Conjecture

Conjecture: an opinion or conclusion formed on the basis of incomplete information.

Also a good name for a horse.

This year has provided an enormous amount of opportunities for conjecture. We have seen more interest from members to participate, we have seen efforts to get to know who is in these positions, because they are all among us, competing, training, judging, and we know their names. Maybe that is part of the problem. We know too much. We connect with too many people, and the double edge sword is now we cannot dismiss their opinions because we KNOW who is holding those opinions, and it is painful.

The USHJA comes with a boatload of problems, but that is simply the way it is. Ironing out the problems. Constantly. There is no dismissing the organization to branch off and create a new association without dropping the Olympic Games from Equestrian Sport. The Ted Stevens Act specifically prevents more than one governing body for each sport partaking in the Olympics, which is why we pay the US Equestrian one fee, and the USHJA another fee. Our money goes to the Olympic path on one side (so we can watch McLain Ward), and the accessible programs we all support on the other side (so we can participate in Championships, EAP,  Derby Finals etc.).

Screen Shot 2017-07-09 at 8.59.11 AM

In order to keep Equestrian in the Olympic, Paralympic, or Pan American Games, there must be only ONE National Governing Body to oversee all recognized equestrian sport.

You can read the By-laws here for the USOC.

If you want the hunter discipline removed from recognized competition and out of the umbrella of the US Equestrian, sure, you can do this by forming a new organization and simply compete locally or unrecognized. That means, short stirrup all the way up to International Hunter Derby would be unrecognized. On the local level only. Nothing in the hunter disciplines would be recognized by any National Governing Body. Maybe each state could have a Governing organization, but it couldn’t be national. Only Show Jumping, Dressage, Vaulting, Reining, Driving, Para- Eq, Endurance, and Eventing would be recognized on a national/International level, like in all other countries. But you CANNOT have two National Governing Bodies overseeing equestrian sport and still have the United States be eligible for the Olympic Games.

So, do we want to drop out of the Olympics?

or,

Do you want Hunter to be removed from US Equestrian and those classes be recognized on the local/regional level only?

Where would Equitation go? Recognized or unrecognized?

How would horse shows work?

The United States Hunter Jumper Association.

Dressage riders pay the USDF, event riders pay the USEA, Reiners pay the NRHA, etc. And we pay the USHJA.

But do we need the USHJA?

USHJA

Supporters of the EAP (Emerging Athletes Program) will say yes, because the EAP will not exist without the USHJA.  Supporters of the education (H Quiz) will say yes, our kids know nothing, we need USHJA. Do we NEED the Incentive Finals? Supporters will say yes. Do we NEED the Derby Finals? Supporters will say yes. So these classes and programs cannot exist without the USHJA? Current status dictates yes. The US Equestrian is not likely to take over these programs are they? So, of course, we NEED the USHJA.

Screen Shot 2017-07-15 at 9.41.15 AM

The conflict with the USHJA Foundation is another situation which has to be ironed out, somehow. Most of us can only speculate about the conflict, and the ones involved are restricted over possible litigation.

The Association wanted a level of control that we were advised by legal counsel was not required and in our opinion was not in the best interest of the Foundation, it’s donors, or mission. The potential of litigation prevents me from discussing the subject further. Thank you.   —– Geoff Teall

The speculation over what caused the conflict has included everything from appropriation of funds, to breaking away from the USHJA all together and somehow running as a stand alone operation. We don’t know. We got a sort of lame press release which left a lot of questions (no offense, but really). We have to hope what DID happen is correct enough to move forward, and thankfully no scholarships or grants will be affected. Arguments for both sides might be valid arguments, but how does one declare the winner? Not possible, and worse, we know, love and respect all the people on both sides of the argument. How awful to watch this happen. Even more awful to be inside the walls trying to figure it out.

I think two things about that situation. 1, we elected Mary Babick to make the most difficult decisions possible, and she does, and 2, if  those 11 dedicated board members envisioned something together, then they shouldn’t give up on it’s creation. This is America, it is a large country, and any motivation for a way to give back to our horse show community will ultimately prevail.

business-litigation-lawyer-300x248.jpg

Litigation is hard. It prevents the desired transparency we all seek. I’m married to this, so I know when conversations come to a dead halt over a private matter, or worse, can’t even start because of the subject. Litigation is there to protect us and hinder us all at the same time. I despise potential litigation, but am one of the people who will probably need it the most in my lifetime.

What you can do is be as knowledgeable about the organizations as possible and not turn your back on them. Know enough of what is going on so that you may be called upon for your service, advice, or input down the road.

Read the rulebook, read the bylaws. Listen to the podcasts, whatever it takes to NOT TURN YOUR BACK. Whatever it takes to absorb the information, think about it and maybe even be part of the solution.

Opinion.

The US Equestrian is a riding club. The rest of the world views it as a riding club. If you don’t like the riding club’s rules, then become part of governance and change the rules, or leave the riding club. However, ripping apart the organization with litigation because they are not  following YOUR OWN RULES is hardly constructive. Yay, you are suing. Again. Great, now we can all pay for that litigation while we were sitting here playing by the rules and you are not.   I can’t believe people can justify cheating by tearing into the process, and I can’t believe the process is so broken we need someone to tear it to pieces to get it to change.

We are literally watching two wrongs making a right. How did we get HERE? it is 2017.

Maybe a new board of directors is a good idea, but how in the world is that even an option? Who would want that job? Admit it, it’s an awful job. We are gonna have to work with what we have for now.

Maybe recreating the testing process is the only way to go, but where do you even begin? Even the FEI isn’t really getting it right, with suspensions handed out regularly for random crap found in WEEDS which make their way into the food source and cannot possibly be prevented from entering the horse’s system. wtf? I don’t know, the world is a mess, with only a few exceptional leaders out there to navigate the muddy waters the rest of us don’t want to wade through, but maybe it is time for more people to get down and dirty to really think about what is best for the entire group, and not just best for an individual. Embrace the setbacks somehow, so our group can move forward. But of course, this is all remains conjecture.

 

USHJA By-laws.

USHJA Foundation By-laws

USOC By-laws

US Equestrian By-laws.

 

Advertisements

Compare if you dare. #drunter

A year ago I attempted my first dressage show. A year ago I had a little bit of success. A year ago I couldn’t help but make comparisons to the world I was coming from. A lot can happen in a year.

There was no getting around scheduling this horse show back into my calendar. It is a Rosinburg Events LLC show held at the (now infamous) Commonwealth Park in Culpeper, Virginia, and last year I had an absolute blast at a VADA Event (different management) in the same location. My social media, at the time, blew up with pictures, treasure hunts, activities, score percentages, food, and ribbons. Despite the location, I couldn’t wait to get back. It seemed to be a hub for dressage queens, and now that I have thrown myself into First Level, I really needed a competition to give me an idea of where I am in my training with my dressage horse, Sandoro. I managed to get entered and paid for by the closing date, and thankfully not put on a waiting list. These Dressage shows are getting noticeably harder to get into lately.  My bff Brooke was offering a stall for Sandy, and a room for me, adjacent to  the show grounds, just a short walk away, so I packed everything up into my trailer and set out Friday morning for the three hour drive.

The Drive.

