#ShowHuntersMatter

Riding hunters is not easy. Few people teach strictly hunters, and fewer people teach it well. It is a very difficult vocabulary, and is almost always interpreted incorrectly, there are too many components, which is mainly the reason so many drugs are used, and now we face a crisis with Carolina Gold, Gaba, Perfect Prep, Dormosedan, and whatever else used to quiet a horse down, found in horses all over the place, and people jumping to conclusions about all hunters using medication to compete. It makes buyers nervous to purchase horses actively showing, which doesn’t help the sport, doesn’t grow the sport, also inherently leading to an enormous amount of friction between the USEF and its members. People within that organization probably believe every hunter rider is cheating — which is not true.  It is so hard for the right people to stand up to cheaters because in the back of their minds, they could possibly be selling the next winner to them down the road. And they might need the money! Hello?  Calling a cheater out is painful and really impossible in this day and age.

The show hunter sport sure could use a facelift.

Many more people have to lunge horses, or the horses MUST get schooled from a professional before being handed off to an amateur or junior… This is not a bad thing, just the way it is right now. However, there is definitely a growing number of people who would prefer not to have to spin their expensive animal in a tiny circle for an hour before it heads to the ring. The National VP of USHJA would infuriate me constantly when he criticized riders/trainers with hot horses, spewing things like ‘you should have picked a better horse’, or ‘just buy something quieter.’ Like ‘disposable horses’ is something we should be encouraging. This happened at the last USHJA convention I attended and I could feel my face turning red, my blood pressure rising.  unproductive. dismissive.  The great GM would say the same thing. “Change that chestnut mare for something you can actually ride!!” ugh, get real. Maybe some of these poor disposable horses were actually nice at one time, but the drugs wore off! Who knows, but it is not a sentiment I want to continue to hear anymore.

Meanwhile hunter clinics are almost non-existent in today’s real world.

So what if we could invite an entire culture to re-learn how to ride a show hunter? The next generation? Would anyone be interested? Maybe a few, if taught properly. I know the horse is being judged, but the rider is responsible for the horse looking good, great, or normal, and everything in between.  I find there are a ton of people who give up riding hunters after years of frustration, only to find relaxation and exuberance in the jumper ring. Ride for a clean round, then ride for speed. No one can really blame them, can they?

I also like riding in the jumper ring, and even moved to Europe for a while to feed my inner ‘go fast, jump high’ child inside of me, but honestly, I ride hunters well, my body understands hunters, and even if at times, going around in circles is incredibly tiresome and dull, I get it. It is an art. It is magical, people notice it. They do. We do. People notice when they are watching something incredibly difficult look soooooooo easy, so, so easy. Ironically, last year I posted a video of Tori Colvin’s junior hunter round receiving a perfect score at Upperville and it received over 40k hits. I was dumbfounded and impressed at the same time. I think that recognition of beautiful riding and beautiful form from the horse is what keeps me doing it; besides the fact that if you can find a few good hunters to sell, the money is not bad.

https://www.facebook.com/deloise.noblestrong/videos/10153388841438899/?l=8945299746657361843

When I searched the web for instructional tools for hunters, I came up short. I noticed fun things like how to do a lead change, many dressage tutorials, eventing tutorials, equitation secrets, but the hunter information is lacking. We need show hunter information in order to keep the hunters relevant to our horse show world, but it is hard to find, and never free. Are there just too many variables? Like the wind? Rain?

There are so many things I have learned over the years from teaching new people how to ride better that fascinated me. No less than 80% of what I taught was entirely NEW information. Have instructors recycled certain teaching habits so much, there is little innovative language for hunters? What am I talking about? The perfect distance, for example? WTF? Why can’t people generally create their own distance to a fence? It is all I hear from students, the desire to find the perfect distance. I don’t understand how it can be left up to luck to get to the perfect distance. Math is involved. Course designers set a very mathematical pattern in a ring which is supposed to be followed… On a 12 foot stride (for a horse).

