Where are you? Brooke asked with utter confusion over the phone. Ludwig’s Corner! I replied, nearly shouting over the noise around me. Who’s Ludwig? she asked. I don’t know, I said, but his corner is pretty amazing.
I have been to a lot of horse shows. East Coast, Midwest, West Coast, Canada, Mexico, Europe, you get the point. Well traveled. Almost exactly one year ago I had just about enough of the “Rated” shows in this country, and took a few moments to vent my frustration. Then I started looking outside my little bubble. At the time, Ludwig’s Corner had just finished their Labor Day horse show and County Fair, and Andy Kocher had popped up in my news feed as winning the 2015 5k Mini-Prix/jumper Classic. I raised an eyebrow. Why would Andy pick this horse show to attend? Maddy forwarded me all the rest of the info on the horse show in Glenmoore, Pennsylvania, (about a 2 hour drive from us) and firmly insisted that next year, we are going. She received no argument from me.
Maryland has plenty of horse shows, and we now have an incredible mix of Recognized shows and Regional shows, so for several trainers in our area, our travel times are not severe before we can arrive at a pretty decent show grounds and spend some money for a ribbon, so admittedly, this show hasn’t really popped up on the radar of equestrians further to the South. Yes, some people know about it, and it has been going strong for 75 years, but generally outside of Eastern PA and NJ, it is still a bit of a mystery. Maddy wasn’t taking no for an answer, and spent all week organizing how to get her two horses there for Sunday, eyeing the hunter derby with one horse, and the Melvin Dutton Hunter division for the other horse. She brought her boyfriend to hold the end of a lead shank and help with the drive. Quite the scenic drive, btw.
I met her there, had no trouble finding it, and was directed by several people on where to park, it was clearly a well rehearsed routine. They were preparing for a huge crowd, and were diligent with spacial usage of the grounds. From the parking lot I had to walk through the setup for the fair to get to the rings. I noticed two things immediately….a mechanical bull, and a rock climbing tower in the middle of the vendor and food tents. hmmm. I kept walking, taking note. There were three show rings, all beautifully prepared, good footing (newish I understand), normal courses, nothing trappy or complicated. It was starting on time at 8 am. Since Maddy had entered the first few Adult equitation classes, I was able to see firsthand how everyone involved with the show started their day. My first impression was the fact that everything ran like a normal recognized show, the staff was incredibly capable, professional, and this was not their first rodeo. The secretary I knew, so no problems entering, the announcer I also knew, he does almost all of the big shows in Eastern PA, so his voice reassured me he wold know when to announce and for what, and would be properly informed as the day progressed. I was not disappointed.
Maddy and her horse bounced around the first few classes, which were not crowded, judging was correct, we collected a few ribbons, and then stuck both horses back on the trailer to investigate further. By 9 am the Fair side was really just waking up, and vendors were only just starting to unravel the tent flaps, and get organized. We walked through and made our way back toward the secretary stand to check out the Awards table. It was nothing short of ridiculous. Champion and Reserve Champion winners of each divisions were getting totally spoiled, and the table was rivaling most year end Association prizes. Not only that, but attached to each prize was an invitation to compete at the November CCHSA Final Horse Show at Wyndsor farm. Not going to be in the running for a tricolor? No problem, you can still buy a raffle ticket for a beautiful horse jump for $20.
There was a volunteer tent, complete with cases of water for volunteers, a proper coordinator, located at the top of the hill overlooking the rings. Next to that was the rather large Sponsor tent, which I gather there are many of. The souvenir tent let you take pics in the rather clever hand held Instagram frame, so we did, hashtagging and snapping our way through the day. There was an abundance of food. Everywhere.
^^Insta post ^^
By noon, the fair was in full swing, so as we grew bored of watching the hunters, we just shifted our location over to watch all the regular people and their kids play and scream their way through the fun. Dozens of vendors surrounded the main fair attractions, although not large, it accommodated the locals nicely. We watched little kids scale the rock wall, attempt the mechanical bull, do bungee jumping jacks, or slide down an inflatable slide. Just past the line of vendor tents, half a dozen ponies were available for pony rides. Want to see what the big kids were doing with their ponies? Walk a hundred yards back to the show rings and see for yourself. All these discussions the USHJA is having about how to grow the sport and apparently this horse show has been answering all those problems for the last 75 years.
I know there are a couple of shows attracting the general public, Devon coincides with it’s fair, Tryon International Equestrian Center is exceptional in everything they do with the public to fill the stands for Saturday Night Lights, but there is one MAJOR difference at Ludwig’s Corner. There are NO USEF fees. All this tremendous fun and exposure to ALL kinds of disciplines, pomp, circumstance, and flare, and the USEF/USHJA is not invited. I love it. With the exception of the commendable USHJA Foundation, which is a partner, they might as well not have existed. Maddy could afford to show BOTH of her horses in an appropriate atmosphere, with proper company, a proper facility, and walk away satisfied.
There are plenty of county shows coinciding with fairs across the country, but this event was clearly a well-established result of an incredibly dedicated team to raise the standards a bit, and it is working. Working really well.
Of course, there had to be a fail. But the Fail did not come from the horse show itself. It came from the Exhibitors.