I made it twenty minutes before something went terribly wrong. As a light turned yellow in front of me, I tapped the brake pedal, heard a pop, and realized my foot was pushing the pedal all the way to the floor. However, my truck wasn’t slowing down. Oh shit, not good. I felt the trailer brakes kind of kick in, and pumped the pedal hoping this wasn’t actually happening. I shifted into neutral, then risked losing my transmission in the process, and put the truck into reverse as I closed in on the now red light, and was still in a precarious position. It worked. The truck stopped, albeit, kind in the middle of the intersection. I glanced around, thankfully in farm country where people won’t actually kill you with road rage, put my blinkers on, then edged off to the shoulder, the trailer brakes working just enough to get me into a slightly safer position on the side of the busy road. I was amazingly calm and calculating in my next moves, once I took a deep breath. I couldn’t simply scratch the horse show, entries were prepaid. That would be silly. I just needed a truck.

IMG_5585

It worked out beautifully. I reached Nicole, who had the ability to come to me with her truck. I called the mechanic, who was able to send a tow truck for my broken child. I called Liz, who was out of town and asked to borrow her truck for the weekend, and I put Katie on standby in case none of these scenarios worked out. (She cleared her schedule just in case.) Then I called the local cops and asked if they had anyone on a lunch break who could hang out behind my trailer so no one would accidentally hit Sandoro, who was completely oblivious and munching hay inside the trailer. Shockingly, they sent a patrol car for exactly forty minutes, which is all we needed. As the tow truck loaded my broken child up and pulled away, Nicole was right behind him to pull in and hook up the trailer. I couldn’t believe the timing. She drove me another twenty minutes down the road to Liz’s farm, and within then hour, we swapped out vehicles again, and we were rolling. I ignored the teeny tiny little voice inside my head, whispering “maybe God doesn’t WANT you to go to Culpeper this weekend”….. ehhh, whatever. #gurlpower.

 

I finally arrived, with loads of time on the way to think about how lucky I was that a more serious incident had not happened with the loss of brake power while hauling a horse trailer. No matter my enemies, I will never bestow this fear upon anyone. It is not a good feeling. I was genuinely relieved to pull into Brooke’s driveway with Liz’s truck. Sandoro exited the trailer fine, a bit sweaty from the heat, but otherwise in good spirits. He rolled ten times in the fresh sawdust. Lovely. It didn’t take long to empty the trailer and get everything set up, hang a fan to cool him off, but when I was finishing up, I heard a distant rumble of thunder. Aaack, I still needed to get him in the rings. I biked to the show office to pick up my show packet, was greeted warmly, offered sponsor gifts, chocolate, water, and other amenities, and handed a thick program. Good grief, how many exhibitors were there? Apparently a lot. Enough to run 6 rings for two days. SIX RINGS. SIX. 1,2,3,4,5,6… ok you get the idea.

No wonder there was little choice to use this show grounds. Where else are you going to find a facility with six rings, plus warm up rings?

I pedaled back to Brooke’s barn to get the slightly sweaty beast out to take a tour, hoping to beat the storm. I hadn’t actually performed in a real dressage arena since Aiken in February, and was desperate to practice my tests. In the rush, I forgot two things. My number (a big no-no) and the note informing me which rings we were actually showing in….. Crap.

I took a wild guess and visited three of the arenas, took a quick tour around a scary judges tent, and made it back to the barn before Mother Nature unleashed an afternoon storm. (again, teeny, tiny little voice)

During my warm up I noticed an odd thing. There was a light pole a little off kilter. I couldn’t give it much attention, because I was really focused on remembering my tests, but it was bothering me.

IMG_5590

The next morning, it was bothering me more. I went for a closer look. It was directly above the show secretary building and aimed toward the Grand Prix ring. A narrow cable seemed to be holding it in place. It didn’t look good. I put it on my Snapchat Story. The teeny tiny voice suggested I steer clear of the broken light tower, because if it was destined to hit someone, it would probably be me.

I put a lot of pictures on my Snapchat story that day.

Duct Tape and baling twine seemed to be holding the place together, but again, where else can you accommodate over 200 dressage horses for the weekend? This group is just a renter of a facility, nothing else. I tried to put myself in the organizer’s shoes. Every hour I was impressed with how the show was running, and I continued to take mental notes all around me.

 

Sandbag was amazing. He performed beautifully, we received our baseline scores, and I was super excited to make improvements, based on the judges comments and scores. I borrowed Brooke’s working student Morgan to help me video, and she shared her observations.  In between my ride times, I watched, found familiar faces from previous events, chatted with strangers, and started conversations. It was refreshing to be unknown. There were not huge crowds showing up just to spectate, but I managed to run into a few very willing conversationalists. I met a girl who was braiding for a couple of barns, she gave me tips on those big ole button braids I am working on.

 

When I asked if she was competing, she said no, she was going to bring her pony stallion for the breeding classes, but ended up too busy, and then carried on about breeding when she realized I was from the hunter world. Her frustrations were made quite clear, and I listened. She couldn’t show her pony stallion in the hunter breeding world, and the expenses were astronomical compared to the classes held at dressage shows. She held my attention. I have a problem with stallions not be allowed in breeding classes past a certain age, when I see the whole point of those classes being about actually breeding. She then brought up the score sheets, and how nice it was to know exactly how your young horse or pony scored with the judges, during the year. She is not wrong. Hunter breeding has big problems right now. The focus seems to be primarily on the handlers. Why is the focus not on the horses?

Last year at the USHJA convention, I wandered into a hunter breeding meeting, raised my hand for around twenty minutes, and finally asked some pointed questions. I wanted to know why there was absolutely no information given to the breeding of the horses being shown on the line. It made ZERO sense to me to show horse without knowing the SIRE and DAM of each horse. You would have thought I pushed the red button for a nuclear attack. My logic was not received all that well, and I knew it. Apparently the discussion continued for a while even after I left the group. Were handlers on that particular committee? Why yes. Yes they were. Sigh.

Do you thing the Germans give a rats butt as to who is handling their stallions for a presentation? Ummmmm, no. They do not. Because the focus is on the animal, not the human, for the purpose of breeding horses, not people.

In the dressage world, all horses entered in the breeding classes come with extensive details, Sire and Dam information is shared, and score cards are filled out and delivered to the exhibitor. Public Information. In a year, you enter enough shows, and can receive a pretty good indication as to whether or not your young horse will make it or break it.

IMG_5619

I see this in the Young Horse Show Series as well, which is why I support it whole heartedly. It is called Transparency. I believe this transparency is why the Young Horse Show Series is dramatically growing in popularity. Well, maybe the lower cost has a role, too.

Hunter Breeding in America? Wake up, or put it to bed. “Overhaul the entire thing now, before it is too late” is what I want to scream from the rooftops….. Politics should have no role here in Hunter Breeding. If the horses and ponies are judged properly, it will not require a human name to declare the winner. Why does it all seem so backwards to me?

The Program.

The program for this Virginia Summer Dressage Show is detailed. Sponsors listed on the front, exhibitor information, horse information, schedule, and ads. Horses for sale are noted! Names, addresses and phone numbers for each exhibitor are listed. The Officials’ BIOGRAPHIES are listed. Never heard of a certain judge? No problem, his/her achievements all listed inside the program.

IMG_5616

an FS under the number of the horse means for sale

So what about the Queens? Is the stereotype real? Well, yeah, Dressage Queens have a stereotype for a reason. However, open a bottle or two of wine, and you see a very different side of those same Queens.

The Exhibitors party.