Do you understand how many strides you are supposed to get in a 72 foot line or do you just hope your trainer tells you the right thing when you are standing at the in-gate? I am not saying the perfect chocolate chip shouldn’t ever happen, because even the best riders miscalculate the math and what is happening inside their horse’s brains, but many chocolate chips can be prevented due to more information. Knowing how to count strides is simply part of hunters 101. In a 72 foot line for the 3’ hunters, you generally have three options – 4 strides (scary) or 5 strides (correct) or 6 strides (the add). The 72’ line in any ring anywhere should ride the same.

I want hunters to stick around. I think they are generally pretty, I think the challenge of a good hunter round is worth rewarding, I think we have a lot to gain for having hunters in our business, our industry, our sport, and I want a healthy relationship for hunter judges and competitors as well, without the weird brotherhood up the line we keep hearing about. It is education, it is tolerance, it is going to take a village. It is going to take mentors being really good mentors, it is about seasoned judges allowing up and coming judges to understand that even if mistakes are made they will still receive education, not be punished or not hired, maybe even the politics can fade out if we do this properly. I would like to see more younger professionals feel like they have a chance at really big competitions. Helping each other to help the sport.

So what can I offer?? The experiment, which undoubtedly someone else will perfect later down the road, or next week on some much bigger website.

I don’t know if this is much, but it certainly has helped a lot of people in the past. Just for a moment I want to skip ahead to  jumping over flatwork (which I am a strong believer in). If you are not doing all the moves on your hunter that an upper level dressage rider is doing with a horse, you are not doing it right. In my opinion. And all of these moves should happen before you actually step over your first jump. However, I am not an idiot, I know we get in a hurry to get to the show ring. But, if you need back up, ask Peter Wylde how he prepped his hunters for indoors. I read in an article last year (which I am still searching for) Louise Serio offered advice when he asked her (because she is incredibly knowledgable) on flatting his horses leading up to the indoor circuit, and she told him to ride them just as you would ride your Grand Prix jumping horses. Lengthen, collection, lateral work, perfect transitions, etc., etc. Fingers crossed I remember that correctly.

There are multiple types of hunters out there, this first one to address is a horse with it’s own motor…. Approximately 90% of new riders I have come across ‘encourage’ a horse to leave the ground at an obstacle. Why do you tell your horse to jump a fence when it is already okay with jumping said fence? It is not spooking at it, not balking, not green, not behind your leg, it is already like ‘sure mom, let’s do this!,’ and yet, as a rider, you are adding energy to the take off. No one wants you to add energy to the take off in a hunter round! Please add LESS energy as your horse gets closer to the fence, let your body breathe, melt, put your heels down, take your leg off, and RELAX. Have you ever heard the term, let the horse jump up to you?? LET THE HORSE JUMP UP TO YOU. Smoothly, on it’s own, in breathtaking fashion. make the jump last forever. pretend someone is trying to photograph that perfect moment and hold still……

Loads of people will argue with me all day long, criticize how I look, what I am doing, but in general, what I do works, and other people can do it, too.

Do I understand that hunters are judged on their own form and #kneesup, but the rider is not being judged?? Yes, of course I do!!  But I also know first hand that I AM AFFECTING HOW THAT HORSE PRODUCES A PERFECT ROUND. My body is equally responsible for a good hunter being a good hunter in the show ring.  #TheRiderMatters

A: Create a trot jump (cross rail) with a take off pole 6 feet in front of the jump in your ring.  ——>   I…6’…X …

B: Approach said trot jump. As you step over the pole in front of the jump, push your heel toward the shoulder of the horse and try to touch said shoulder. You can’t actually physically do this, no one can, but the action is what moves your leg to a better position over top of the cross rail. Your heel goes further down, away from the horse’s side, and you have successfully not encouraged your horse to jump, and are allowing him to jump to you. If your horse is over the age of 6, he probably already knows what to do, correct? Get to the other side? so, stay out of the way!  You have other things to worry about next.  Now many other variables come into play during the process, like release, seat, momentum, body control, but the general idea is the same for your leg every time: heels down, away from the horse.

