I wonder if enough people in the horse show industry set goals for themselves. And if they are, are the goals being set revolving primarily around qualifying for something? Pony finals, EQ finals, League finals, Devon, Junior Hunter finals, Derby finals, Regional finals, Harrisburg, WIHS, the National, etc., etc.. Horse show careers are wildly based around forming a certain resumé for a person, or an animal. The better the resumé, the better the end product, right? Sure, sure.


Trainers I would assume set goals in order to stay in business, get that overhead paid. They post a schedule of horse shows, expecting the clients to sign up for them, make arrangements, carry on through the year from show to show. They work like mad to make sure the clients achieve those goals, sit on the right mounts, win those ribbons, get those points. I wonder how many trainers are expecting to grow this year, or downsize and concentrate on different aspects of their businesses. Maybe discard a client or five, and concentrate on developing a young horse or two. Maybe take some time to consider options.

Everyone has his/her own feeling on point chasing, whether it is a broad spectrum, wanting to qualify for EVERYTHING, or maybe just one class somewhere during the show year. Hopefully people are smart enough to make time for the actual education when it comes to horsemanship and riding, find the balance between learning and these goals we are achieving. No, wait, no that doesn’t matter. There is a program for riders right? A horsemanship quiz or something.. that quiz asks all the right questions right? Everything you need to know on one piece of paper…  sigh.

Since the cost of overhead is enormous for most show stables, it is rarely even possible for the entire stable to take a month or two or more off and just spend it solely on education and learning. And each year it seems the attention span of a student grows smaller. What happens when you are qualified by April for all your finals? Are you doing the bare minimum it takes to get a Medal and Maclay on your resumé, just so you can relax and coast for the rest of the summer then scramble to take a whole bunch of last minute lessons right before you walk in the ring in the fall? Do you ever seek out more knowledge? Do you have ambition?  Is your manicure a higher priority?

Big operations have big bills. The people behind the scenes tend to come from the outside rather than the inside. Very few working students exist anymore compared to thirty years ago. Small operations are certainly not exempt either, and balancing the budget takes an enormous amount of energy. Every year costs go up, let’s face it, nothing will ever flatline, there is no more rent control. Trainers do favors to keep clients in the game, sometimes at tremendous cost to themselves. Other trainers don’t find any value in longevity with clients and work hard to make as much money off of them as possible in the shortest amount of time. Neither is healthy, of course, and everyone suffers.

This fall, across the country,  we all watched the sudden announcement of a renowned show stable in California closing it’s seemingly successful operation, and maybe to some of us it was surprising, almost shocking, but not incomprehensible. Karen mentioned the overhead was staggering, and keeping the standards high enough for her satisfaction was just not possible anymore. Why not? How high were those standards? Were the clients expectations of their own resumés and treatment spiraling too far upwards? How many people needed to be employed for that amount of horses? What exactly was considered appropriate involvement of a rider/client to her horse or horses? Who tacks up the horse and who wraps it at night? How did we get here? The questions roll on in my head. My first experience in California was showing up as a complete stranger on the doorstep of Hap Hansen Stables in Southern California twenty five years ago, a few weeks before heading to the winter circuit in Indio, and trying to wrap my head around the ability to take 60 plus horses to a horse show. HOW WAS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?? I still have no idea how we did it, but we all survived, and immediately I knew I had learned more in one month working for him than the past year back in Maryland. It was hard. I loved the few years I was there. But I do remember fully catering to every junior/amateur that walked through the barn aisle, down to offering to polish their own boots for them, and looking back, there wasn’t a whole lot of encouragement for me to mingle with clients outside of the show. I did anyway, for a while, eventually realizing I didn’t have much to contribute to any conversation that didn’t involve a horse, and my enthusiastic diatribes on poultices from around the world sort of flopped at any dinner table…


Luckily for us, we are not losing Karen Healey altogether, but gaining what she feels is more important in her life right now. She is going to teach the hell out of American riders who want to be taught. She quite arguably is one of the best instructors this country has to offer, and I hope all 44,000 USHJA members can benefit from her decision this year in some capacity. Interesting where she is putting her focus, though, back into teaching, and education. Shedding the burden of the hay and feed bills to help fill that void we created here in America and meanwhile doing what she loves to do more than anything — To make you a better horseman.  I am confident her efforts will not be wasted.