Coordinating the show to finish in time for the exhibitors party is no easy feat. I actually have no idea how over 200 horses are scheduled at an event like this with multiple rings, multiple judges which you aren’t supposed to see twice, and multiple rides for a few people. There must be some sort of Harry Potter magic that goes into putting it all together.

As we were all making our way to the porch of the Showday Cafe, the rings were getting their badly needed maintenance, although still not enough water. Three water trucks dumping liquid would surely be better than one. I didn’t ask anyone about the relationship between the show organizer and Tom and his employees, because I am not really that dumb, but the questions were still floating around in my head. From what I could observe, half a dozen Spanish speaking guys were holed up in a dilapidated building together, and made appearances three times a day to water and drag the rings. Morning, noon during the lunch break, and night, after the show was over. The heavy heat and sun were taking a toll, however, and it was only an hour of rides before intense dust was swirling through everyones lungs all over the grounds.

IMG_2428

Ditto for this year’s show. 

At the party I made new friends. Queens have this air of politeness about them I wasn’t used to, and waited to be told the gorgeous food buffet was open. When it seemed to me pretty obvious no one was going to give us an invitation, and it looked like all the food had been set up, guess who stepped up to break the nervous tension? Yup, I was hangry, and willing to risk a scolding for my dinner, which of course, no one did. Similar to last year, the food was beyond outstanding, and relatively healthy. The dozen or so extra large wine bottles were being depleted rapidly, as well, you could visibly see the shoulders dropping on women all around me, and the volume of conversation rising.

I met Penny. I could tell Penny was a firecracker right from the start. When I learned she was the volunteer coordinator not only for this show, but Dressage at Devon too? I wanted to put a crown on her. Volunteerism is a huge financial savings for horse shows. Many dressage organizations incorporate volunteer requirements right into their memberships in order to offset high costs of labor, so you may think you have qualified for a championship final, but without those minimum volunteer hours met, you don’t get the honor of competing in those championships. I had a feeling this was also the ticket to getting into big events. Penny admitted to having to coordinate 125-175 volunteers just for Devon. That is an impressive number of people hoping to catch a glimpse of the rides of Olympians.

Do hunter organizations have the tolerance for volunteerism? We certainly hear a lot of bitching about rising costs and inability to compete at the highest level anymore. Another simple solution right here in front of us, and no one willing to crack open that can of worms. Sigh.

Penny’s knowledge about Dressage was astounding. We spoke freely on all sorts of topics and spent a great deal of time throwing ideas and stories back and forth through the evening. She answered a lot of my questions, and I was grateful for it. Throughout the weekend, everyone I met and talked to actually defied the stereo type of a dressage queen. In the rings I stupidly grinned and said hello to every rider I passed, which got me a cooler response and loads of weird looks, but, granted, the level of concentration was significantly higher. I didn’t hold it against anyone, just thought it was funny. If I caught anyone in conversation while riding around, guess what the topic immediately turned to? The surface below our feet.

Beating the dead horse.

In general, not a single person riding on the grounds knew who I was, or knew about the issues I address. The anonymity was fantastic, because it invited real conversation about real concerns. I didn’t have to say a word past asking how their day was going, to unleash the high level of frustration riders were feeling about the footing. It was beyond treacherous in certain places. The ruts, the sudden transition from too shallow to too deep, the difference of surface from warm up to show ring, all of it was exasperating riders left and right. And we weren’t even jumping on it.  One warm up ring was ignored by most competitors, which clogged the only other area to prepare, and I marveled at the way there were no accidents. Lateral movements are pretty common in dressage, so for all of these people not to run into each other with all the tiny circles, side passes, transitions and zig zagging across the ring was remarkable, but I don’t think too many people had the warm up they intended or desired, which, in my eyes, probably left another 200 people disappointed in the Hits venue.  What a shame. For all of the intense hard work which Lisa Gorretta, Rosinberg Events, Janine Malone, Penny Hawes, and countless others did to put on this amazing show, at the end of the day it was once again Tom’s apathy which reverberated throughout the community. I just don’t get it.

I love dressage. People ask me all the time what it is like. It is hard. It is challenging. It requires more leg than I am used to. It is satisfying when you get it right, and depressing when the wheels fall off, but there is ALWAYS room for improvement. You go back, read your scores, look at the comments, and dig deeper. I was able to raise my scores from Saturday to Sunday and finally earn some coveted 8’s in movements which had previously only deserved a 6.5. I listened earnestly to complete strangers willing to offer advice and encouragement.

IMG_5614.JPG

I video taped every ride and will go back and watch again and again to look for areas to improve, until I can be the highest scorer in my division. Yes, you mostly compete against yourself, but at a large, high caliber event, it is incredibly rewarding to be handed a top prize among your peers. It is also a far cry from the hunter world, and I can visibly understand why people come to the dark side and never return. It is still too soon for me to really find all of the faults of Dressage competitions, I have no doubt the Queens have other things I haven’t even thought of which keep them awake at night, but at the moment, I am getting a serious kick out of this weird and still relatively new world.

The American Horse Council?

There really is one woman listening. Her name is Julie Broadway.

 

thumbnail_IMG_2445

Julie Broadway presenting an award to Senator Mike Enzi (Wyoming) 

Governance and any sort of legislation is not on your radar. I get it. No one cares. No one has time.  No one likes the boring discussion, we would rather gossip about silly things, complain about all the things,  ignore vague referendums, (until it directly affects you), and then freak out and wonder how a law is passed without your vote. But this is reality, and apathy is a problem. Because laws DO pass, legislation DOES happen, with or without your consent, and other animal organizations are highly funded to follow the change in tide, or maybe even push for legislation against you —> the animal lover. The horse owner. The trainer. The parent of a horse crazy kid. The farrier, veterinarian, dentist, hot walker, amateur, announcer, groom or show manager.

I just attended one afternoon of the American Horse Council Forum in Washington, a yearly event, similar to the Annual Meetings of the USHJA and US Equestrian, or any other organization, but without all of the heated debates, shouting, mudslinging, and exotic, fattening meals. Yep, the first thing I noticed was the professionalism, and politeness. After I stifled a few yawns, I thought well, this is actually refreshing, probably more productive, and I should really make an effort to pay attention.

thumbnail_IMG_2439

I listened to Julie speak, and I like what she had to say. I also managed five minutes with her at the end of the day, because I have this crazy idea to solve some of the immigration issues, she sat down beside me and listened to me with absolute intrigue. Do you know what that feels like? When someone really listens?

The American Horse Council (AHC) is your voice on the political side of horse ownership. Remember when your home veterinarian couldn’t really help you while you wintered in Florida? The AHC helped fix that. Section 179 business expense? It is permanently set at $500,000 due to the AHC. Money for the Recreational Trail Program? $85 million to be exact so you can enjoy the world from the back of the horse anywhere in the country. Time to Ride program? Yeah, that’s huge when you are considering grass roots programs, our future clients, hello.

16903442_10155171915830559_1663417661585503311_o

So where does the money to run the AHC come from? I had to ask. Thankfully, I have a friend within the AHC, and she is constantly answering my questions. Meet Ashley Furst, director of communications.

13613449_10102980477042024_1152551583185608968_o

Ashley Furst (left) at WIHS with Jessi Lohman and Davenport

The AHC is completely funded by Individual and Organizational members. Members are from every segment of the industry—recreational riders, trail organizations, racing organizations, show organizations, veterinarians, CPA’s, Equine lawyers, carriage operators, and more.