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Body position over a jump for a hunter rider. Often misinterpreted, rarely duplicated.

The SECOND most misused part of the body is the torso in mid-air over a jump in the hunter ring. Riders, for some reason, totally get into jumping. They want to jump more than their horse does! You see SO MANY RIDERS FLINGING their torsos over the jump in such dramatic fashion, you would think they were at the Olympic games jumping 1.60m. but in reality it is 2’6” or 3’ children’s or adult hunter class.

Slow down sista. Let that beast jump up to you. He is doing all of the work, please do not add to the magic. If you have perfected that leg thing up above, chances are pretty strong you can also smoothly allow your body to be following the horse in slow motion over top of a jump. Riders that jump with their bodies work very hard. Too hard. You see torsos twisting, elbows flapping, ducking, too much energy, whatever it is, it is too much. Hunt Tosh does not work very hard. He ALLOWS his body to just follow along and bend over slowly, smoothly, magically, until he lands on the other side. He has mastered the TWO-POINT position, is ready when needed to stay in that position, and his horses are ALWAYS jumping up to him. It is EASY for him.

to perfect this body position, try this:

A: Create that same trot jump I mentioned above. Perfect that leg position and heels down moment over top of the jump. For like a week. or ten weeks.

B: As your horse steps over the pole, SLOW DOWN the momentum of your body bending over in the air over top of the crossrail. It is almost like not bending over much at all, it is only a SLIGHT bend to the waist, relaxing, thinking about your heel down, magical, slow, and allowing your horse to jump up to you. Your elbow should feel squishy, light, and follow the horse’s mouth during the release, then rest back at your ribcage. I like to call it ELASTIC ELBOW.  Let your beautiful beast do all the work, show him/her off, let him/her be amazing. On a trot jump, it is kind of like finding the high part of your post and letting your arms simply follow through to the landing.

I was told several years ago, by a very prominent hunter trainer Jack Stedding, Sr., that a trot cross-rail in-and-out to an oxer is all you need to perfect timing, balance, scope, strength, body control, athleticism, form, style, and basically ALL of the things hunters need to be successful, and at first, my skepticism kept me from believing in this idealism. How could TWO JUMPS make a champion?? Yet, he is absolutely right, those two jumps can cover all rider errors and horse errors, and change them from losers into winners with enough repetition and accuracy. It actually does make a hunter a champion. He should know, he produced dozens and dozens of winners. And it does make a rider invaluable. So after working on that cross rail, measure 18’ and place the next fence, starting with a vertical, and ending up with an oxer.  The oxer can vary in height up or down, Swedish, ramped, or square.

I took two horses and broke it down as best as I could manage. This first video follows the leg. I am using the pole to remind myself to step down on the stirrup as I step over the pole, with my heel dropping lower so I am not ‘encouraging’ my horse to jump, just allowing.

https://youtu.be/d2WjhJLmbss

This second video follows the body control and degree of ‘bending over’ in the air over a jump. Everyone has a particular style, I prefer to keep mine as simple as possible. As straight as possible. I like my torso to allow my horse to come to me, rather than dive down to him.

https://youtu.be/tbKkxt5-woQ

This final video shows a few single jumps with each horse trying to put it all together. Hopefully it translates well enough, and again I don’t mind if people disagree with my particular style. It works for me, I think it can work for others, too.

https://youtu.be/ddEpJJgyOk4

Maybe you are thinking, well, those are only two variables out of 150. True. I could write a book on the 148 others, but I prefer to blog about it. Good hunter horses need good hunter pilots.

So as you scratch your head and wonder where I am going with this, try to keep in mind I, along with a few other professionals in the sport/industry, would like to see hunter horses continue to flourish, and not disappear. I am WILLING to teach more people in order to not lose riders to the jumper ring. I want to see free clinics offered throughout the country that focus solely on hunters.  Am I selfish? yes, of course, because as I watch countless sale horse videos on YouTube, I am thinking…who can I sell the next hunter prospect/winner to? Who wants the next special Derby horse? It is a business, as well as a sport, and it is up to us to keep it alive. We can produce, we can maintain. We can win.

