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.
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.
I asked Jessica Lohman what she thought of the V Champs: big fan….
“What I love about the Virginia Hunter Championships is that it showcases the quality of horse showing in Virginia on two levels.
First, it highlights the fabulously-run, high standards of excellence, non-cookie cutter shows held in Virginia all year long that are run BY horsemen FOR horsemen.
Second, the Virginia Hunter Championships provides a platform for some of the best hunters in the country – ranging from ponies to professional division horses – to have a high-end “finals” without the pressure, travel and expense of indoors. The prize money at this is AMAZING thanks to generous sponsors who are passionate about the Virginia show hunter industry!
And the large, flowing, natural courses that were built in the coliseum for this event last year were breathtaking. It’s a wynne-wynne when you have people who actually train/ride/show for a living putting on an event of this caliber.”
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.
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.
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)
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.
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!”
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…..
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.
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.