So, people like you and me and the organizations we belong to. Got it.

Why is it set up that way?

It’s set up that way because we are the only organization in Washington that truly works on behalf of the entire industry—not just racing, not just showing, not just trails—EVERY segment. By having Individual and Organizational members from every facet of the industry, it gives us strength in numbers to show how diverse and important this industry is to representatives here in DC.

How many people make up the AHC?

 There are only 5 full-time staff members.

What is your relationship with the HSUS? (You can imagine why I need to know this.)

We do not have any relationship with HSUS. While we do support the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, it is purely coincidental that they also support it. We took a position on that particular bill because it is what the horse industry wanted

Where is headquarters?

We are based in Washington, DC. Right next to the White House actually!

 Do you lobby for legislation? With whom?

We are a lobbyist group- but we strictly work on the federal level.

How can I become involved? Where can I ask the questions I always seem to have?

 You can become involved in a couple of different ways

(http://www.horsecouncil.org/take-action/):

1-      Join the AHC!  Like I’ve mentioned, we are the only true organization based in DC that works with Congress and other federal agencies to ensure all segments of the equine industry have a voice and are represented here in Washington. We can’t continue to do this without the support of members.

2-      Congressional Cavalry- The Congressional Cavalry is the AHC’s grassroots network. We let members of the Cavalry know when action on federal issues is needed and how to contact their Members of Congress via our AHC ACTION ALERTS. There is no cost to join the Cavalry and you will only receive Action Alerts from us when necessary. 

You can always contact us directly as well if you have any questions or concerns- 202-296-4031 or info@horsecouncil.org

 What studies are in the works for the next two years? 

  In particular, we are seeking to update the National Economic Impact Study- hopefully we will be able to start data collection within the next few months. Several states (Maryland included) are also getting State Breakout studies done. This study was last completed in 2005, and it’s certainly more than overdue to be updated. I cannot stress how important it is for us to be able to get this study done—the equine industry is often overlooked when it comes to economic impact in comparison to mainstream sports. We really need to be able to show how important this industry is to the U.S. economy, especially when talking to members of Congress.

new signature image

 Sooooo, why would an Economic Impact Study affect you as a horse owner?

Economic Impact Studies affect everyone in the field they are directed. Life lesson #1, money dictates productivity. You want to be productive? You want to retire at 40? GREAT. All aspects of the horse economy will help you get there. The industry is sustainable with money. In Washington, D.C., where laws are made, proof of Economic Impact has a great influence on future legislation.

thumbnail_IMG_2442

Mark Bellissimo

Mark Bellissimo. You either love him, hate him, or don’t have an opinion about him. He has one of those larger than life personalities, he gets sh*t done, he is all over the place, involved in a myriad of events, and now has WEG. We aren’t going to stop hearing about WEG for another year and a half so we might as well buckle down and get used to it. Sho ‘nough, his presentation was about WEG. It is a good presentation. He is by far, the most interesting person to listen to when it comes to vision, productivity, horses, the future… and himself. He made videos and brought them with him, playing musical segments of horses in slow motion on fancy fields and in arenas (his arenas) which left goosebumps on horse owners all over the room. He encouraged us to work together, make connections, bond the Western riders with the English riders, spread the love of sport so far, so wide, that no one in Washington could deny our existence ever again. The more connected we are the more media attention we can get, the more chance Coca Cola Company might endorse us and maybe put a horse on a future soda can. Who knows? The possibilities are endless. (I made that last part up, I don’t think Coke will put a horse on a can, but neat idea, no?)

It was interesting to hear Mark’s presentation, I closed my notebook, sat back in my chair and simply watched, (with the exception of one or two snaps to my snapchat story).  He has coined one phrase about horse people and the challenge of being in the horse world. It seems to be his constant goal to link “Tradition, Continuity, and Innovation”. He repeated that a few times so we would remember.  While he was talking, I only rolled my eyes like two times, which is pretty good for me, and I could see other people in the room were really following his charisma. He finished to resounding applause, of course, and shortly after, the lights came on and we stood up. There was already a line to talk to him personally, and in typical awkward fashion, I stood behind three women gushing about how they wanted their horse organization to be included at WEG. Not me, however. What did I want with Mark Bellissimo? I wanted him to use his Central Park Horse Show to make a better connection with the Carriage Horses and help gain them more recognition and protection. I want to see him give back to the horse community in New York City, the heart of the Big Apple. If he does that, he might gain one more loyal follower.

We changed rooms, and dispersed into smaller groups of round table discussions. I was unprepared for this, admittedly, and sorry I couldn’t bounce more between tables, but luckily, I chose an interesting one for me and my business, the Import/Export table. Next to me was another self proclaimed “pot-stirrer” from California, and she was one of the most knowledgable and interesting personalities I have ever met at one of these conventions. Her name was Katie, and she was with the California Department of Agriculture. She knew ALL the rules about transporting horses across borders, shipping from other countries, diseases, requirements, trends, people breaking laws, governments making questionable decisions, and more. There was a veterinarian linked to US Equestrian present, Richard Mitchell, (who was really trying to lead the discussion over Katie), and Chrystine Tauber from US Equestrian was also among our table of 8.

Had I known I would have the chance to ask more questions, I totally would have come prepared, but the best I could do was a quick FB post to get people involved in the conversation… Quarantine times are locked in for now, no chance of shortening up the days just yet. Various diseases were discussed, Pyroplasmosis was addressed (this always comes up) and of course, the horse movement through slaughter trucks and ‘where we are now’ with that issue. Recently Canada implemented new legislation saying horses have to sit in feed lots for 6 months before they can be put into the food chain for human consumption, so we were catching up on whether or not that was affecting horse movement through auctions at all. I must have missed the conclusion or there wasn’t one, but it was discussed.

So what does this all mean for you? If you are still with me, we need to get back to this Economic Impact Study rolling out this year. In whatever way it reaches your inbox, you need to click on it, fill out the survey, take the time to answer the questions. Julie Broadway is here for you, and she needs you to be there for her. She is most important to all of us, leading an organization larger than all of the other governing bodies, which will influence programs and initiatives affecting all horse people in the future. Read through the Strategic Plan, store it in the back of your mind, keep an eye on the American Horse Council, become a member, follow their movements, you won’t regret it, and together we might stand a chance in this weird world we live in.

19029724_10155552425820559_4070360549820493515_n

CEO Roger Dow of the US Travel Association

Virginia is for lovers…

The demise of ‘Constructive Criticism’, and the unraveling of structure.

 

The absence of a veterinarian to discuss the drug Medroxyprogesterone Acetate (MPA) was heavily noted at the beginning of the Town Hall meeting in Upperville, Virginia this week. This much anticipated opportunity to discuss the science behind using MPA, commonly referred to as Depo, had a shaky beginning.

We need these meetings. We need these discussions. Without them, there is a constant murkiness lurking in our drinking water.

This particular meeting was attended by the President and CEO of US Equestrian, Murray Kessler and Bill Moroney, (both in suits), Mary Babick from the USHJA, and Matt Fine (also in a suit), the compliance officer from US Equestrian. Notably missing and supposedly busy with another emergency issue within the USEF was Stephen Schumacher. Around 100 people filled the tent, many of us exhibitors at the horse show, coming directly out of the show ring or from the stables.