Hunt Tosh riding a pre-green horse… https://youtu.be/-yFW2pDuz9M

Special thanks to the McDonogh School for use of their amazing arena. 

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Americans in Showjumping

The American Showjumping World could use a bit of a connection with the real world. The incredible canyon between riders showing at the top level of the sport and potential fans is eroding wider and wider at a rapid rate, and it is fairly disturbing to watch. If you walk into a room and ask a bunch of people who own horses, but are showing locally (not in Wellington), it is difficult to find more than two people who can name more than one or two riders hoping to head to Rio for the Olympic Games this year. I think this is a problem.

I have watched countless live video feeds provided by the USEF Networks, Hits, or the U.S.  (Western) FEI Channel for classes held in the United States and Mexico lately and the commentators are on a serious struggle bus. No information is provided about the riders, and we are silently watching horses jump around a course (for an extremely high amount of money), with a “too bad that rail fell”, or “what a shame, just breathed on that rail, and it fell”. I am sorry, not sorry, if we have ANY chance to know who might be representing our country in International events, this might be a good time to fill us in on the details you should know or can find out in an email the day before. How old is the rider? 18? 38? 102? Where is their home location? How many Grand Prix horses do they ride? Who educated them? Who is helping them on the ground? How old is the horse they are riding? Where did it come from? What breed is it? Is it related to any others in the class? How tall is it? Mare? Gelding? Stallion? Does it like peppermints? Hate Bananas?

As usual, we know more about the European riders and their habits or horses they ride than we do our very own home grown riders. Commentators in Europe go to extreme lengths to interview riders beforehand, walk the course with them, ask them how they are all feeling, and feed ALL of that information back to us so we feel as if we are really wanting them to win!! Look at the utter compassion and support for Bertram Allen when they took away his win at Olympia last year due to an almost invisible spur mark following the jump-off! It was a worldwide explosion over an 18 year old kid who will, in all probability, win every major title available and they will have to invent new ones for him down the road because he is such a phenom and adored by everyone; thanks again to commentators. He is the shyest kid on the planet, not exactly doing an interview an hour, so we are getting our info from whom? FEI channel commentators in Europe and European magazines.

Why do I think we need to step it up? Because if what happened to Bertram Allen happened to one of our own 18-25 year old riders in America, our horse community would have had a VERY different reaction. Think about it for a second. or five.

On a personal note, I did not initially join in on all of the hoopla surrounding the spur mark, and several people asked me to comment on it. But I was adamant and slightly bitter, because it was not too many years ago we all had to suffer through a completely unfair and ridiculously false accusation of hyper sensitivity –  I watched in absolute horror as one of our very own was disqualified at a World Cup Final because she was simply a chestnut mare. I wasn’t even there and I was completely bewildered that a horse like Sapphire, beloved by an entire generation of horsemen could possibly fail a vet check because some idiot thought her legs were sensitive, thus being prevented from what would have been the last greatest accomplishment of her career. It infuriated me, and none of us could do a damn thing about it. There was a great deal more silence coming from the International community that time around as well. You can read more about it here:

http://www.dressage-news.com/?p=7070

I strongly suggest you go back and click on that link.

Part of educating the public is going to come from the riders themselves. They are going to have to write the dang bios, do the interviews, demand good commentators, help us help ourselves, basically.

There are all these woes and whines about not having Nike as a sponsor for major events, and having to depend on horsey related vendors to chip in for the bills. Yet, so few of our Grand Prix events are accessible to the public, so it is not a real surprise or shock that Nike doesn’t really care about us.

A) No hotels in Wellington, so if you are not already there, the logistics of attending an event requires essential planning. Parking? Traffic? Lodging?

