When you see something say something.
Well, no, not really… I saw something. But I can’t say something. It isn’t true is it? Pointing out obvious rule breaking is not what is going to make this sport better.
You can’t say something without a lawyer. Or a team of lawyers. How irrevocably frustrating and sad.
Say you see a horse with it’s penis hanging out of its sheath down to its knees. Do you do the whole SMH routine, roll your eyes to the heavens and think to yourself, I am useless here…. like I did? I was advised against speaking out against a video published on YouTube because my attorney felt I would be instantly burdened with a defamation lawsuit. Since I am married to my attorney, I guess I have to listen to him. It angered him as much as it angered me because he cannot deal with people who take advantage of the legal system, and burden judges with their own atrocities. Especially on a public platform such as YouTube. So I had to let it go. Maybe it just had to pee. Maybe it had melanoma that weekend. I doubt it, but whatever. I have no fear to raise a red flag, but I do have a family. Even my clients implored me not to speak out against someone with known mafia connections.
So the answers evade us once more. It is so hard to speak out. I am constantly considering the factors which contribute to cheating. Silence is one.
I think that is why so many people are calling for the judging to be altered, less ‘rewarding the horses in a coma’ syndrome that creeps into the voices on the rail… Yet judges left and right are going ‘hey! We can only judge what is in front of us that day and guess what? We ARE taking into consideration that young horses are proud of themselves sometimes and express it following a great jump. Or the best technical jumper can score higher with a swap or rub’. But junior hunters are judged differently than green hunters. And Pre-Adult divisions are judged differently than Amateur Owner divisions.
It is not solely the judging.
Say you send your horses on trial to a known rule breaker with the hope of any deal made? Do you make excuses and say you need to send them to stay alive in this business? What is that even? Staying in favor of doping? The horse comes back with dried blood caked on its hair, or a sore mouth, cotton still stuffed in its ears, but you brush it off as necessary for staying in the sales business. That, to me, is symptomatic of fear, a deeply embedded insecurity that cannot allow you to put the horses welfare above your own fear of disappointing someone you feel is better connected and more powerful. The kind of fear which speaks inside your head and convinces you something terrible will happen to your horses if you DON’T do what is asked of you from the perpetrator. The fear is so genuine, so real, and so strong, so tangible, and will not fade. You won’t be ‘friends’ openly with the person who gives you this fancy gift of fear, but you will answer the calls, chat brightly on the phone, and make the promises to keep him or her happy. It makes it simpler when the horses are considered a commodity, not really something you become attached to. I have news for you, you have already secured judgement by your peers for attempting business with a crooked horse dealer. You are now an enabler. You don’t need that fear in your life, get rid of it. Sell horses without doping them.
There is no pinning the problems of cheating on one demographic. Everyone plays a part. Everyone. Everyone contributes to cheating in some way.
Parents of young riders. Parents can do enormous amount of damage to a child’s development if they have little understanding of the sport they are involved with as a family. Just as a parent will verbally attack or negotiate with an academic teacher, the same can happen with trainers. Pressure from parents can only be controlled by the parents. And what are they protecting them from? Too much work?
“Find me a perfect pony/horse no matter the cost, so my child can win as much as humanly possible. By tomorrow. And no, he/she doesn’t want to learn to pick out feet, clean a stall, or put together a bridle. I want this to be fun for her”
Until parents come to terms with their own expectations in the horse world, how can trainers move forward? Parents have the highest demands of almost anyone in this sport, and we see the ramifications daily. The ‘well rounded’ child not only has to ride to perfection on a 1200 lb animal, he/she has to play hockey, tennis, basketball, play an instrument, get extra tutoring, make honor role every semester, knit, create a field of dreams, act out every desire of mom, dad, grandma and grandpa, figure out a solution for world peace, etc. etc. Parents are not sure the term “barn rat” really fits into the family schedule, so you are left with part time barn rats, and those rats really just want to show. Let’s be real. Only a few genuine barn rats really exist.
Show managers. Scheduling, believe it or not, plays a big part in cheating. Not that anyone can help it, but if a horse is cooped up in a tent stall 24/7 from Wednesday to Sunday, or longer, sometimes for a 6 week or more circuit, no turnout access, what do you think happens to a 1200 lb creature meant to roam free on the plains and deserts of the world. hmmm. They get feisty. We feed carbs. The shows offer so many classes compared to a few decades ago, and the demand is apparently high for all these classes, and the rings all go at once, how can a horse possibly be prepped correctly? One of the craziest things in the fall last year was to discover a class starting at 4:30 am. 4:30 in the morning. Now maybe this can’t be helped, maybe there really is no option, but it happened. Junior riders were required to be riding at 4:30 in the morning the day before a national championship. Interestingly, in Europe about a week later, a very well-known dressage rider walked out of a competition in Germany because she claimed the schedule was completely intolerable to the welfare of the horse. It was pretty big news, and she was strong enough to disappoint fans in GERMANY, by making a statement that she considered her warmup at 2 am to be unfair to her horse(s). I am positive she was criticized and put down by her peers, but she was adamant. I wonder if anyone was adamant about a 4:30 am warmup class?
You could argue this all day long, without coming up with an easy answer (someone will always be disappointed) but show managers play a part, too.
