Girl in the Merlot Coat

I posted something on FB. I thought it was funny, knowing what I know, but boy did I hit a nerve, which I didn’t see coming.

I saw something pretty at a horse show, like really pretty. I gotta tell you, just so you know, I am not a fashionista. I love Target long sleeve t-shirts, and hoodies, denim, and Merrills. At shows, I wear the same tan breeches, white show shirt and navy R.J. Classic show coat over and over and over again week in and week out.

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I love the R.J. Classics navy coat, and get this… you can machine wash it after every show, hang it up to dry and it looks amazing. Where do they find this fabric? It looks like the traditional wool show coat, but it isn’t. It is beautiful, smart, and conservative. It is my uniform, and sometimes I throw in a lighter blue or grey coat to the mix when I am feeling feisty, or grow tired of several days in a row wearing navy. 

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Anyway, I saw a pretty show coat, my initial reaction was that is may be completely inappropriate for the hunter ring, but pretty non the less. I have a thing about burgundy, wine or any deep merlot/maroon color. My barn colors are navy and burgundy. The colors suit me. No one associates yellow with me, I am never that chipper. But burgundy or any variation, yes. me. I imagined myself wearing the pretty merlot coat. I imagined myself getting all dressed up with no where to go, since I currently don’t own a jumper, chuckled to myself, sighed, and snapped a photo of the coat, placed it back on the rack. Maybe one day, I thought to myself…

Yeah right, one day on Mars, maybe.

People lost their minds over the merlot coat when I posted it on FB. I was flooded with private messages imploring me to buy the coat, be that girl! The trend setter, the courageous one. I laughed, technically I have to change the rule first in the rule book to allow the color to be worn in hunter classes, because right now only black, brown, blue, hunter green and grey are allowable colors. However, clown breeches are allowed. Oops, I meant Canary breeches. As if. So… until I (or someone) actually propose(s) the rule change, the color remains illegal.

If you had to choose between wearing canary and wearing a burgundy color, which would you choose? Add the flares in and yeah I am going to be distracted a bit. Because what once was a strong fashion statement in the flares and yellow, is…well……not really me. I do have a pair  I used to hunt in, if I can find them I’ll start wearing them in the Derbies again with my shadbelly and you can let me know how distracted you are….

This has been quite a revealing conversation. Just to be clear, I never said I wanted to buy the pretty merlot show coat, I just wanted to see what people thought about seeing it in the hunter ring. I have had dozens of messages over this coat as well as  conversations this weekend at the show, which is all very fascinating to me. I think, in general, women care about their appearance, and typically go all the extra miles to see their hair done, nails done, outfits unique, and goodness, I am sure many people have a civilian wardrobe which I would envy any day of the week……but don’t bring the uniqueness to the horse show for God’s sake!

Horse people talking about Tradition and Fashion reminds me of watching goats ram each other in the head.

Loads of people say we need to hold onto tradition, we need to exemplify what happens in the hunt field, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah.

So ok then, let’s consider what has evolved from the hunt field to the hunter ring for a minute and consider those ‘traditions’ and at the same time look at showing from a few decades ago.

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John Tabachka sporting many traditional looks we do not permit in the show ring today.

Our terrain has changed….we no longer have EVERY show in a field over natural obstacles. Today, the grass venues are considered ‘unique’ and ‘special’. Now the stress of bad footing is causing an existential crisis with horse people. There are approximately three horse shows left with any trees standing in the ring. Fox hunters gallop through mud, show people scratch in heavy rain.

It is common to find gates at the end of a ring.

We have crossrail classes……The only cross rail in the hunt field was once a four post fence line which 40 people obliterated along the chase. At shows in the old days, everyone jumped giant fences. I mean giant.

