Bases loaded. The role of a chef d’Equipe in the hunter world and a bit more.. #CHAA2018

I wouldn’t say I won a big nomination here. In reality, I put myself up for the position because I didn’t want to see the position left vacant and, (like last year), be stuck to search out and beg an unsuspecting victim to fill out the paperwork and play the role of Chef d’Equipe for the USHJA Zone 3/4 Hunter Team Championships, and I have to admit, I wasn’t all that excited at first, maybe because I wasn’t sure what to expect, maybe because my reluctance to travel to Atlanta in the summer, the distance, the heat, (did I mention a 12 hour drive?)…. I guess there may have been a few reasons.

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It is the third year for the USHJA Zone 3/4 Child/Adult Hunter Team championships, and they are, (for the third year), being held in Conyers during Classic Company’s Atlanta Summer Classic.

I have an adult client who put it on her bucket list at the beginning of the year, and has been super excited ever since for her new experience. She has never seen anything like this, so her enthusiasm kept me motivated, and I could at least assure her she would love the Georgia International Horse Park, if nothing else. We also had other Marylanders representing Zone 3, including a close neighbor who seemed to share Sable’s excitement for the team Champs, Morgan and her horse La Sandro, who stabled with us.

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Marylanders Morgan Geelhar and Sable Fetty 

I memorized the format, and memorized the rules on the drive down. However, I wasn’t sure who would be actually participating until we sat down before the jog and counted the riders who showed up. It was a bit lighter than we were expecting, but we had enough riders to make enough teams so we did the math and got the ball rolling.

Thursday night was the rider’s meeting and ‘draw’ for the teams. Some teams share riders from both Zone 3 and 4. This concept drew some blank looks at first and caused some confusion. Are we competing for our Zone or our Teams??

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It took a little while to figure out you were actually competing for your team first, Zone second. Each team was awarded by a color-coded armband, and if you had a little flair and courage, you could incorporate a little color into your braids. Like green. Like green pompoms to match the green armbands? Well, why not?? You get the idea.

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PC Megan Lacy

 

With the jog so close to the riders meeting there was no chance for everyone to actually meet each other and this became my one major disappointment in myself. I will never ever forgive my ignorance to take advantage of a potential party.

The ‘Jog’ on Thursday night started around 6:30 pm, so once it was finished, everyone headed back to put their horses to bed, and that was that.

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 Mia Bokotic with her mount No Doubt About It with PC going to Megan Lacy of the USHJA

I failed you. And I take the blame.

We had a noon start on Friday for the first class, so the ONE THING I could have asked my Zone 3 committee for three months ago was a ‘Team Breakfast’…. had I known. You see, I am on the Zone 3 committee and the way it works is that you have to ask for funds for special events through a proposal, get approval from the USHJA and then you can eventually receive the funding to pull off your ‘event’. However, I think I am the first chef d’Equipe who is actually also on our Zone 3 Committee, and this was my first Hunter Championship, and admittedly, blind as a damn bat going into it. POOOP. POOOP. POOOP. I will never forgive myself for this epic fail. Every single exhibitor wanted to meet their teammates without having to worry about the Jog, and I was not prepared.

I will now consider writing a manual for future Chef d’Equipe’s because let’s face it, not too many ‘hunter Chefs’ exist out there, and we need all the help we can get.

NOTE – to other Chefs across the country as your Zone Team Champs are close to occurring – MAKE a ‘meet and greet’ happen BEFORE the first class. LEARN FROM US!!

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Heidi Kurpaska and Shelly Nelson from the USHJA explaining the event to the Zone 3/4 riders. PC: Megan Lacy

Anyway, I have to say we were blessed by an absolute astoundingly friendly group of child and adult equestrians, who proceeded to take the initiative and walk around the show grounds introducing themselves to each other, to me, to the other chefs, sharing ideas, learning names of horses and stories, contact info, friending on FB and starting conversations left and right.

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Alex Vernon Tart, Ellison Beaver, Elizabeth Ragsdale and Mary Ragsdale came by to visit me, super cute, no? 

I have never witnessed a more congenial group of horse people in my life. It was incredible. It gave me goosebumps. Everyone was on the same level, most everyone was new to the Championships, and everyone was patient with it’s growth, (again more or less).