Addressing tough topics for me is not terribly difficult, but I do resent feeling like the Principle of a High School when it comes to “Show Etiquette”. Maybe I should let bad behavior slide, as many people seem ok looking the other way when human beings become utterly unglued over nothing, but then, what would be the point of this blog?
I struggled with this all the way home, not sure whether to ruin a perfectly good blog post about a wonderful show I have every intention of supporting in the future with two aggravating details that make me want to issue yellow cards.
One reason I may not be the best future ‘Horse Show Manager’ is that I will have no problem throwing your ass out on the street, along with any number of horses you brought with you, should you feel arrogant enough to berate a member of my staff, rather loudly, and in ridiculous fashion. I literally have no idea what would possess someone to have an indescribable meltdown to the person behind the wheel of a water truck simply trying to do his job to prepare the surface in a warm up ring to your liking, but this guy did. And most of the horse show was witness to it. Also, it was 7:45 in the morning.
Let’s get one thing straight. The two people driving the water truck and tractor with the drag are employed by the MANAGER of a horse show to do one thing. Prepare the ring. There is not one person on the showgrounds who should interfere with these two employees under any circumstance as far as I can think of, outside of an emergency. IS THERE?? Am I missing something? Can I just state how bad you make the rest of us look? It is like interfering with a TSA agent trying to do his/her job at the airport, do you think the agents ENJOY touching several hundred people a day looking for weapons of mass destruction? ok, well, maybe a slight stretch of a comparison, but still, I would have thrown this jerk out.
The other peculiar behavior I witnessed was the nearly half hour stretch between the 2nd and 3rd horse in the Hunter Derby.
The morning schedule of adult and children hunters finished at the proper time, and as stated in the prize list, the afternoon ceremonies would begin with a flag presentation, national anthem, followed by a carriage horse demonstration and Derby at 2pm. A slight hiccup with the Carriage Drivers being delayed pushed the Derby back one hour. We were all aware of the delay. Posted order, 26 entries, all timed and displayed at the ingate and the office. Meanwhile, we enjoyed watching the slew of carriages once they finally made an appearance. All Good. Water and drag, set for the derby. First rider standing at the gate, guess where she was from? Maryland. Second rider kind of casually strolled up to the gate, not eager to get in the ring, but was there, regardess, went in, did her thing, came out. I didn’t think anything of it.
Then, nothing. Like literally, nothing. I looked at the ingate, no one was there, I glanced at Maddy holding her horse, and we made those questionable scrunched up faces at each other like uh…now what? I looked into the warmup ring to see a madhouse of dozens of riders in shadbellies all flying around frantically prepping their horses and couldn’t figure out for the life of me what they were doing!
The pregnant pause went on for so long, and was so painful, the announcer finally said, “well I guess no one else is interested in showing in this class, so we can move on”, and the threat DIDNT EVEN WORK! The poor girl begging people to just come up and go out of order was exhausted and clearly defeated by the lack of willingness to participate in the derby. People watching from the hill, baking in the sun, got up and returned to the fair.
Again, I am left wondering, IS this behavior ok? It was so awkward, because had Maddy and I known this was going to happen, I would have GLADLY moved her up from 18th in the order to go 3rd, but it really didn’t seem like reality, so we were stuck, thinking surely the next rider is coming up any second, right? OH! I spotted her, here she comes, we all breathed a sigh of relief as one person casually walked out of the warm up ring up ready to compete! NOPE, just kidding, she actually was just letting horse stand at the gate for her real turn, much later in the class, I think she went in the ring just before Maddy.
I have to be careful here, but I definitely have noticed a difference when showing in the North East versus showing in the South, MidWest or West. The temperature does change. I can be a stranger in a lot of places outside of Maryland, and in my own personal experience, I have noticed trainers interacting with each other with either warmth or coolness, and today I noticed a particular coolness. The strain of an empty ring is very real when outsiders are looking in. If you went to the circus and stared at an empty ring with no elephants for half an hour, my guess is you would complain to the people putting on the circus. But I witnessed trainers not working together to solve the problem of an empty ring, and I was saddened by it. Despite the fact that it isn’t my circus, and not my monkeys, I think it is a problem that needs to be addressed for the sake of our sport. If you don’t want to go into the ring for your class, why are you at the horse show? On the flip side I don’t want to hear rude ingate operators berating exhibitors at 7:15 in the morning, but we really need a common ground here, I think the word I am looking for is respect.
Sigh, enough about the two Fails. Maddy enjoyed herself immensely, I snapped a nearly two hour long story, and loaded my phone up with dozens of pictures, she continued on with her young horse to the Melvin Dutton hunter division (named after a legendary horseman in his own right who has touched the lives of literally hundreds of horsemen) and left completely satisfied with the day. On a pleasant side note Melvin Dutton was there for the ribbons, which I was so glad to hear, after his tremendous recovery from last year, and Maddy was thanked for showing in his namesake division, a touching moment for those of you who know him. If you do not know him, here is a tiny description:
It was a good day. It was a great day. I’ll be back for more of the Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show in the future, and I bet a few more Marylanders will be making those stall reservations, too, so plan ahead.
Labor Day Weekend just got a lot more interesting. #LCHS for the win this week.