IMG_5528

I think everyone came prepared. However, I would assimilate the preparation to the Battle of Middleburg, rather than a meeting of the minds at the country’s oldest horse show, which quietly continued on in the background. The first few minutes were, unfortunately, completely off-topic, but surprisingly started to set the tone for the evening. From the first few heated words, I knew we were in trouble. I glanced around and saw some nervous changing of weight among the couple of people standing. No one was making moves to rein in Mr. Kessler, and no one was taking deep breaths.

The thing about being defensive, is that it is an emotion. When you are accused of being emotional, it is not considered a compliment. So here we were, twenty minutes into the meeting and the mood was quickly becoming defensive and emotional. The initial request during the introduction to be polite and respectful was completely disregarded.

In his opening lines Murray Kessler brought up the legislation currently being tossed around on Capitol Hill revolving around the racing industry. It was an interesting tactic to remind us, as layman, that drug enforcement may one day be out of our hands entirely, and placed in the hands of the federal government.  I could feel my lip twitching, what’s this about?

Luckily, I have a very good friend within the American Horse Council who was able to provide extensive clarification on the Bill (which he brought up) and she was able to assure me it was unlikely to ever gain enough support both in the racing industry and within Congress to move forward, at the moment is not even accompanied by a senate companion bill, and the odds of it affecting the show industry are incredibly slim. Keep in mind the racing industry involves gambling, and interstate commerce. The show industry is not the same thing as the racing industry. This particular bill is addressing creating an “Authority” to deal with an anti-doping and medication control program on a national level with the use of medication in Quarter horses, Thoroughbreds, and Standardbred racing, rather than continuing to follow state-to state standards, which in theory would make sense. Each state has a different rule for the use of medication on the racetrack, and this bill would standardize the rules so that a horse racing in West Virginia would have to follow the same rules as a horse racing in Florida. However, the likelihood of this bill gaining ground in an already tumultuous and fractured sport is minimal to zip. Additionally, the House and Senate have way bigger issues on their minds in the current political atmosphere.

For more on that bill, you can educate yourself here.

It was an interesting distraction, but highly irrelevant. Why was it brought up? 

I appreciate the President of US Equestrian attending the Town Hall, it certainly shows commitment to the job, but I don’t think he should have been there. He doesn’t have the temperament for it. He isn’t able to absorb and listen, refrain from engaging, and respond with assurance. Each of us felt it. Each of us had a finger pointed toward us and told we were wrong. Whether it was in regard to the Depo issue, or in regard to ideas on how to handle bully show managers, it was repeated too many times that we were considered in the wrong.

And there are certain issues which I am not wrong about.

 I was disappointed in both sides last night.

 

IMG_5401

Mary Babick, Murray Kessler, Bill Moroney

The misuse of MPA is a problem. Of course, the mis-use of Magnesium is also a problem. Which one is the lethal drug? 

This is how I see it right now:

1. People don’t believe the use of Medroxyprogesterone (MPA) is hurting the horses.

2. Veterinarians are recommending the use of MPA  for behavioral issues.

3. Riding a horse on MPA is not the same feeling as riding a horse under the influence of Ace-Promizine, Reserpene, or Magnesium.

4. If US Equestrian wants to tell us how much to use and when, we can probably all live with that. Good luck testing for it, but it seems people can be placated with the same restrictions as we have for other medications, such as Dexamethasone or Bute.

5. There really should be a set number of show/competition animals studied on the use of MPA by scientists and veterinarians before the drama continues any further.

 

IMG_5526

The Upperville Horse Show is one of the most iconic horse shows in this country. Everyone looks forward to competing under the oaks, and four years ago, Mike Smith stepped in with the heavy responsibility of pushing this competition into the 21st Century. It wasn’t easy. It never is. It requires patience, a master plan, and a sh*t ton of money. On top of that, people around here are notoriously resistant to change. But change it has, grow it has, and transformed it has. Imagine taking a pair of two hundred year old rings, ripping out the carefully manicure sod, and replacing it with state of the art footing to accommodate the pickiest of riders in the country, without harming so much as a bird’s nest in the oak trees. Additionally, imagine building an entire new arena which had to blend the history of the civil war era stone walls into the rolling green hills which have seen minimal development since General Lee marched across the plains to destroy the union soldiers at Gettysburg, and failed. In the last four years, this has been happening, under his guidance, and it is an absolute stunner of an accomplishment, and not nearly completed yet, as each year, the demands of exhibitors increases. Attendance to this competition is extremely high, and it is considered a treat to show here, but it does not reflect the gripping monopoly on dates in other parts of the country. It is not a circuit. Comparing the incredible uniqueness of the Upperville Horse Show to anything else is almost completely intolerable.

Circuit showing is regarded as a reprieve for exhibitors at times, a place where they can park in one spot for a month, find a routine, sell some horses, escape snow, and keep a business rolling. Without oversight from the US Equestrian, show managers running circuits with back to back horse shows can basically run their own little city of horse showing with the comfort of knowing that exhibitors have little to no options to go elsewhere. Show managers love it, and can take full advantage of it. Before long, show managers make bad decisions, cut corners, and get greedy. Oversight is lacking, written complaints are lacking, and people want to shift the responsibility elsewhere. If the same happened to the single, yearly, iconic horse show, people would simply skip over it each year, and it would eventually fade away, or be taken over by new management, and revitalized to be a winning event.

IMG_5529 (1)

As exhibitors, we want the USEF to be the oversight, but the USEF seems to want the exhibitors to be the oversight. Fill out the forms, they say. File the complaints, they say. Show up for hearings, they say. What should be the right balance? How much time do exhibitors need to spend filling out competition evaluation forms? Right now, we are in the middle of finding that right balance, but it looks like we, as the riders, trainers, and owners of horses in this horse world, are the ones ultimately left to steer the ship. We may not want it, but no one is leaving an option open for us, so this is where we are going to have to figure out how much it means to us. How much does it mean to you to fight for show standards? Ask yourself, then ask your clients. This road isn’t shortening up anytime soon, and our leadership has a lot on its plate right now.

 

thumbnail_IMG_5535

From the Bids to the Evaluation Forms

You have just driven out of your way to a new show grounds you are unfamiliar with, spent a lot of money for an unfamiliar setting, and you might be feeling you have to re-learn everything. The icing on top of the cake? It is a championship. On one hand, it is thrilling to be in a new environment, challenging, stimulating, on the other hand you are wondering, how the heck did we all end up HERE?

10399026_137364323898_698399_n

Believe it or not, there is a process, and locations of championships are not pulled out of a hat.

For some championships, the process is the responsibility of the USHJA (CH/AA Hunter and Jumper Champs, Green Hunter Incentive, International Hunter Derby Champs), for others, the USEF is responsible. (Junior Hunter, Pony Finals)

The process differs depending on the championship or the organization coordinating it. Since I brought up Culpeper (in Virginia)  in a recent blog post, and it is a host for our Zone Jumper Team Championships, it was decided I might address the process a bit better.  (I might have stirred the pot a little. I also might have complained that the language in the rulebooks was stifling, so there’s that.)

Side note: No one can force your education on these topics, but you certainly can’t say there is a lack of effort here.

Before the application process is even opened, each USHJA Zone Committee determines whether they want a championship for just their zone or if they want to combine with another. Once that decision is made and agreed upon between the zones that choose to combine, the application process begins….

