But don’t just walk away, slamming the entire sport along with it.  We have an entire future generation who actually might do a really good job with horses if we show them how. There ARE a few people doing it correctly.

People have been getting away with stupidity for eons, and each person chooses his or her path to take down that road. But it is a public road, and has lanes for horse people with more integrity.

For once, we have a Federation showing some backbone on how to handle notorious abusers in the horse world, and although my eyebrows raised (both of them, not just one) at how it rolled out onto our desktops, it never occurred to me to be finished with the sport all together. I am still going to fight my hardest. Will I win a lot? No clue, it probably doesn’t define who I am anyway. Will I agree with whatever the US Equestrian says we need to do just because they showed us they take a firm stand for fair play? Of course not, I am not an idiot. But I sure am gonna keep an eye on things now, including their new website. Holy crap, there is some good stuff on there.

www.usef.org

No one has all the answers, there really aren’t too many answers, why do we need answers all the time? It is a sport, along with a business. However, there is already loads of education out there to take advantage of if we can just set aside our frustration and get busy. I think of all the people working tirelessly for nothing who want to see a healthy hunter world and the cards (or bottles) that are stacked against them, and appreciate their work so much. They will probably never be able to drive a car with heated seats, or take a trip across the ocean, but their horses LOVE them and they love their horses right back. I have friends with good jobs at horse shows I would be crushed if they were out of work. And in a world riddled full of glass houses, these wonderful people are starting the foundation for a brick house. Albeit a small one.

Yes, I am freaking out. I am freaking out because I can think of quite a few young riders (who don’t throw their ribbons in the trash) watching all of this unfold in front of their eyes, knowing full well I contributed to the chaos by writing about it, and knowing they may never, ever touch a young hunter prospect now because of the fear of it all.

If you really love hunters, don’t listen to the chatter, don’t feel you are not good enough. Don’t think there is only one way to get a hunter through the divisions and sell a certain way. You can know all about the dirty details other people are doing and ignore it. There simply has to be a way to prove to the horse world we don’t need to be a solely pharmaceutical sport. Steel yourself for the next few weeks as more press releases come out of the Federation, (kind of like storm prep) and hopefully people around you won’t throw good hunter trainers out with the bathwater, too.

poop.

I really wanted to see better horsemen in my lifetime. I cannot believe we allowed ourselves to dig such a big hole. But I know one thing, I refuse to let the other guys defeat me, even if I look like a cartoon character in a comic strip.  So be it. Start drawing.

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