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
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.
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.
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??
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/