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

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