As we set our goals for this year, what are we considering? How much emphasis is being put into actual horsemanship and education, so that the future of our industry is better prepared when the number of horses suddenly grows in the successful show stable down the road? As a junior rider, are you actually willing to spend more than the month of November without stirrups, like the rest of the world, or are you content to end it there?  Your goals do not need more than one month? It is so typical of Americans to create a one month fad that sends out exactly the wrong message about learning how to ride. “Don’t worry – to be successful you only need one month without stirrups”. Are you kidding me right now? Americans need a minimum of one year without stirrups somewhere in their lives before becoming at all effective as a rider. How did we get to one month?? The bare minimum. Again.

Your resumé as a junior rider will not affect your career as a professional as much as the location of your barn and your ability to be nice to people. It is lovely to have the background for your future students, but it absolutely does not make you a better person to have a slew of trophies on your shelf. Knowing how to make someone else’s experience better than your own is invaluable, of course, so as you are going through the motions, think about what improvements to make for the future riders.


Do pony riders make goals for themselves, or are those goals coming from someone else? Parents maybe? How realistic are you as a parent when it comes to your expectations in the show ring? Short term? Long term? Fanciest bows? Best outfit? Are you seeking the best education for your child, or the best pony? Do you care either way? Are you hoping to be out of horses altogether by the time your child is 18? This thinking is what is creating a big gap by the way. Piano lessons and riding lessons are not the same thing. Dabbling in the sport of horses because you are bored is not really helping the industry as a whole. I can’t say don’t do it, but I encourage you to find more depth.


Pony Club created four manuals on horsemanship, buy the first one for your child this holiday, and make a difference. Help us all out. Amazon has free delivery.

Everyone in this horse show industry is responsible for making it better, the shift does not go to one organization or another, or one individual over another, and when you do not educate yourselves properly, you are most likely the one ending up complaining about something trivial at the in-gate, so this year make a goal you would normally make for yourself, your student, client, or your child, and make one or two more that will help the industry, no matter how small. And for pete’s sake read a book about horsemanship. Let’s learn more about riding EVERY kind of horse, developing the young ones, improving the older ones, caring for, feeding, shoeing, bandaging, BASIC attention your horse needs, turnout schedules, and maybe move further away from the politics of the sport, the so-called popularity contests, the designer outfits, by celebrating long term goals, not short term achievements. Let’s see ONE kid at Junior Hunter Finals know how to take a temperature of a horse and not be grossed out… It is not like we aren’t capable. We have everything we need right in front of us.




First answer


Site of the Young Horse Show Final 2015. Tryon Equestrian Center

As promised, the adventure of the Young Horse Show (www.younghorseshow.com)…the greatest answer to the future of young horses in our country continues. Any horse, whether bred in the U.S. or elsewhere is welcome. We need this series. We want this series. The vision of catching up to Europe can happen, and as long as Americans understand the benefits without getting bored of the little things, we might figure out how to develop the young horse. I’m not holding my breath but I can be darn sure to support it instead of sneering at it. The timing of the Final is ideal. November. Over 100 horses ended up competing on the Qualifying day, many of them here to just experience the jump chute for the first time. No fancy tack room set ups, no pressure to get to the in-gate or else the class will be closed, judges card signed, JY (the organizer) is COMPLETELY aware baby horses don’t always go in the proper direction at the proper time, informing his staff to wait. You need an extra schooling jump? No problem. Take four.


prizes and trophy

The format is fine, there are classes for dressage horses, or horses judged simply at the walk trot and canter, jumping classes for 4 and 5 yr olds, in hand classes, and age specific jump chute classes.


Handler Quinnten Alston holding Double Tap (De Victor/Feinbrand 2013 G) bred by Annette Kewnyan

The nice thing about watching an afternoon of horses in the jump chute, is that just as your eyes start to glaze over, a special one walks in and and blows the competition away. Everybody applauds, and we all go, yep, that is what we strive for. That special horse is going to keep people interested. Now JY Tola has the added pressure to keep the classes for these horses coming. Choosing these horse shows over the A rated ones is not an incredibly difficult decision. The cost is ridiculously low…I think my bill for the Qualifier Day was $325, only slightly more than normal because it is held at the Tryon Equestrian Center. My included stall fee is for the WHOLE weekend, not just the first day. I won $200 (in CASH) back for winning both my classes. The Final has even more prize money.  Most manes are braided, but no tails. The handlers are hired by the horse show, have experience, and their fees are included in the classes. I have said before, but do not mind to repeat, HANDLERS are invaluable. There are very few of them, we need more of them, and as if you need more incentive, there are HANDLER competitions throughout the world if you so desire to add that accomplishment to a resume. Have patience? A bit of strength? Please learn to do this. The added bonus of this weekend’s handlers? They were hot.