B) Or let’s try the Hampton Classic! Has anyone ever tried to attend a Grand Prix at the Hampton Classic without actually owning a house in the Hamptons?

C) Catskills – the drive alone from any major city = headache. What do you do once the Grand Prix is over? Go to Woodstock?

D) The California Desert – ummm, it is literally in the desert. Someone from San Diego, or L.A. actually has to cross a giant mountain range to get to said desert.

Longings had a good start putting the Masters in Los Angeles last year, despite notorious L.A. traffic, and an event in Miami that drew a fabulous crowd (most of the weeks classes in Miami were free of charge), but are two events enough? I might even throw Las Vegas in the mix as a successful town if I believed enough horse people lived in Las Vegas, but I don’t think so. I have one friend in Nevada. She might go and watch one class in Vegas, but for her and for people around her, it is actually cheaper to drive to California to attend horse show and watch a big class there.

The President’s Cup in Washington, D.C.  has the heavy burden of being located in the second largest murder capitol of the country, while indeed it gets a pretty healthy turnout on Barn Night, it takes an exhausting effort from staff to pull off a successful week, and when that sniper was in town, he didn’t do any of us any favors.

So no, Nike is not likely to get on board with high end events when most of the public can’t even get to a Grand Prix, so we will keep our fingers crossed that someone will keep asking The Boss to host fundraisers for our Showjumping Team, but I would imagine without his daughter actually expecting to be on the U.S. Showjumping Squad for Rio, he might not spend all his energy raising funds for the team.

What is the answer? Better information from commentators for one. NEVER assume we know who we are watching, unless it is Beezie or McLain.

And it might be nice to have the expectation that if we are paying for a boat load of riders to compete in the Olympic Games, those riders are obligated to make an appearance to our Pony Club members to encourage them to become part of our sport. At no charge. Seriously – no charge. Help out the next up and coming talent. Do a good deed, the future depends on it, and we are paying part of your bill here so you can achieve your dreams. Then make your best friends do it. The future is pretty bleak without solutions popping up from the top level of sport.

The Equestrian World Cup Final is about a month away, held in Gothenburg, Sweden where it originated in 1979, and while yearly locations change, it is required to return there every few years or so; probably because Sweden wants young equestrians to be inspired by superstars so they wrote it into the bylaws…

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Conrad Homfeld on Balbuco

The Americans were all OVER this event in the very beginning, and with the exception of Hugo Simon from Austria winning the initial class all those years ago, Americans won the title an astounding 7 times in the first decade of it’s existence! Names like Conrad Homfeld (2x), Michael Matz, Melanie Smith, Norman Dello Joio, Leslie Lenehan, and Katherine Burdsall.

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Michael Matz on Jet Run

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Norman Dello Joio on I Love You

It took 15 years before Rich Fellers could finally snag an American win, followed by Beezie one year later.  So here we are, it is 2016. Can you name the top of the leaderboard who has enough points to head to Sweden this year? We normally send about 15 horse/rider combinations…. Go ahead, pick some names….tick….tock….

By the way, we have one year before the 2017 World Cup Equestrian Final is held on our own home turf in Omaha, Nebraska. We have one year to speed up our education on our beloved sport of Showjumping in the United States of America.

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Melanie Smith on Calypso

Game Changer

Game changers in the sport.

This week I ended up at the Country Heir Horse Show held at Roberts Arena in Wilmington, Ohio –  a good 8 hours away from my farm. I had heard about this random facility from another local horsewoman, Katie Petronelli, and remember her claiming how much she loved it there last year, she planned on returning, and her words had long been echoing in the back of my head. Without going into detail, she promised I would love it, but I am a cynic, I don’t love anything. All I really understood was that the management of Country Heir was renting the facility for a few weeks of shows.

I am especially not a fan of driving through mountain ranges, and the navigation gives three or four different options to cross them, which I can’t decide on, so I probably chose poorly, however, it did give me inspiration to attempt a solution for horse trailer driving which I will procure and provide to every horse person shipping themselves across the country very soon.