1) First, the USHJA opens host applications to all competition managers, about a year in advance of the competition. And only for 60 days.  Competition managers have to open their emails like everyone else, decide if they meet the requirements for holding a championship, and if it fits into their schedule. This is not supposed to be like a regular horse show, so sometimes it may not appeal to the show organizer to host a championship. However, sometimes adding a championship to the competition can boost the manager’s image, especially if done well.

2) Applications are submitted. Now the USHJA staff member reviews EACH application, to be sure they are meeting the minimum criteria. These requirements are not a secret, and are in place to make sure you, as an exhibitor, have a special experience. Applications which do NOT meet the minimum criteria are STILL presented to the committees, but red stars, arrows, and exclamation points are used to point out what they are lacking in the criteria. (Those applicants are also notified that their application did not meet minimum requirements.)

3)  Conference call #1 of many. Zone Committees (people like you and me) from the relevant Zones in question punch in the conference call number and during the meeting, we ALL review each application, and consider things like timing, school sessions, location, convenience, participation, and various other pros and cons of each site. Ideally, this is tackled way in advance of the competition. For example, the newly formed Zones 3 and 4 had a conference call December 6 and decided to hold the Jumper Championships at Culpeper in July.

However, that is not all.

4) The Jumper Working Group then reviews the Zone Committee recommendations and full applications.  (In this case, the Jumper Working Group met during the USHJA Annual Meeting and agreed with the zones recommendation)

5) the USHJA Executive Director reviews the recommendations of the Jumper Working Group and Zone Committees, as well as the applications, for final approval.

“All of the committees who review and make recommendations consider a variety of factors, including available competition dates, (to avoid conflicts with other major competitions), facility, nearby accommodations, experience hosting, prize money offered, etc.” said Megan Lacy, managing director communications at USHJA. “The committees try to find the best all-around option for the most members possible. The more host applications we receive with date options, location options, etc., the more likely it is that the committees will be able to balance more of those factors to serve even more members.” 

Side note: Without Megan Lacy, we would all be…… well, you can guess where we would all be.

Each part of the country is different, so each part of the country is going see different amounts of bids being placed on Championships.

Zones 3 and 4 had three applications last year. Sigh. 

How can you help? Guess what, you can. The USHJA encourages all of its members to ask their favorite competition managers to apply to host a championship.

In other words, if you LIKE a certain show, seek out the show competition management and ASK if they could hold a championship in the future. Show managers are human beings, they talk the same language as the rest of us, so spark a conversation, tell them you would be willing to participate on a team if you knew your favorite show was in the running for a big final. Plant the seed, at the very least.

Zone committee members are your voice, too. If you believe that school is a potential conflict, or not a conflict at all, do not assume we already agree. If you feel being at a championship on Thursday at 8 am is slightly ridiculous for an AA jumper and missing an entire day of work is not really an option, just so you can sit around and twiddle your thumbs all day, let a zone committee member know. We get the struggles are real, but we need to know what the struggles exactly are, so we can make informed decisions to best represent the needs of members, your needs to be exact.

What will you be seeing new this year following the competition? A Survey. The USHJA intends to explore the reasons behind your choice to participate on a team (or not participate), how you fared, and your feeling about future participation. The information is so vital, and every member will have an opportunity to incite better change and growth. Shockingly, they really do want feedback. Me too. Otherwise, why bother being here.

So, this brings up one more important exhibitor responsibility, which VERY FEW people embrace openly, and I’d like to know why. Competition Evaluation Forms. What is it about these forms? How do so many people forget the existence of these forms? Personally, I think whether you show at one recognized show or thirty a year, you need to be cozy with these forms. We all need to be cozy with these forms. Parents, riders, braiders, trainers, grooms, course designers, owners, your Jack Russell Terrier….  Why the hesitation? As much as people write and vent online, you would think it wouldn’t be too much to ask to fill out an evaluation form.

IMG_5011

Katie Cooper filling out an eval form. PC: Katie Francella

 

Questions I have heard…..

I liked the show, why should I fill out the form?  Eval forms are not exclusively for complaints. If you share what you like about the show, this is inherently useful information. Please let US Eq know why you liked the show.

The stewards take care of Evaluation forms, so why should I? Ok, well, you are still entitled to fill out your own form, even if it may contradict what the steward has noted.

What if the USEF can’t guarantee confidentiality? Competition Evaluation Forms are different from official Protests (which require a fee). It is not likely your form is going to jeopardize your ability to attend horse shows. Feedback is feedback is feedback.

While these evaluations are confidential, USEF will utilize summary data derived from the evaluations to assist in improving equestrians sport”

I filled out forms before, no one ever listened, and no changes were made. Fill them out again. Then get your friends to fill out forms. At the last Annual Meeting, I left with the impression, the new leadership would take a more active role in listening to its members about competitions. This is your chance to hold the organization up to that expectation.

The punishments just seem to be fines, so instead of making improvements, they management simply pays the fine, so why should I fill out a form? While we don’t actually get to hear the conversations behind the walls of the US Equestrian, I can assure you there are discussions taking place about how to be constantly improving our sport. Changes cannot be made in a week, and often times it might be a year or more before any noticeable difference can be noted. But this is not a time to give up, 2017 really needs to be the year we fill out a record amount of Competition Evaluation Forms.

Side note: IMHO, to work around show managers simply paying fines for problems, I think there is a place here for yellow cards. If riders can be issued yellow cards, show managers should be issued yellow cards. And if the show in question receives 2 or 3 yellow cards, guess what? They lose their rating. Maybe this can be a suggestion for the future, maybe you have another idea.

The forms are too long, and I don’t have time. Guess what, new forms! Shorter forms. The kind of forms you can’t really find a lot of flaws with. It is all of three questions. Online, you can actually not kill a tree and in two minutes fill out the three questions.

Here—> https://www.usef.org/compete/competition-evaluation

Just remember you are describing a show facility to someone who cannot see the actual show facility, so the questions exist to provide a visual.  Some questions may not be relevant to you, but might be relevant to the staff inside the US Equestrian. Start looking for the new forms soon, they are out this year.

IMG_5014

This form specifically addresses footing. 

Look, if we had mind readers within both the USHJA and US Equestrian, we wouldn’t need these forms. Make a goal, one a month, or one every five horse shows. But do something, get involved, and push, push, push for better quality show grounds, when you KNOW better quality show grounds are needed. (I mean, for example. Clearly, there are other issues at horse shows, but show grounds, specifically footing, happens to still be on my mind.)

I feel like I could go on for days addressing each excuse I have ever heard about not filling out competition evaluation forms. In my world, I would attach a form to every horse show number handed out, and TELL people to fill it out and put it in an envelope before they checked out. However, this is not my world, I have to share it with others. I am certainly no Queen of the evaluation form either, but I do recognize my effort to be a better exhibitor, and this is one challenge I will gladly accept. If you can’t gain access to a form, there is one other solution……email this guy, he is serious about listening to competition issues. No form required……His title speaks to just that. Chief Compliance Officer, Matt Fine. Mfine@usef.org

New Era for Swan Lake Stables

2017 will mark a new era for the Swan Lake Horse Shows in Littlestown, Pennsylvania. New management will be guiding this popular show facility into a modern era of showing horses in an effort to regain once loyal exhibitors and recruit some new faces and horses.

thumbnail_image1

Most people know of and depend on Lyn Nelson, her impressive secretarial skills, show office organization, and willingness to provide as much help to exhibitors as possible. She has been the preferred contact person over the years, but there is a phone number which will forward ALL messages to the management team of Steve McBride, Lyn Nelson, and Mary Bast. Lyn was also was instrumental in putting together this piece for exhibitors —> https://deloiseinamerica.com/2017/01/01/sign-here/  <<— READ this.

