What happens when people start exploring options? They start realizing there are a lot of options out there. I ventured up to Fair Hill this weekend for their TB Show and sat down with one of the organizers and asked how this horse show came to fruition.. She credited Louise Merryman looking for options for racehorses coming out of the racing industry. She and a friend got together and the Fair Hill TB Show was born. After four years of steady growth, there are now about 100 horses a day competing in either the hunters or the jumpers over the weekend. There is an enormous silent auction rivaling the nicest horse shows in the country benefitting the show with Fasig Tipton signs all over the place. People put right back into the show what they are getting out. 100% non- profit with everything coming in, going right back out.
With big sponsors, including Brookledge and New Bolton (University of PA) donating generously to the horse show, the show is able to reward a respectable amount of prize money, happens once a year at the Fair Hill Equestrian Center, and the organizers seem pretty content with the way it is evolving. There are not even too many hopes of larger expansion, because it brings in a healthy amount of exhibitors already. A nutrition expert can weigh your horse and offer education about proper feeding. A 10 dollar wristband gets you all the food you can eat (YESSS) and your horse’s biography and breeding is read aloud by the announcer when you walk in the ring so the spectators know what they are looking at. Endearing and educational.
Probably the COOLEST part of the show is the scholarship fund provided by the Thoroughbred Education Research Foundation (TERF). The judge and the manager keep an eye out for exhibitors who might exemplify the behavior of a good ambassador for the TB sport, and offers eight $500 scholarships to exhibitors for further education. This can be used for lessons, clinics, or even a chance to show at the next level up, but can’t afford the fees…. the scholarship will cover the costs, and a potentially talented rider has the chance to achieve a dream of showing at a recognized competition. Brilliant. Forward thinking. Everyone showing here this weekend is participating in a chance for a second career for a thoroughbred, or somehow involved in the grass roots aspect of horse showing, whether they mean to or not.
If you own a TB, and haven’t put this show on your schedule, you should right now. like them, follow them, volunteer for them, maybe even help them set up an instagram account (important for the future gen).
Other organizations involved in the horse show include the Foxie G foundation, a hardworking group of people intent on rehoming all TB’s that come through their doors. Any extra money left over from the show goes to Foxie G and Reyerss Farm to help horses in need and senior horses with no home of their own. Fabulous!
Keep tabs on these two organizations, these are incredibly inspiring people. Visit, volunteer, educate yourself. something. do something.
The fact that these shows are not that complicated to put together, but just require a small group of people to work together (this group has 8) to see a vision will be a big indicator for people in the future, if it can be done for the Thoroughbreds, it can be done for all horses, not that this is anything new. Maryland has a substantial amount of local organizations. The Baltimore County Horse Show circuit alone has over 250 members right now. Howard County over 100. Many of the show grounds are the same as recognized shows. These smaller organizations have been around since the 70’s and are constantly evolving to adapt and appeal to its environment and exhibitors. If these smaller unrecognized horse shows continue to develop and grow, and people drop down from recognized showing, the quality of riding and horses will increase in a natural progression. These local regional shows offer many of the same classes as rated shows for 1/4 of the cost. There is nothing to stop each state from adopting the same format. It is not hard to rethink how to make the connections to bring in more business to the horse industry, but it does take effort on everyone’s part.
The very first page of the prize list for the TB horse show blew me away. Lisa Demars welcomed you with this incredible personal and insightful letter, and oh how right she is.
“Those of us who know an old-time horse person should count themselves as lucky. By Old-Time, I mean one who has a lifetime of varied horse-related experiences, has excelled at more than one, and has cared for and trained many horses. I would add that such a person, due to the history of the horse industry in the U.S., has a lot of experience in the thoroughbred industry. One is lucky if one knows such a person because of the wealth of information he or she can impart about horses, a wealth generally much deeper than today’s horsemen, who tend to have less breadth to their backgrounds.
Leslie Ducharme, a dear friend of many at the horse show, exemplified the kind of horse person I speak of. Leslie was probably best known in the hunter ring. However, she had experience in Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing, fox hunting, breeding, and the sales industry. She was a master at spotting a talented horse and bringing out the best.