Fun fact: every local Ohioan driver sees a horse-trailer trying to turn into an intersection and promptly backs up 50 feet. If it happened once or twice, I would have considered it a coincidence. After four or five experiences I realized they all seem to just do it, and no I am not a bad driver….

Not Fun Fact: The last stretch of highway from Columbus to the show grounds is like driving on a cracked out Route 81 with everyone wearing blindfolds… It apparently is a major tractor-trailer route, from East to West, and equally apparent is the lack of Ohioan drivers behind the wheels of said tractor-trailers. Jerks, all of them. Oh, and shipping your packages Fed-Ex? There is a reason they get there so bloody fast, they have the ability to navigate their trucks at 100 mph.  You will understand the irony in a bit.

Arrival…Pulling into the driveway, the first thing I thankfully notice is a SHOW OFFICE sign, which indeed leads me directly to a real show office, and I am promptly welcomed, handed a back number, and a stall number, which was not very far away from where I was standing. I learned later that I might have been lucky, and upon further exploration the next day, discovered the maze of several hundred stalls located on multiple levels possibly could be a wee bit tricky to the first time exhibitor. Indeed it took three days to understand the proper placement of stall charts.  Awkward moments include crawling down multiple barn aisles in order to get to the main hunter ring….

Fun Fact: People here are sooooooooper nice, and have no problem helping you settle in, offering things like a hammer which you left on the desk at home, watering your horse, sweeping in front of your stall, giving directions, helping you video tape your rounds, whatever, those dang mid westerners are just plain friendly even if they don’t know you, and they do not seem to know how to STOP being friendly… so weird.   

Rings…After I unloaded, unpacked, got the horse settled, I took what I thought would be a quick trip around to locate the rings. It wasn’t quick, and the realization that every hallway, arena, barn, warm up ring, lungeing area, wash rack, coffee shop, restaurant, bathroom (all permanent), and show offices, were all under one roof was making my head spin. I literally never had to venture outside unless I wanted to get in my truck, or dump the manure. And the temps? 68-70 degrees, solid, throughout the facility. 100,000 square footage of ring space alone. I can only guess as to maybe 250,000 square feet of covered space for the rest.

Then I discovered where all the moms would be hanging out waiting for pony classes to be finished. Yup, the bar. White wine, red wine, or Stella Artois. A monitor with current status of each ring is prominently displayed at the counter.  Free WiFi. (stronger wifi would be good)

Housing…. There are cabins on the grounds housing around four or six, that you can rent by the week for around $800. There is a hotel or two kind of nearby. More housing is coming.  I am cheap, so I tend to go with AIRBNB options, which led to me to a nice apartment for $50 bucks a night with loads of bars and restaurants within walking distance. Sadly, it was a little further away from the show grounds than I would have liked, and if it snowed (which it didn’t)  I would have been screwed, but I also found diesel for UNDER $2 a gallon. #balance

Cabins:

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Fun Fact: there are loads of non show activities if necc. Mountain biking, check. Learning to fly a plane, check. Golf, check. Renaissance Fair, check. Want to spot a horse and buggy? check. Amusement park? check. Rodeo? check.  Shopping? check. There are brochures all over the place with over 50 options for stuff to do outside the grounds.

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Showing… This was a Country Heir Horse Show – Jumps are normal (by Fuzzy), footing is perfect (watered at night only and maintains the moisture through the day),  staff is efficient and fine as long as you show up when you say you are going to show up (normal), secretaries were friendly, schedule was loaded with classes which I am told will be scaled down in the future to get finished at a reasonable hour, warm-up rings for now are a bit tiny but doable, there are holding areas in front of the rings out of the way of people schooling. Kinks always have to get worked out in the beginning. A new mega Arena is in the works for next year to alleviate the too small lungeing areas, and lack of actual riding space, but again, next year it sounds like it will be ready. If anyone has been experiencing Tryon under construction, you will see similar activity here. I am pretty sure that skeleton of a barn I have been hearing being hammered into place will be finished by the time I leave on Sunday. All divisions filled. Even professional ones. There were almost 20 3’ pre green horses which I was a part of, and many good quality animals. This week there are probably around 450 horses showing. Lower jumper divisions were well attended, higher levels need help. All details are updated constantly by way of horseshowing.com, and emails sent out with any pertinent information.