Communications are encouraged through this line 717-359-5357 as well as recommended by email at info@swanlakestables.com

The horse shows at Swan Lake are well-known for offering all sorts of classes for riders, from lead line through Grand Prix, Hunter Derbies, hunter and jumper classics, Equitation, often running up to four show rings concurrently. Close attention will be paid to the scheduling and running of the show rings this year in an effort to avoid conflicts and ring delays.

thumbnail_image1-2

Argento, Mary Claire Mediros showing at Swan Lake

Shows run through all seasons at Swan Lake, from schooling and regional through to National and Premiere rated shows. 240 permanent stalls, with an additional 400 or more tent stalls available in the summer, along with over 20 camper hookups, exhibitor functions, and even a lake to swim in.  The massive indoor ring is really one of the largest indoors in the Mid-Atlantic region.

thumbnail_image2

Online entries are accepted (as well as strongly appreciated) on Horse Shows Online http://horseshowsonline.com/. Again, email is the preferred line of communication for the management team if changes need to be made.

Swan Lake Stables remains a family run operation, Dr. and Mrs. Bast started the facility for horses around 1999 and built the property up from scratch for their daughter Mary, who showed great interest in horses at an early age. Soon after the family started running horse shows. Now the facility can accommodate nearly 1,000 horses for the summer shows, and an average of 300 horses during the winter. Mary is a full time trainer, certified by the USHJA, and manages, breeds and trains up to 35 horses on the property.

thumbnail_image2-1

Mary riding Midnight Vigil

thumbnail_image1-1

Mary aboard Iggy Pop

The show rings are and will continue to be in top notch condition, the Grand Prix and Schooling rings have been expanded, and this year the focus will be esthetic improvements and customer service. You can bet the exhibitor parties are also going to see some massive improvements. Look for more engagement in social media as well. On all counts, the future is looking very bright at Swan Lake Stables.

IMG_4937

IMG_4947

Dr. and Mrs Bast, Mary Bast, Steve McBride, Lyn Nelson, Charles and Wylie. 

An Open Letter to Tom Struzzieri

This is not a complaint about one horse show. This is not a whining because it rains a lot at your horse shows. Or the footing is an issue. (Which it is). This letter is about the decades long feeling there is a lack of empathy for your customers which continues to resonate through our little horse community. I am now totally confused as to where we stand with you. Where do your clients (exhibitors) stand with you? Where do our horses stand with you? Where does horse welfare stand with you? It would be comforting to hear some honest answers for once.

I have to admire your ambition for growth, we all have been impressed at one time or another about your remarkable ability to build some sort of business out of horses, purchase show dates, erect show grounds out of nothing, and throw huge prize money into a few classes, generate hype, and we all fell for it. We all wanted to be a part of the essence of the Million Dollar classes, gravitate to big money, big sales, big dreams, big business, and cool perks. I know I did. I spent years showing at Culpeper, Ocala, Indio, and even Saugerties.

There are reviews on your FB page which give you five stars and include all sorts of wonderful positive comments. To find them, you have to sort through some painfully familiar negative ones

Rachel *******· November 18, 2015

So this in many ways is a great well run show. My specific complaint is the way they treated my division. 2’6″ hunters. First classes were cancelled as the ring was too busy. Not rescheduled- which could have been an option. Second the last day of the show they could not be bothered to water and drag the ring. My poor horse has a respiratory problem and almost choked on all the dust. She was coughing and sneezing constantly. If you are going to take my money I deserve the same quality experience as folks showing over bigger fences !!

Jamie ***** reviewed HITS Horse Shows — 1 starJanuary 18 · 
Balmoral is for harness racing, not jumping horses.
Eric ***** reviewed HITS Horse Shows — 2 star March 24, 2014 · 
Decent footing in the rings with cool trees. But, the place is basically a dump, the temporary tents have inadequate electrical power, the pathways are rutted, office staff is hostile, and too few restroom facilities. Not going back.
Ann ***** reviewed HITS Horse Shows — 1 star     March 24, 2014 · 
After having to stand in line since 330 this afternoon for our tables in the VIP tent……got stampeded as we tried to get a table when they opened the doors at 5. Very poorly organized for the $ 1 million class
Margaret ***** reviewed HITS Horse Shows — 1 star     March 24, 2014 · 
HORRIBLE management at the VIP tent! Extremely disappointed in how the seating is being managed.
**
Marge ****** reviewed HITS Horse Shows — 5 star     March 26 at 11:26pm · 
Very good attendance , great competition and the weather was about as good as it gets. Ocala, Florida March 26, 2017
Donna ****** reviewed HITS Horse Shows — 5 star     September 12, 2016 · 
What a great place, hope some day my daughter rides there!

**

In Ocala one year I stood stoically as I was berated for holding up the children’s pony division because of the children’s jumper classic. Jerry Dougherty sped around me as I was wearily heading back to my barn, slammed on the brakes of his golf cart with one leg dangling out to the side, sunglasses on, and said if I didn’t manage my days better, I would have to find somewhere else to show in the winter. He didn’t want to hear my excuse of the shoe being pulled in the deplorable schooling area and that I chose to have it repaired by the farrier before continuing to allow the horse to compete. Meanwhile the long line at the children’s pony ring had dwindled and they had to wait 20 minutes for me to finish with the jumper. I didn’t argue. He didn’t offer me a ride back to the barn. I didn’t cry. When I look back on that episode now (which obviously had an impact) I cannot imagine that happening to me in Ohio, Kentucky, Vermont. or ANYWHERE.

I spent a summer in 2009 sloshing around in the mud and rain, watching the trailers disappear under several feet of water, helping stranded golf carts push through unpaved gravel roads, adorned with potholes so deep fish were spotted swimming in them. I trekked for what seemed miles to the show rings, telling my students they would be so tough and resilient after surviving Saugerties. I think they just ended up tired.

When I came back that fall for the special classes I qualified for, I had to leave two horses home, one sold, one was lame. I decided I probably wouldn’t need the extra grooming stall. Knowing you were sold out and had a waiting list I called you immediately and said I would be happy to sell the three stalls back or to someone else. When I got there, your secretaries refused to acknowledge such actions, forcing me into paying for three extra stalls which had already been promptly sold to someone else on the wait list. I tried not to be bitter about how much money you just made over selling those three stalls twice, but I couldn’t get past it.

I left your company for good right there and then, vowing I would never ever give you another dime. I would never, ever allow myself to be sucked into the HITS circuit again. But, you didn’t give a f**k. You didn’t even notice.

I missed nothing about not attending your shows, and instead made new loyalties, supported new venues. I raised my eyebrows when I heard you helped purchase Balmoral and renovate it. Same when I heard you were involved in a restaurant in NYC.  A running festival. A marina. There were so many grumblings about your current facilities, I thought it was odd you were expanding. Again. and again. Since I personally wasn’t showing with HITS anymore, it didn’t directly affect me. I thought it curious you were quoted in an article about your dedication to making horse shows better, however.