Jordan Bali holding Amorous (Amazing/Rapport, 2013 m) owned by Katie Ziggas, bred by Kimmy Risser

I chose to bring my hunter Westin (Under Cover). He is 5, the maximum allowed age. I entered an age appropriate flat and jumping class.  I knew the biggest challenge would be the fence height because I have been showing in the baby greens all year (2’6-2’9), keeping him eligible for the Pre-Green division this December per USEF rules. The 5 yr olds in this series are expected to jump the universal standard of 1.10m. Most of the jumps were typical jumper jumps, not hunter jumps. This series is not currently recognized by USEF.  However, they were involved, and provided a young horse clinic during the horse show to educate young USEF members as far as breeding, training, handling, and judging was concerned. #Wonderful #WIN. (Or at least one step forward). My only complaint about this opportunity to partake in a truly important, valuable clinic, was that the USEF chose to forward an email about the clinic to a small, teeny, tiny portion of it’s membership. I was too old to receive the email, apparently, and as a result I was furious. AS IF I AM INCAPABLE OF EDUCATING THE FUTURE  GENERATIONS, TOO?  The fact that USEF cannot recognize the need for people like me to know when to send forty people to an educational clinic with some of the most knowledgable, well driven speakers and breeders in the horse world is simply criminal and destructive to the entire industry as a whole. End rant…for now.


attendees to USEF clinic

Westin was a leeeetle impressed on the Qualifying day, and I am guessing the thoughts running through his head were very similar to my own, especially in the first round, and contained many, many, MANY swear words. However, the most amazing thing happened right under me after we jumped fence 9, and cleared it by more than adequate height. He grew up. I walked, let out a loud sigh of relief…looked back at the course, which was a double the height of the baby green division, and went holy crap, we just jumped a solid, universal round…and it was fun.

Westin has a high price tag. I am not going to lie, I expect him to be a pretty exceptional Am/Jr/Derby horse one day for the  circuit, and am excited to have him as a Pre-Green horse for 2016. So far, he has proven himself a winner, and based on my experience, he should continue on the right track. But, when I picked up that Kelley Farmer gallop, (even posting to the canter to try to channel that uber confidence) to the first fence, I knew I could actually skip the pre-greens and go right into the First Years. It was amazing. I could not believe the difference I was feeling in just one demanding round. Westin melted with confidence; becoming butter in my hands.  I needed virtually no effort, whatsoever to complete round 2. I never touched his mouth. The scary Spy Coast plank in the out of the double proved no issue, I stopped the nervous posting after fence one, just rode like myself, and I knew immediately I had quadrupled his confidence. The first Pre-Green division at December Hunter Classic, at McDonogh School will be pretty freaking easy after today. (Don’t worry, I would never consider skipping an entire multi-tiered division.) As a result, and I feel confirmed with his price tag.


Westin, aka Under Cover (Ustinov x Cavalier 2010 G)

Now, I am only speaking from my own experience, not everyone else’s, and there are obviously horses here that were nothing like Westin, some of them should maybe considering alternate careers, but if the better horses don’t participate, how will we be able to raise the standard in American breeding? It is one thing to hold the shows, it is quite another to understand the education that goes into holding shows and into breeding. Attending is educating. Watching is educating. Contributing is educating, and pretty much the only way it can all work for Jean Yves, his vision, and us in America. You have an idea for improving American breeding? Show me. Don’t be lazy, really, show me. Forward thinking, even if we all know it is a catch up game to the Europeans. It is not like we aren’t capable. But in general, we are lazy in comparison. Eventually I would like to see this series become exclusive for American bred horses…but that will not happen without participation. A-circuit exhibitors are really missing out by not being here…for sure, not that I want you all to rush on in, while I am winning all those Benjamins, but it is all here, right in front of you…for the taking. Some trainers will balk at not being able to make enough money by taking enough clients, and my argument is I wish primary school wasn’t twelve years long. Sacrifice a dang weekend for education.