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Conformation model

The more I watched during the week, the more impact this circuit had on me. This is what we talk about when we see Game Changers. Other show managers should be concerned. Now maybe I am understanding why Classic Company offered a $5 Pre Green division this year for their winter circuit. I think about points for Devon, or Indoors, when I see solid Junior Hunter and Pony divisions outside of the Florida circuits… I talked to people who normally do not have any show options over the winter suddenly committing to circuit stalls => guess how much? GUESS!! no, really you can’t guess, I will tell you….. $1,100 for a winter circuit stall. 8 weeks. Compare that to HITS at what $3-4k for 6 weeks? or Wellington at $5k for a disgusting tent stall with a view of the biggest manure pile known to man? and no flood control?   hmmmm.

The Tour… The facility manager, Dawn, agreed to give me a tour on Saturday, to tell me all the things planned for the future, the new FEI sized stalls going into place, the anti bacterial foam for disinfecting the stalls, the planned cross country course, and about a billion other things. We soon ran into the actual Roby Roberts, who insisted on leading the rest of the tour in his big truck. So they both took me around the facility, then across the street to the trailer park where Roby told me he once lived in as a child (this could be a tall tale and I could be too gullible) and has recently purchased only to tear down and rebuild with all new rentable trailers for the show; next was the school he is building for kids spending long amounts of time away from home; then on to his Heliport, to his personal barns and indoor/outdoor arenas —  all equipped with security cameras so even if you are riding in the indoor arena, you can keep an eye on the ponies in the paddocks by way of giant monitors on the walls (what?!), and finally the cabins being offered for exhibitors. Almost two hours to fill me in on all the details.

This guy even bought old missile silos down the road to re-design as a tourist attraction, to be completed with bizarre containers that open up to be apartments..

When I asked him what his inspiration was to do this??

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Roby

He is creating this mecca because he wants all kids from all backgrounds to have an opportunity to enjoy experiences with animals all through the year, particularly horses. That’s it. For the kids. Not himself, not to be famous. Not to compete with other people.  Just for the future horsemen of the world, especially his own. Plus he had a good time at the Ohio Horseman’s banquet, and wanted to replicate that experience all day every day here. (kidding. kind of.)

Yes, he says his family really did live in the trailer park across the street, and his father woke up one day and bid in an auction on what is now known as Roberts Arena, but back then it was just a farm. He got it, his wife, was like what? how you gonna pay for that? He said I don’t know yet, but somehow charmed three different banks to put the money up, and they packed up their things and moved across the street. Momma Roberts first got into llamas before quarter horses. Papa Roberts bought a truck to move some furniture around, which turned into a fleet,and every time you see an R&L truck on the road, think of them. MAJOR transport company. American dream.

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Friday Night lights…. I kept seeing posters around the grounds for horsemanship clinics and anyone who knows me knows how I feel about horsemanship in America. Below par. So I stayed to witness this developing concept. The posters said you could earn points which would turn into SHOW BUCKS, which you could apply to entry fees.