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Discussions happen. As per every show I attend these days, people like to talk to me. Go figure! Lol, but really. I did try to listen to every suggestion, and in turn made everyone listen to my ideas for the future and kind of got the feeling some of these riders (if not all) would sign up for these Championships again… but the feedback is real, so let’s see at the end of the summer how many other Zones might agree with this list of 8…..

1.  Team Competitions: Some concern over format. The Drop Score I am not sure I am in love with. Each team is supposed to have 4 riders, but if the total number of people doesn’t break evenly into teams of 4, then Teams have to be made up of 3 with all scores counting. Teams with 4 have a distinct advantage with allowing a drop score. Meh, leave it at 3 per team with no drop score. We aren’t a jumper team. Maybe need more feedback on this one, because the drop score DID work for the winners, right?

2. Understanding you don’t ride for your Zone first, and Team second. You ride for your Team first, and consider riding for your Zone a bonus. This might sound counter productive, but makes more sense when some teams are combined with riders from Multiple Zones. I am not sure that message ever got across from the USHJA when this program was created, but I am here to tell you, Team first, Zone second.

3.  Location. Location Location. I’ll just be honest here and hope I don’t get killed. Location makes a difference. We need show managers willing to place bids on these championships who meet the requirements for holding them, and fit a location a tad more central. This isn’t about the Georgia Horse Park. Nor the Show Management, we all love the Horse Park and Classic Company, but it is a major haul for a lot of people, and if it keeps getting held down here in the lovely south, it won’t be a program which flourishes with Zone 3 riders much longer. Once the idea was put into my head about the October Raleigh Show, (now supposedly under the management of Joan Petty), I asked other trainers to give me their opinion, and they said sure, they would all be happier giving that a go. Maybe next year? I’m coming for ya Joan, look out. Someone forwarded me your contact info, lol. I know how to beg, for real.

4. We have so many USHJA members who really don’t understand all of these ‘blossoming programs’ coming out of the USHJA. If I heard it one time, I heard it a hundred. Not enough people can find information on the programs, on the website, and are depending on random word of mouth from kids to get the idea planted into a trainer’s head. We are three years into these Championships?? Should we be at all alarmed? Sigh. I told the trainers I talked to just hearing about this program for the first time you have to give a program five years to develop…K. Maybe they believed me, maybe they didn’t. I also could have made a world of difference handing out info packets on other programs within the USHJA – set the booth up! Set the booth up! I don’t mind talking about the programs, but I need crap brochures to hand out.

5. Four judges for a child/adult class? Really? I don’t mind two panels, but I do not see the logic behind four judges in a normal size ring at a normal horse show for a 3 foot division. How complicated do we need to make it? Is the 3’ division seeped in controversial politics and I am that oblivious? I don’t think so. These judges have turned down a full week of work in exchange for 1 1/2 days  at a show where they cannot also work when they are finished? Does that make sense? We suddenly have so many judges in this country that we have a surplus? Where have I been? Can we save that $5k in our budget for something else? Like a party? I am more than positive that two judges are sufficient for a child/adult division. Nothing against the child/adult division, but really. I can’t wrap my head around the lack of logic on this one. Maybe someone else can explain better to me.

6. Running Commentary, because no one knows what the heck is going on. Which team is in the lead after the hack? After round one? Who needs to get their sh*t together? Where is the dramatic finish? Just hand me a mike, I’ll do it. And if you don’t trust me, I’d at least like to hear the announcer give a brief rundown of teams between each round so the parents and trainers can boost the next kid going in the ring, and keep the spirit moving. I’ve taught at schools, I know what team spirit is like when managed well…..

7. Number of teams sent to Championships. What is too long? I mean we only had 11 children riders and 18 adult riders and we were whipped. I mean, downright exhausted. I am still tired. I don’t even know what day it is, and I didn’t even have any horses showing in the regular horse show.  What is really a healthy number here for this event? I think max 15-16 each, but that’s me. I am ok with around two hours per section, but over that, man, it gets tough.

8. Children’s Hunters don’t always have to go first. Like both days? Swap it out, one day kids go first, and the other day adults go first.

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The feeling of contributing to your team score… Sable Fetty pulls in a top score for her green team. 

 

Back to Day one… Shall I digress? To the stress?

Stress, stress, and more stress. Bad timing for additional stress, right?