“Every day we’re trying to make the horse shows better,” he said. “I want to make sure Diamond Mills is doing well. I want it to be humming along.”

http://www.dailyfreeman.com/article/DF/20120818/NEWS/308189993

During the 2015 USHJA annual meeting (which you sponsored), I watched you come totally unglued during about how the location for the International Derby Finals are chosen. It is a pretty clear bid process for all of the major USHJA/USEF Finals, but the process did not seem to suit you and there was an enormous amount of angst expressed in the room. Apologies were apparently made later and outside of our view, but it was a pretty shocking site to us sitting in the chairs.

During the 2016 USHJA Annual meeting (which you ALSO sponsored), I witnessed some improvements being made in Coachella. We were all escorted to your facility, fed copies amounts of food and drink, and entertained with a pony club demonstration in the Grand Prix ring. What great fun.

Are you sponsoring the Annual meeting for a reason? Are people like me who speak up the reason? Or is it another reason?  The Annual Meeting needs to be more accessible to our members, less costly, so people will actually show up, and are you able to help with those efforts? I can’t help but feel there is a plot twist in this somehow.

The West Coast riders had been begging for years for improvements, and it looked as though you were answering them. New buildings, new rings, but what happened to getting each day started? No way to sign up for start times online led to lines at 7am similar to Los Angeles rush hour. A living nightmare of a way to start the day. The excitement over the improvements started to wane after dozens and dozens of riders, trainers, and grooms waited hours each morning to negotiate start times.

You also stung a few riders by lowering the height of the Million Dollar GP on the West Coast, claiming that the horses in Thermal would benefit from 1.50m height rather than 1.60. My first thought was maybe the horses are there, but the riders are hesitant to jump 1.60 on your footing. The reaction others had was way more tepid.

At what point do you sacrifice extraordinary prize money for actually just having top notch facilities?

Are you only making 1 Million dollar improvements to Ocala next year because of the threat of WEC setting up shop right next door? That’s what it took? After all these years? I know people who are so excited about that future facility, they are thinking of changing disciplines just to show there.

I don’t even blink about a $1 million dollar improvement happening in Ocala. Try 10. You could put in a $1 million dollar entrance for all we know,  just re-grading the roads to the barns would eat up that $1 million quickly enough. My guess is every year the operating budget alone is $1 million to even get the first two weeks running and we are being distracted with a press release. If you are only addressing 6 of the 12 rings with pushing back the footing and installing drains, that means there are 6 satisfactory show rings in existence? And the schooling areas? http://www.ocala.com/news/20170413/hits-plans-1-million-in-improvements-before-2018

You own this little Show grounds in middle Virginia, which used to be an incredible mecca for show people. I grew up eventing there, I galloped the cross country fences, flew around stadium courses like it was the venue of a lifetime. It is where Superman had that career ending injury. We listened to older trainers tell remarkable stories about a previous owner of the Commonwealth Park facility dropping dollar bills out of a helicopter an hour before the Grand Prix to make sure people would attend the big class.  For years, we watched it fall into a decline while you took on other ventures. You expanded in Ocala, New York, Thermal, Arizona, Chicago. I noticed my friends stopped wanting to show in the Virginia location. The barns were collapsing, the rings were struggling to be safe to ride in. The structures started to really rot.

Last year, when I was injured, my horses came back to Culpeper. My best friend was stabling next door, and she really, really wanted to show my horses at your show, so I agreed to let her show one. I hated to do it, not because of her, but because I had to give HITS money. It killed me, but I got over it, she and the horse were terrific, and it was good publicity for him in the end. This year the same thing happened. I am injured again, and I agreed to have a client take the same horse down to show in the adults this time. I couldn’t sleep. I was riddled with worry. When I woke up on Friday morning and checked my news, my heart sunk. There were several complaints about the conditions in Culpeper, and it was escalating quickly. The weather was not helping, but even with good weather, conditions were far from ideal. The list was long and getting longer. by the minute. By Friday half of the few competitors scratched and went home. Only 10 competed in your Grand Prix. Not even the horse stabled next door coming off a win in Ohio would set foot in that ring.

IMG_4878

No tractor available (broken part) to drag the rings for first two days. Ironically, this place is surrounded by farms AND a Kubota dealer right in town. 


18010801_10155270766364686_2796375005551844825_n

Constructing and moving a judges stand in the middle of the competition. 


IMG_4881

Seems safe


IMG_4882

One loose pony and it is all over. exposed stakes AND wires to trip over

IMG_4879

wires everywhere

Yes, I get the collapsing barns you replaced were supposed to make us feel better, but really, did you think about layout at all? Or, did you erect the barns simply to get us to shut up? These shows only take place in the summer months, so direct sunlight is actually an issue. There is literally no shade. And when it rains……It rained so much and so hard, water was pouring in from the roof into the actual ‘new’ barn aisles.

Why do so many of your show staff seem so unhappy? Why aren’t the rings seeing a tractor more often? Or, at all? Why does the simple act of retrieving a back number out of the show office intimidate so many people? Why ARE the stalls $300 a week this year? Why is there an extra fee if we choose to use straw? Why is there an extra fee to take deep breaths?

People come to this horse show because it is convenient. We live here. We are close to it. Like people live close to your show grounds in Ocala, bought property for themselves to be in the sunshine state, the same goes for Virginia. Zone 3 is pretty freaking healthy right now, we have a lot of hunters and jumpers. We have other shows in the same vicinity which sell out each year. We also are seeing other show managers think outside the box to help exhibitors.

I am just curious as to how you come to your conclusions with regards to exhibitors. You see, it seems as though you can get away with all of these mediocre to crippling facilities because you simply up the ante for special classes. 1 million for this, 1 million for that, $250k for the Jr/Am, 100k-500k here for hunters,  50k for the young ones. Do you think we won’t jump a Grand Prix for $750k? Or a Derby for less than $500k? Have you met us? Or, is this your way of suggesting we shouldn’t complain? Well, it is really hard not to complain when we can plainly see what’s happening around us.

We do love to compete, but we also really, really need our horses to stay sound to compete. Without the horses, we are nothing. I believe we would be more impressed with our horses LOVING the facility, just as much as that big paycheck, and I believe it is your job to find out exactly what the balance should be.

I don’t feel your blessing to push up the existing footing in three of the six rings and install drains will satisfy your customers. But apparently that will be happening in June. Is that really enough? Do the schooling areas count as being equally important to you since the horses jump more in the schooling areas than they do in the actual show rings? i can guess the answer.

In Virginia, the other event which suffers is our Zone championships. There are people who have no interest in being on our championship jumper teams specifically because the finals are being held at Culpeper. This is kind of irritating. With limited options to hold major events, we have depended on your facility to help us out, and it looks like we will not be able to experience the same competition we had envisioned for our (USHJA) members. I personally believe the priority of the USHJA SHOULD be for it’s members, and not for the show managers, but maybe I am wrong. I believe our members look to the Board of Directors and Zone Committee members for answers, not to you.  Maybe the bidding process for these events needs to be re-evaluated? Maybe the mileage rule caused this, and the responsibility lies elsewhere? A monopoly on the market doesn’t usually mean competitions improve standards each year, after all, where lies the motivation? The dates are yours to keep, after all.

You may have permanently lost the last of your Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and even New Jersey customers last week, I am sorry to say. I think people finally have realized you aren’t here for them, all the patience and tolerance has been wiped out, and that is a sad situation. I loved that facility once. It even could be nice again one day, maybe for the next generation.