Our Safety concerns are different…. what we used to perform in a top hat or no hat at all has become a billion dollar industry for cranial protection and ASTM approval requirements, whatever that means. We now go through concussion training. Safety vests or jackets are honorable, commended and encouraged. Now there is a big push to change the way we wear our hair because a hit to the head in a helmet full of hair makes our brains bounce too much. Yet, the hunt field has disregarded ASTM requirements and basically could care less about industry standards or whether or not you wear a vest. good luck, don’t die, and keep up for Chrissake. We are wearing our unapproved, no chin strap, colorful, velvety helmets to our graves, thank you very much. 

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the traditional velvet cap Elizabeth Sponseller on Roanie. PC Theresa Ramsay

That was then, this is now.

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K. Moving on.

A medic is required at sanctioned shows….but in the hunt field, it is the good old 911 call that gets an ambulance (or helicopter)  to show up for some mishap. Or else you get tossed in the back of a pick up and taken to the Care First.

Our schedules have changed. We used to show on the weekends, now we are consistently showing five out of seven days, which makes zero sense to me. Most fox chasing clubs offer 2 or 3 days a week for their membership, which seems like plenty of horse time. 

Our horse shows are more manufactured than boutique, corporations clearly focused on making as much money off of you in one weekend or season as humanly possible, with little regard for the tradition of fox chasing. Most show horses would freak the eff out at a horn blowing next to them.

Our Federations have changed. What once was the original American Horse Show Association became the United States Equestrian Federation, and has evolved into both the United States Equestrian and the United States Hunter Jumper Association. Be right back on whether the Masters of Foxhounds Association has changed. oh that’s right…. never. (MFHA was established in 1907). Apparently we ‘show’ people need several hundred pages of rules to keep us in order while fox chasers need just one rule – DON’T PASS THE FIELD MASTER.

Our equipment has improved….what used to be a plain snaffle, pelham, or combination of both (on an ugly wide flat double bridle) has become…. well, let’s just estimate a 500,000 bit choice in the current day and age on hand made English leather, carefully ‘fancy’ stitched with pretty patterns, rolled leather, laced reins, with pretty brass nameplates tacked on at just the right place (behind the left ear), which sparkle in that perfect photo op.

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OMG if I used this bridle today? I would be shot. Aren’t those braids huge? But again, what a gorgeous jumper, no? PC Hunters/Jumpers of the 70’s and 80’s

Saddles have become de-militarized and cushy. We have knee blocks, leg blocks, side blocks, thigh blocks, butt blocks, whatever blocks, really so many blocks we could build a gymnasium with our blocks.

We actually use saddle pads now, which were not considered appropriate a few years ago.

We don’t tie our numbers to our backs with white string or twine anymore, and I certainly hope no one is tucking their back numbers into the collar anymore….gross.

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I don’t know about you but the first thing I noticed was the horse. wow, impressive, right? I want this horse! Then I look at the jump. Yikes. Big! Then I kind of look at the rider and go hmm, where did all that come from? PC FB group – Hunter/Jumpers of the 70’s and 80’s

Our stirrups bend and flex and have fancy inserts to keep our feet in place.

Rowel spurs are not common.

The length of a whip has been regulated, and if you have ever seen a hunt whip used to control hounds you would understand that a show whip is considerably shorter than a hunt whip. 

Leg protection is prohibited, (except in the equitation), yet in the hunt field everyone wears boots.

Our drinking has changed. While riding on sherry might be taboo in the show hunter world, most fox chasers cannot arrive to a hunt meet with an empty flask, and commonly ‘toast’ the hounds at 10 am, (or earlier during cubbing season.) By the end of two hours, every flask is appropriately empty. Yes, there are quite a few people drinking at 10 am at shows, but hopefully not as a norm.

Drug use is not permitted. Before Ace Promazine was invented, the double bridle kept you from passing the Field Master in the Hunt Field. Now fox chasers don’t leave home without their Ace Promizine like we don’t leave home without an American Express card, yet show horses have a list a mile long of banned substances, and if you get caught using them you have to get involved in a lengthy and expensive law suit to get off.