Nothing like an extra long road trip to Georgia from to Maryland only a few days after an equally long road trip home from a horse show in Kentucky, and trying not to feel like a dimwit, attempting to learn the ropes of a formal position, keeping a smile on my face, remembering to eat occasionally,  and then BAM!

Hello to waking up one morning to your phone exploding with a bombardment of questions from all over the country regarding a social media controversy dropping out of thin air regarding the VERY organization hosting the event you just left your farm and  family to attend……

Lap meet dilemma.

I don’t know about other women, but even a slight rumor of workplace misconduct makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and I find myself almost instantly suffering from a queasy stomach. Maybe because, (like most women I know), it reminds us once again of our own #metoo experiences which I keep trying to bury down the rat holes beneath my barn.

I felt all the things resurface. 

Disappointment, frustration, and helplessness, and in a 24 hour period I had to shove all that sh*t aside and focus on the ladies in Conyers. They didn’t travel all the way down here to compete only to be sidelined by a situation beyond their control… They certainly didn’t deserve to lose any of the spot light. But the stress was silently searing through my mind, I was really irritated, and had to force myself to bury it all even deeper. No doubt it will resurface, and no doubt it will be handled, (by someone else) but what incredibly poor timing. I don’t know what goes on inside the walls of the USHJA, but damned if I immediately didn’t start paying close attention to the three incredible women who showed up to deliver a home run, (or at least a triple play), with the Hunter Championships for our Zone 3 and 4 riders at the Horse Park.

Heidi Kurpaska, Shelly Nelson, and Megan Lacy may be three of the most competent women in the USHJA, that I know of. 

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Heidi, Shelly and Megan, from the USHJA.  

You may know them more for what they do instead of their actual faces, but I think you should start to recognize these ladies.

Shelly organizes the Champs all year long, sends us emails, and does the score keeping during the event (I tried that – never again).

Megan? You see her photos social media posts and press releases.

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Megan’s work on social media is brilliant

Heidi? She set up all of the awards, swag bags for the riders, and not one ribbon was forgotten at home, and starting with the set up of the first rider meeting display to the last exhausted horses who waddled back to the barns on Saturday, they showed a constant enthusiasm and spirit you will never ever see from me unless you pay me a million dollars.

It might have to be two million. Honestly, I couldn’t keep up with them.

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Heidi and Megan

Their hard work is being noted by me, and should be noted by everyone else, too. And not just because without them we would totally be f**ked, but because they are genuinely superb people to boot. I started to think about all of the times I had questions and called or emailed people at the USHJA, versus attempting to contact US Equestrian, and am somehow thinking although they may be neighbors physically, they are worlds apart in manners. We are so lucky to have these women, I just want them to be safe now.

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Megan setting up the table while on a conference call. 

So many faces.

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I loved hearing the rider’s stories, it was honestly very good for me. I get a kick out of being engaged with riders, trainers, parents and friends while at an event like this. I saw familiar faces, new faces, happy faces, faces fighting their way through tears when disappointment was mixed up with exhaustion, and I wasn’t even irritated when I saw the tears, because I know the feeling when you are scared you let someone else down, or your horse. One girl had a helluva first round in the Individual only to come back to have a communication fail and end up in the dirt quite suddenly. Shaken, but not hurt, she sobbed into her horse’s neck with her arms wrapped around him genuinely devastated she had made him look bad or traumatized him. Aww gurl, we know, but he’s ok, and we all love him, too. Tomorrow is another day.

I think these kids will be stronger for it. It’s hard, it’s new, and a real challenge.

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Zone 3 Gold Medalist Shelby Edson and Barbie Burns with mom (Maryland)

 

I also think the more these championships grow, the more competitive they will become. It is fabulous these first few years to give riders maybe in their first year of showing on the A circuit a chance to experience something quite special, and equally as rewarding. The mix of riders is actually a bit refreshing. It is not simply the top tier of each division, and yet somehow, it’s still anybody’s day, right?

I met Lindsey Irvin when we were both in Holland together. Different circumstances brought us together on a farm where we worked, rode, ate, drank, played games, and well… lived. It has been 7 years, but here we are again, re-united in a totally different setting, but with horses once again the common bond. This weekend, she and Matias won the overall Adult Individual title and I could not have been more proud to know her. She may not have been from my Zone, but I didn’t care. She was fantastic to watch, and seemed to really love being here.