I first encountered Leslie almost 40 years ago in the side-saddle ring, where she was, of course, winning. My next encounter was in a parade (!) – Jimmy Carter’s Inaugural parade to be exact – where she rode the same horse that had won the Side Saddle classes at Madison Square Garden two months before. A thoroughbred, of course, and ask yourselves how many of today’s horses and riders have done such different things!
In the last 40 years, I have been watching Leslie Ducharme and have had the privilege in recent years of becoming a friend. In those years of watching, I have learned some great lessons which I would like to share:
Conduct – I have never heard Leslie say any unkind word about anyone. Ever. I have seen her be upset with someone but never unkind. I can’t say what her thoughts might have been. Leslie’s first lesson is to conduct oneself like a lady or a gentleman, no matter what.
The Horse Comes First – One never saw Leslie’s horses looking anything but first-rate in public. They were beautiful because of the care they received, as well as their quality. Leslie spent time with them – time figuring out what made them tick, how to best ride them – and adapting her riding to bring out their best.
Experiment – Leslie did things because the horse went better because of them. A simple example is showing over fences without a martingale because the horse didn’t like to wear one. For most hunter riders, martingales are standard attire in the show ring.
Be Quiet – anyone who got the chance to watch Leslie ride could appreciate how quiet she was on a horse. One almost forgot she was aboard as her riding was never a distraction, either to the viewer or the mount. Her communication with her horses seemed to occur by magic.
Keep Coming Out Of the Corners – Leslie had chronic double-vision as a result of a childhood accident. She couldn’t see a jump accurately until she was straight to it and a certain distance. As a result, Leslie didn’t depend on “seeing a distance” because she couldn’t. Instead, she rode the horse’s rhythm all the way around and trusted the horse to meet the fence as it should. I don’t recall ever seeing her miss.
Be Generous with What You Know – I once called Leslie to ask her about a problem I was having. I chose to consult her because I felt the problem was unusual and in need in a creative solution. I expected to chat a few minutes on the phone, but Leslie was in my ring the next day watching and suggesting. I put those ideas to use daily.
If someone wrote 1/4 of that about me when I am gone, I would be more than honored. Every single person on this planet, especially in this horse world is capable of making a big, big difference.
My frustrations with this industry come from a lifetime of being told what to do (from the very beginning) without feeling like I could question why. I thought I was doing everything right, I thought I would eventually see the benefits. I left the major decisions up to the people that I felt had tenure, and a deeper knowledge of the sport, despite my doubt. And it wasn’t like I wasn’t paying attention or involved, my family history proves it. I was told I would have to play the game, yet, I still can’t even be sure what that game is because nobody else can figure it out either, or saying it out loud only leaves a bitter taste behind.
I still believe in education over a good pilot, and for the first time in my life, my faith in the two biggest organizations in the hunter/jumper world that have made all the rules and set all the the terms have fractured my ability to not only be loyal to them, but also forced me question my belief that hard work and a good track record to prevail as the true winner. Feeling like I just flushed half my life down the toilet is not a great feeling, not gonna lie about that one, and this is a sport I know I was meant for from the moment I stepped into the show ring, promptly fell off, climbed back on and tried again, but come on already, so many good people have walked out for very good reasons.
Being a sudden advocate for change and growth is not even what the tarot card lady saw coming, and I am perfectly aware that the USEF will eventually find a way to shut me up, mail me a letter, or something more drastic and painful, just like they have done to everyone else in the past they felt has not remained in line, but I do not really have any intention of giving up as long as there is hope for the future riders, trainers, professionals and amateurs alike to recognize the true history of riding horses and good horsemanship, honor it, preserve it, and give back to it in every facet of sport. If they do slap me with that life ban that everyone, including myself, thinks they will do, I have options, I don’t hold the highest level of showing up on that pedestal like others do. I put my values elsewhere.
I guess meanwhile I will be a horse show blogger, could be worse I guess.