The efforts from Aliboo Farm, Page Brook Farms, Spy Coast,  and several others is beyond tremendous. The exhibitor party (which was free) was a huge thank you to us for coming, well thought out, and we were even handed a breeding quiz to see how much knowledge we have as individuals of breeding in America. 99% of us used the Google to cheat. But the wine was plenty, food and chocolate exorbitant, and (most important) discussion real. No cliques anywhere, no insecurities. Every single person here has a very good grasp on the benefits of breeding in America, and is willing to continue the discussion.

If you are a young rider complaining about not having access to enough horses to ride…go to one of these shows and hand out your number. We have all let you down over the years by not providing a better growth system for our developing riders; here is your opportunity to help yourselves. Breeders shouldn’t have to pay a top show professional’s prices to start their young horses. It is far too expensive. You can contribute your services for gas money. You will get the mileage you need to become the best rider you can become. Why are the Irish riders seemingly so far advanced in the International circles? They ride anything. ANYTHING. And they go out looking for horses to ride. Afraid of getting bucked off a young horse? we all are. get over it or pick a different sport. wear a safety vest. Taylor Flury probably had other ideas about how her 4 yr old jumping Final was going to go when she suddenly hit the dirt in the warm up ring and woke up in an ambulance. Think that is going to stop her?? My guess is that it was very, very difficult to keep her OFF her horses the next day.


Taylor Flury showing in the 4 yr olds

This weekend was not about the business of horse showing. It also lacked greed. This particular weekend, in November, in Tryon, was about the development of young horses. I had zero obligations to be at ring 5, at roughly 6:30pm, for the Marshall and Sterling/ NAL/WIHS whatever classic for a client. I wasn’t preoccupied with multiple conflicts, or wishing the day to be over by a certain hour. I was able to bathe and braid my horse before the show started, hence, I watched a lot of classes. The ring operators were volunteers from the local hunt club, and they took genuine interest in the horses competing. Due to the special animal I brought with me, I was actually PAID to watch these classes, a special added bonus (although I have to say Westin was just being Westin, and he has no idea he contributed to furthering my own education). Dinner was sponsored and served each night on the grounds, even if this is not the norm for the qualifiers throughout the year, it was genuinely appreciated for the Final. The need for this series was so evident simply by looking around me at the healthy attendance and support for this horse show. Let’s do more. We are capable.


prizes and scorecard for winning the 5 yr jumping Final

The final round in the 5 yr Final…


Under Cover (Ustinov x Cavalier)



Special thanks to The Equine Media Project for the super fab photos. Go like them on FB.


Reining in cheating?

Looking around at the people trying to bring some sort of integrity back into the horse show industry, I am amazed at the struggles they face. Are people with integrity really that outnumbered?

Europe started microchipping horses 10 years ago, to cut down on any confusion whatsoever regarding the identity of horses being bred, shown, sold, and shipped, and now almost all of their horses are currently carrying a chip rather than a tattoo or brand. EU horses (and all equidae)  are issued a ‘passport’ documenting all vaccinations from birth onwards, and all foals are issued a chip at the same time as the passport.  It doesn’t seem to be that much an issue for people who endorse it, yet confusion concerning it pops up almost immediately here in the States. Is the confusion a society thing? a Trainer thing? or a horse owner thing?  We are not likely to see the requirement of passports for our horses in America, however, the need for the microchip is quite real and should be an eventual mandate. and it is cheap. a cheap chip.

Keep in mind passports are required in Europe to ensure horse owners are vaccinating their animals. There is no argument here. Horses MUST be vaccinated. It is not a ‘constitutional right’ to be an irresponsible horse owner when it comes to vaccinations. EVER.

From the UK – http://www.county-vets.co.uk/veterinary-services/horses/passports-and-microchipping/

Our slowness to accept microchipping in horses is mind boggling. We chip our dogs, why wouldn’t we chip our bigger pets? If we are considering them as sacred as the cows in India, ( i.e.: refusing to slaughter them ), and keeping them forever in our backyards, it would be logical to want to protect them from things like theft, kill pens, hurricanes, fires, and spread of disease by sticking a microscopic information tool into them for a tiny ONE time cost and call it a day. Maybe because people can’t do it for themselves? There is no obvious shortcut to save on a $60 chip? Fear of it moving about inside the horse? REALLY? Irregular movement might have occurred with one or two animals in the beginning, but seriously, the technology has matured at a rapid rate since 2006.