Course designing. Good course designers don’t mind to take into consideration the depth of education in the riders of certain classes. Certainly the more profitable divisions for show managers have been under 3’. However, a course designer who sets lines too long for a 2’6” division is not inviting riders to be more educated, but he/she is inviting the horses to be more quiet, so when hustled down a 6 stride set at 86’ the horse doesn’t unseat his novice rider with a simple head toss or high five, or worse a chocolate chip and stumble out of the line. Again, the courses end up doing the judging, not the judges. The venom of the reptile creeps in to replace the short stride of a horse whose step has shrunk from a natural 12’ to a dangerous 10’ long. It is all about the math….and the venom…
Grooms. Do you know how hard it is to find someone to sacrifice their entire lives for next to nothing, trying to juggle an entire herd of show horses and be finished within a 16 hour workday? The turnover rate with barn help is staggering, the risk of injury is steep, nutrition is scant, and well, people get tired. If six horses have to be lunged before an 8 am start time, what is to stop a groom from setting horses on fire on that lunge line in order to hurry up and get to the next one. Before long you have 6 crippled horses for the 8am class and guess what fixes a crippled horse? Medication. Trainers are desperate for good grooms, you see it all over the world, not just here, and a nightmare of a groom can wreak havoc in a good show barn.
So Trainers might think it is just easier and safer to give reserpine, dormosedan gel or GABA to an animal and stifle it’s energy long enough to get a good performance in the show ring. Customer happy. Customer pays the bills. Trainer gets to keep going to horse shows.
Owners. How many owners know or care what is given to the horses as long as the horses show up to the ring on time? Seriously, most owners are not around much. Should they be required to be around more?
Kids. Well, certain kids. The youth of today….What baffles me the most is that the internet goes crazy whenever a story comes along about someone who has beaten the stereotype of privilege, has worked their butts off to achieve his/her goals and experienced some sort of success. It is nuts how hungry people are for stories like like that and how difficult it is to find those stories. Some kids really do it right, really try to get educated, push their friends to learn more, and understand how important the horse is, understand that 10 tubes of Perfect Prep is NOT the answer to winning in the junior hunters. Only some, though.
I live for those stories and have found horse people have a genuine connection with hard working young people. The gracious juniors give credit to ALL of the trainers who saw them through their youngest years, educated them, built the foundation, and created the passion for sport, not just the current one(s).
Maybe too depressing and all too common are the stories of kids who find their way to the top of their junior careers, in whatever appropriate ring, jumpers, hunters, equitation, and somehow forget the very people who taught them how to navigate their first trot jump. How could you turn your back on the first trainer who hugged you when your pony was being a rotten pony, and not recognize that without that hug, you might have left the sport and picked up a tennis racket instead? Is that ok? Why not go back to that trainer every once in a while and ask if he/she needs help around the barn with the little kids, and be a good example for the next generation? Or, if you see them at a show, offer to clean some tack, roll wraps, pick a stall, fill a water bucket. The exhaustion level for trainers can be very, very high, and the temptation to medicate gets stronger once you realize how much more sleep you can get during a busy weekend. Be nice, you are a kid, help out so everyone gets plenty of sleep, it is not asking too much.
Which leads me to the Federation. That uneasy feeling I had about the new captain of the mothership grows steadily when I think about the calculated strategy of playing us like the pawns in a chess game. There is no fixing an industry, there is no fixing a sport. And the Hunters are not competing at the Olympic Level. Yes, some horses can be purchased for similar price tags as Olympic horses, but the more drastic the measures taken against the cheaters, the more the horses will suffer as experiments, as people take out their frustrations on a silent partner. Not to mention the few people trying desperately to do it right.
No official announcement has been made about the ban of hormone usage in horses, but the mere suggestion for Depo-provera (medroxyprogesterone) being put on the banned substance list and Regumate (Altrenogest) being highly controlled might not go in the direction intended. Actually I am sure it won’t. The horses will suffer more, because people are people, and can only do what they have learned from other people. If you were taught that depo helps a spooky horse, tried it and believe in it, you depend on it. Imagine what that person is going to experiment with in order to achieve the same result as depo-provera.
Those part time horse ladies in the amateur divisions at WEF (maybe generous donors to Foundations) who just want to have a nice photo of their champion ribbon on that special horse are suddenly being put at risk by an over zealous leader. And we circle back to what? More time on the lunge line? Oh my.
We aren’t ready for that drastic of a change this soon into a presidency…… The science is also lacking when proving if hormone use actually has any effect on horse performance whatsoever, and the horses, especially mares, who actually NEED depo for other reasons will most likely suffer greatly. Actually mares will be avoided all together in the market when people don’t understand how to not use hormone treatment. Never mind that depo causes arthritis, which I can attest to in my own body, which pops and creaks and groans after too many years of usage. Now I won’t go near the stuff, but it was a hard lesson to learn when I thought I was doing the right thing.
I can just imagine stabling managers now at major shows wondering if they will have to dedicate entire tents to mares only, geldings only, or stallions only, segregating the horses, and splitting up barns left and right in order to contain the chaos, as the hormones silently slip out of the horse’s systems.
Christ, and the mortality rate in hunters? My bet is an increase over the next two to five years as we come to terms with our own lack of education in the equestrian world.
So yes, even our own Federation is contributing to cheating in the hunter industry, even though they are currently spending 20% of their operating budget every year chasing the cheaters. That is 6 million dollars, in case you weren’t aware. 6 million dollars floating away from scholarships educational programs, benefits, and who knows what else. I wonder if ear plugs will be next?? They are already banned in Endurance and Dressage, what is to keep the message of a level playing field current if they do not address the use of ear plugs? Are we going to suddenly see an increase in deaf horses……?
Hunter Industry meet PETA.
Meanwhile pony clubbers are sitting over here, going….what are our member benefits again?
What a world we live in, a unique, proper snow globe, shake it up, see what settles.