 

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Heidi, Shelly and Bob Bell with Matias and Lindsey Irvin, PC Megan Lacy/USHJA

Matias is in his late teens, although you would NEVER guess that watching him go around, he looks great, but a few months ago she didn’t even know if he would see the New Year. He stopped eating hay, lost interest in eating his grain, and then one day insisted on drinking heavily out of the liverpool in the ring. Lindsey called the vet. When the blood came back, the vet called in a mild panic, and she came back to help save his life. Round the clock fluids for his failing kidneys and a complete diet change including switching to Cavalor feed eventually brought back the spunky warmblood to his normal self again, and here she is seven months later winning a championship. Talk about goosebumps. I had to know what she felt about the weekend, and knew she could be honest with me

“I would definitely do the championship again. It was unique since it offered something different than normal horse shows or even year end shows. Which made it a lot fun. I had a wonderful time getting to know new people that I maybe wouldn’t have meet or interacted with at a normal show. I had a blast this weekend and look forward to next year.”
 Lindsey Irvin, Zone 4

 

I also know Sable will want to sign up again. She learned so much, and embraced the team concept immediately. She actually led the way with her enthusiasm, and as I looked around at all the other ‘Sable’s’ gathered at the in gate, I thought well, damn, I hate to admit it, but this might be a worthwhile program after all.

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Sable and Tattered Lace. PC Allison Hartwell

 

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Unsanction me – the Virginia Hunters and then some….

What if I told you there was a working championship model which could be replicated across the country, is an easy format, fully supported by the community, and, to me, kind of sets the stage for a secession from both the USEF and USHJA?

The brilliant brainchild of Chris Wynne, from Virginia Beach, Virginia is evolving into one of the area’s most treasured events, and it is not hard to see why. With an unsurprising desire NOT to attend any of the Florida winter circuits, but still wanting to qualify his horses for Devon, Indoors, etc., Chris worked on an idea he had percolating around in his head to breathe life back into struggling winter shows in the area, which would help the shows, and help HIM at the same time earn valuable points. Then he sold the idea to the area horseman. It was not a hard sell. He placed a few key people in place, including the Queen of all show secretaries Sue Tallon, secured the Virginia Horse Center as a venue, and blew our minds.

The Virginia Hunter Championships.

The Mission statement is simple: A program designed to foster, promote, reward and encourage hunter competition at independent horse shows located in Virginia.

Enrollment is $250 for one division, and $400 for two divisions. THERE IS NO ENTRY FEE TO COMPETE AT THE FINALS. Do I need to repeat the last statement?

THERE IS NO ENTRY FEE TO COMPETE AT THE FINALS.

oh, there is one more thing – there is $60,000 in prize money.

Eligibility is simply showing at enough selected horse shows in Virginia (Culpeper is NOT on the list) and those shows are held at favorite venues in the state.

A rated shows have a value of 1.5 shows

AA rated shows have a value of 1 show

Professional & Ponies need 4.5 Qualifying shows

All other divisions need 6.5 Qualifying shows.

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PC Theresa Ramsay – Chris Wynne

More about the Finals.

The Virginia Hunter Championships are not sanctioned. However, because of the current timing of the Finals for the Horses (held the Tuesday before Lexington National) it is unlikely anyone is breaking too many rules since they usually are staying for the A show which starts on Wednesday. Ponies do their finals at Rosemount in July to avoid conflicts with Pony Finals in Kentucky.

The finals have a real feeling of accomplishment for attending. They are special. They are fun. The coliseum is dressed all fancy and it is a ONE ring dog and pony show. What interests me is how people are starting to look at the V Champs as an event better than other major championships in the country. Certainly friendlier. And have you seen the horses down there? We have some seriously fancy beasts floating around Zone 3. And riders in the Mid-Atlantic region ride a hunter like everyone should ride a hunter…. properly. In other words, it is an impressive feat to walk away a winner. I would not be surprised in the least if more Zone 3 riders became less inclined to do anything other than the Virginia Hunter Championships. Marylanders are becoming hungry for them, North Carolina has a piqued interest as well.

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PC Theresa Ramsay, Jessi and Davenport 

I asked Jessica Lohman what she thought of the V Champs: big fan….