I also personally feel any veterinarian attempting to remove a microchip should be fined 10k and license revoked on the spot. This is what the general population would consider an unethical business practice. Any cell phone footage leaking to youtube can guarantee an investigation. Do not be tempted by a bribe, please. I don’t care how much business you get a from a fancy show barn. You did not come into the business of being a horse doctor to eventually become an expert at removing microchips.

Shipping companies, especially smaller ones, could potentially have ZERO mistakes with mistaken identity with the wave of a wand, vaccination records could be stored to minimize multiple outbreaks of EHV-1 for example, causing expensive and harrowing quarantines, and horses that fall into the wrong hands could be found, identified, and the wrong doers hopefully held responsible. If you don’t think horse theft still exists, you aren’t really awake, are you?

Maybe it is the culture of how we go about asking for change. In Europe it was not left up to the riders to decide if microchipping should be required, but rather the major organizations (European Union), including the FEI, declaring ALL competition horses be chipped so the domino effect led to almost every single horse and donkey over there wearing a chip. Breeders need recognition, so they have no problem identifying their horses if it is felt their progeny has potential in sport. Don’t forget ALL of our horses, including American bred horses, are going to need a microchip for international competition.

In America, we seem to be leaving it up to a rule change proposal, not an actual mandate from the USEF, which may be slightly ridiculous, but the very least we can do is commend the people recognizing the need for change, and get behind them for pushing us into the current millennium. Evolving. Erasing the chances of confusion about horses competing in incorrect divisions. Age discrepancies would not be an issue either….. Once the major horse organizations are on board, the domino effect will occur, and eventually we will be able to control overbreeding in certain areas (omg!) of our horse industry.

Conspiracy theories about the eventuality of people being microchipped by the gov’t is especially favored by people watching too much television. Trust me, the gov’t doesn’t want to know how much time you spend in the casino. or with a hooker. in a brothel. at McDonald’s. speeding. no one cares.

Some horses can change color as they age. Grey horses are notorious for looking completely dark and steel upon birth and a few years later almost white. So you send a grey baby away to be broken, trained, shown, and you pop in to take a look and it doesn’t resemble the horse you put on the trailer a while back so you are to completely to trust the word of the person standing there telling you it is the same horse??

Maybe this is not the kind of person you are, but your neighbor might be, do not discard the possibility.

What happens when you send your beloved horse to a retirement home and want to pop in and check on him, only to realize the owner wasn’t exactly truthful about the operation she was running, and your once adored show horse is not at all recognizable? hmmm, that never happens.

This would be a good time for you to ask the right questions, look for that education. The Jockey Club is already moving forward with microchipping, the AQHA mentions this statement online (www.aqha.com)  CHRB staff also reported progress in the Microchip Pilot Project, which is developing techniques for horse identification and tracking purposes, as a precursor to a possible regulation that would require all horses racing in California to be microchipped.”   The USDA is discussing it for all livestock in the States, particularly animals traveling between countries (this is to protect you, hello), and when I talked with the two biggest shippers in the horse industry, there was agreement that it held nothing but benefits, one particularly stating that he would love to never have to photocopy a yellow coggins page again in his life because have you seen what the photocopier does to them?? NOTHING! it is a virtual Satan trick to get an actual LEGIBLE copy of that damn yellow carbon paper.  Ugh, so 20th century. Kudos to the electronic age, and I commend digital access to coggins paperwork, however, storage in a microchip is the simplest solution for the way forward.

I don’t really understand the dragging of feet for this movement. There are even people in the cattle industry using the technology for identifying their own steers in massive herds to prevent people from switching out ear tags, or getting confused about who owns who. Logical.



Challenges are not new in America. When cars were introduced to replace horses for transport there were similar reactions, but look where we are now. I bet you have a car. Certain states are mandating microchips on small animals, the trend will continue, and it is very possible we will be looking back in twenty years, saying what took us so long??


OMG look! a famous person who endorses microchipping!! John French