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The concept comes from the facility, not the horse show itself, but exhibitors are the beneficiaries for sure. Any kid can sign up for the clinic, get fed some pizza, have a shot to meet a celebrity (this week was Herbie the LOVE BUG), and learn about such things as grooming, blanketing, parts of the pony, and whatever else goes into the sort of education every kid needs. I saw 20 kids show up, pay attention to chosen leader of the week Anne Thornbury, touch, feel, help, ask questions, get answers, and be a part of something they WANTED to be a part of. Not only did they want to be taught, they wanted to be correct when attempting things on their own. I think kids are absolutely amazing. I can’t really teach the little ones because they cry when they see my resting b face which teenagers have ignored, but we don’t give them enough credit. I am telling you, I am assuring you, if you start out allowing them to learn, they will not let you down. When you witness a child actively involved in learning which part of the blanket to unbuckle first before removing it from the pony, you will understand exactly what I am talking about. (back to front for removal, front to back for placement)  It is all there right in front of us, we just have to supply it. I understand when trainers offer a full care service, you all need to make money, but come on, work with us a little, offer something that kids can be a part of so parents aren’t torn between paying for service so you can survive, and letting a kids have a hands on experience. Even if it is something small. And parents? it wouldn’t kill you to reassure your kids that it is ok to help out at the barn DESPITE the fact you are paying for full service care.

Following the horsemanship clinic, I witnessed half a dozen other trainers commending Roby and offering up their own barns, ponies, and even themselves for future demonstrations during the circuit, and even at multiple times through the weekend to make sure every kid had a chance to participate. What a desperately needed and wonderful concept to see fall into place. At least here in Ohio, I was seeing an entire future generation of riders wanting to learn about being good horsemen.

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Anne Thornbury guest hosting a clinic

I pulled some junior riders away from their breakfast on Saturday morning and interviewed them, and was relieved to know that at home, there wasn’t always full care service offered all the time, mainly at shows… They did have to tack up their own horses, they did have to participate in some of the care. These two girls from Michigan were totally into this horse show, returning to Ocala or WEF is no longer a consideration for them, the Florida experience was exhausting, they missed too much school, too much stress on travel time, and were much happier in an environment where they had more friends, could ride more, learn more, and their horses had way less stress. They were fully aware of how the demographics would change for getting into Devon, getting into Indoors, and felt pretty confident this year they would meet those goals. Wow. I was also happy to hear, they fully intend to stick with horses through college and are intending to become professionals, while they know this is not normal, and other barns are not as forward thinking, but at least I seemed to have found two girls that said some pretty awesome things to me. And, no I didn’t tell them anything about me before hand. Oddly enough they were regarding the Florida circuits as less about horses and horsemanship, and more about just simply being warm.

The point thing is unnerving, since obviously that is on a lot of people’s minds in this business. It is how money generates more money when you can get an animal qualified for a certain event in order to keep it’s value. But the amount of points needed to get into Devon will become staggering with this much more competition available. Going to Florida for Junior Hunters or First Years may not mean you are going to Indoors after all. The big Eq classes are super healthy here.

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Healthy Maclay turnout

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motivation much??

What a double edged sword we have in our hands. How much showing will become too much showing, just to get to what we have put on a a pedestal as a premier event? Will this open the door for something unique like maybe teaching better horsemanship skills? If I were a kid, I would want to be damn sure I learned how to ride better because this is going to be my year to get into something big. Something every kid claims they want on their resumé.

Horse people are going to make some big decisions regarding showing in the future, and the owner of the facility, Roby Roberts, has huge plans, and is not only motivated, but generous with the funds to make it work.

Now, I can’t deny there are still issues. Getting there in snow, for one.  I also want to know why there are layover fees when you commit to two weeks of showing, and don’t have the option to drive home Sunday only to return on Tuesday because you live too far away. I think exhibitors will take offense at being nickel and dimed around every corner, so maybe that needs to be worked out.

For the show, each ring is rented at a whopping average of $4,000 a day, so I can see the need to make sure exhibitors are coming through the doors at a rapid rate, and in this part of the country, people are pretty tolerant when they see a good thing coming. I really had to look hard for people to complain, and I tried, but honestly, when you can shed your parka, wear a t-shirt for 8 straight weeks and not worry about sunscreen?  Mid-Westerners are going to be ok with it, braiders never have to worry about cold fingers again, horses legs will never have to worry about scratches from bacterial infections, and most of those other little normally aggravating details don’t carry enough weight when you have something this amazing right in front of you.  Well played Country Heir and Roberts Arena, WELL PLAYED. http://www.robertsarena.com/

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