I also asked Karyn Clifton:

My favorite thing about the Virginia Hunter championships, is while yes it is an investment, it’s not a “break the bank kill your horse” type of thing.  You can qualify without losing your sense of Horsemanship or sportsmanship to do it. If you get there and win – bonus.  If things don’t go as planned, it doesn’t leave you feeling humiliated or bad about yourself, because the point of it all was to participate. You were part of a year long quest (an attainable one) to toss your hat in the ring and give it your best shot. For a lot of us, that’s a huge accomplishment in and of itself. Beginning the year and ending the year without letting life derail the journey or force us to quit.
 The social/ fun aspect is a big draw for me.  I bring my family  (as do lots of people) and it’s only 1 class to force non horse folk to sit through (with 3 boys,  you definitely have a clock you’re running against). It’s not a full division, so I actually get to spend time with them. 2 years ago there was a small low key band with dancing, and it was a blast!  Zone 3 has a bunch of dancing fools. We all had fun at that party, including my husband and my boys. They  want to come back to a horse show, Lol! Not many non horse men ever say that! Basically, the whole day feels festive and fun. It’s competitive,  but light hearted. 
The courses have been BEAUTIFUL each year.  Flowing and natural, and challenging without crushing your soul, Lol! It’s nice to have a day devoted to one “class”.  It makes it special; a little like an old school classic and  Prom, combined. 
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Karyn Clifton and her Dash. PC Theresa Ramsay

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Let’s go back to the ‘not sanctioned’ topic for a minute.

During the spring Lexington horse shows, also held at the Virginia Horse Center, USEF decided to decline the request of the show to hold a USHJA National Derby during the second week, despite an approval from USHJA. The reason is entirely vague and probably incredibly short sighted on their behalf. Assuming that the show would simply not hold a derby, they basically said to try again next year. Bad idea. After a general poll was issued among the trainers, it became abundantly clear not too many people gave two poops that the Derby was unsanctioned by a governing body, they just wanted to put their fancy outfits on and show in the Sandy Gerald Ring with all of their friends, meanwhile celebrating Tony Workman’s 60th Birthday.

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The outcome was the same, and get this – NO MONEY was given to either organization for the class! What a win! Again, not surprising. Virginians may have little regard for the national governing bodies, and I believe Virginia even refuses to be an affiliate member altogether of the USHJA. (USHJA charges state associations to be affiliate members but it is unclear what the USHJA gives in return)

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Now, moving forward, there seems to be no legitimate reason to involve the USHJA or USEF in the Derbies, so the horse show has one less bill to pay, which means more than likely the exhibitors will benefit once again, as that saved money can trickle down to us.

The rapidly increasing popularity of unsanctioned horse showing in the Mid-Atlantic region is alarming. Our regional professionals are seeing the swelling on the already full local circuits and shows are not ending at 2 pm. Some are going close to 10 pm. A few even later. Schedules are being revamped to accommodate exhibitors. Circuit stalls for regional shows are sold out way in advance.

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The multiple local circuits in Virginia are of equal quality with venues as the sanctioned shows, Maryland, too.  This is a problem because as more and more people experience unsanctioned showing, the desire to write a bigger check for a sanctioned event wanes (obviously).

Madeline Lohr, an avid supporter of the A circuit found herself at a schooling show at Fox Chase Farm, so I asked her what she thought.

“So the reason I went is because I have a young green horse who has gotten away with a naughty habit – refusing to go past the In gate (he’s stubborn and was spoiled and started late so he is very entitled and opinionated). I have been taking him to local shows because the judge and the in gate crew are much better about letting me work through this issue than they would be at an A show. It’s also so much cheaper to take him and it’s not such a huge loss if he acts up. He’s just about ready to go to A shows but there’s no point in spending all that money until I’m confident that he will be good. Fox Chase is a really nice show – very well attended (I think people were using it to prep for Upperville) with decent competition. Sometimes the courses and the jumps can be a little strange at unrated shows but Fox Chase shows are always reliably good. Where I live (Warrenton) there are unrated shows every weekend within an hours drive so it’s so great to have that option to bring young horses along without spending a fortune on unrated hunter divisions at rated shows.Oh, and the footing was great!” 
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Madeline Lohr and her young horse 

And when a Championship offers $60,000 in prize money, doesn’t have 150 per class (i.e.: hello Green Incentive), and is free for the exhibitor to attend??? You can do the math.

Stewards are still hired, judges are still hired, staff is in place, so are there any downsides to holding the Championships? No worries, I’ll wait…..

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Paul Mathews PC Theresa Ramsay

The model can be copied everywhere in the country, but the New England region would have to look hard at what they can offer in the winter and maybe recreate some shows which have vanished in the area. Or even utilize the snazzy new Syracuse facility and apply for some winter dates.

So, just a guess, but if these Championships take off the way I think they are going to take off, and perhaps eventually include North Carolina and Maryland, does the Mid-Atlantic region start to entertain the idea of pulling away from the Federations for support? Clearly the area knows how to run a horse show. Would people still attend the Upperville Horse Show and show under the oaks if it was unsanctioned?

Have you met people in Virginia?

Showing at the Upperville Horse Show is like showing in the Dixon Oval, a very unique and breathtaking experience. The trees and natural obstacles exemplify the true hunter discipline, the rings have an uphill and downhill, and with the addition of modern footing, it is safer, cleaner, and ten times more horse friendly. Even when certain years have left exhibitors with bad weather, questionable schooling ring footing, no power, or even no water, people don’t give up on the Upperville Horse Show. They keep coming back, without massive complaints, and they keep selling out the horse show. Improvements over the years have contributed to the success of the show, and the grounds continue to grow and evolve. I really think if you strip the WCHR, or even strip the rating of the show, the Upperville Horse Show would carry on without interruption.

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I am not saying it will happen either way, but the importance of Federations involved in our horse show community has less relevance each year, especially when people are realizing the main reason for the Federations to tighten their grip on horse shows is because they each make a helluva lot of money off of them. If shows believe they can pull in the same results without being recognized, then what?

In more cases every year, I see people opting to show where they want to show, and put less importance on the actual rating of a show, and this could be really fateful for the Federations if it continues. You cannot legislate human nature, and people do what they like without feeling obligated to a Federation. If it is too hot in Tryon, for example, the summer shows won’t sell out. And look how nice that venue is! But it is effing hot!  Even after the disastrous footing conditions in Vermont last year, guess what, people STILL want to go to Vermont, because who wouldn’t want to be in Vermont for the summer? People go where they want to go. There are very few who calculate anymore where they can best win. Those days are long gone. Values have changed. The importance of being a winner has changed.

After watching what has unfolded under our noses from decades of sexual misconduct, who is going to send off their kids to some legend with hopes of making an Olympic Team?? Children will be closer to home, more protected. Healthier upbringings will prevail over winning a medal or a circuit championship. Our future will be VERY different than the past. Watching what the U.S. Olympic Committee is doing is making me ill. We will all be affected. We cannot escape it. I wish they wouldn’t post an Interim List of people under investigation. It is cagey and confuses people. What allegations are to one person are very different to another person, and we are unable to process the scope of these allegations, because we weren’t there. Some people have even already served their time for infractions and are being pulled back into the spotlight for further review. Are we sure that is ok?  Is that not Double Jeopardy? In general, people will jump to conclusions even if the investigations prove someone’s innocence. Horse people consistently have demonstrated to be the judge and jury even over minor habits….like smoking……

The USEF sees it very differently, however, and I think it will take years to pull out of the quagmire it is creating. Each cornerstone of our industry will suffer a major fracture and where will people eventually turn? To unsanctioned shows? Maybe, maybe not, but this storm that’s brewing will unleash a wrath of emotion we may not be ready to cope with.

I am truly happy with the success of the Virginia Hunter Championships. The concept was so clever and made so much sense, I am only really surprised it wasn’t thought of sooner. And I would be lying if I said I am glad I wasn’t the person who thought of it first. Good thing I like Chris Wynne. However, it does leave me wondering, what ELSE have we not thought of yet?

I get that we need Federations for oversight, to strive for an even playing field, and to calculate “certain” points, but I hope I am not the only one really seeing the writing on the wall here. Every time I look at the USEF website, I start to worry about something new. The list just keeps getting longer and longer. I still can’t even get on board with the motto….Share the Joy? Share the Joy literally means nothing to people who are constantly sharing their pocketbook with USEF, and I don’t think people are that stupid, you just have to look to the Virginia Hunter Championships as proof.

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for more info, click here http://www.vahunterchamps.com/home.html