Our horses have changed. What once was considered the Holy Grail of a mock fox hunter (the Thoroughbred) is now an impossibly slow, heavy, and often stupid Warmblood. Now we are scraping together a few valuable TB’s to show in a division or two at a USEF sanctioned show, when just a few years ago we scoffed at the idea of a heavy warmblood in a hunter conformation class. Talk about a scandal, geeesh. If we really wanted to hold onto tradition, we would ban warmbloods.

Hunt Clubs have Hunt Balls to celebrate the end of season. The show world mails awards.

You get the idea, and you could probably add to the list. The point is, why are we holding onto this one last thing? What is so important about the color of a show coat? What is the underlying fear? Are people worried we are going to go from the merlot coat to feathers in our hair? And should men have a vote? Let’s not forget wild varieties of tweed and colored stock ties are extra popular on informal hunt days, including ALL of cubbing season. For many fox chasers, this is the favorite time of year, when they get to show off their most treasured outfits.

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My smiling mum and Smitten, her mother’s blue stock tie, her favorite tweed coat, and Smitten wearing all the boots as well as a breastplate!

I am not sure people who are clinging to the ‘old school’ look are considering what is really ‘old school’ The look today I actually consider quite ‘modern’. I personally was never a fan of rust colored breeches, and my days in them were thankfully brief growing up. Other people love them, and probably wear them brilliantly, but it doesn’t quite work for me. The white linen show coat? I don’t think I would want to wear that either. In fact the 70’s seemed to be loaded with odd outfits all over the place, so hopefully we don’t have to return to ‘old school’ fashion in the show world. That would actually be a bigger detriment to our little bubble.

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I watched the Ladies Sidesaddle class this week at the Maryland National Horse Show. It was beautiful to see those competitors so fancy with skirts. There are so few Sidesaddle competitors left anymore and it is an admirable division to take part in, but I couldn’t do it. The funny thing is, a hundred years ago, I would have been forced to ride Sidesaddle. Riding astride was not allowed. It took a few brave and courageous women to overturn the tradition of Sidesaddle, march to Washington, and encourage women to ride astride. Women had to fox hunt Sidesaddle! You can follow Devon Zebrovious to see how challenging that actually is, and she is good at it. I wouldn’t even make it down the dang driveway.

The following pictures of Devon show an array of traditions the show world has strayed away from, see if you can locate a couple. 

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I have to say her first outfit I am thankful for because it pops out of the background. The navy is actually harder to see so I feel like I am missing something.

Ladies Sidesaddle classes have remained firmly rooted in those hundred year old traditions, and while it is nice to see an occasional resurgence of participants in those classes, we aren’t exactly splitting that division by age group. That is because riding and showing have evolved to be come less challenging, more comfortable, and easier for everyone involved. Values on tradition have changed, and will continue to change many years from now. And thankfully, we don’t have to ride Sidesaddle anymore if we choose not to. The tradition carries on in a lovely manner in the Sidesaddle division, so if you are married to tradition, maybe look there. But don’t forget tradition is not always practical. Or humane. The outfits alone are mind boggling, and stress me out.

“The attire/tack in the ss division is based off of traditional, appointments-style formal hunting attire that was standard back in the 1920s-1940s: Black or navy side saddle habit (consisting of matching jacket and apron, and the apron should be long enough that your right toe/foot does NOT show), typically made out of melton wool or cavalry twill (needs to be heavy to hang properly and not flap around); color-matching breeches under the apron; White or cream stock tie with stock pin; waistcoat/vest (buff, canary, white, unless a bona fide member of a registered hunt whose waistcoat livery is different and they have been awarded the right to wear it); tall dress boots (no zippers), with a spur worn high on the left ankle, and traditionally garters on your boots; Gloves are brown, wash, or cream (black gloves were for mourning, and one would not be so frivolous to go hunting if you were in mourning)”

Your preference of the merlot show coat should be your choice alone if you want to feel pretty. Go for it, I would never hold it against you for wearing one. I am going to look at the horse you are riding anyway, the outfit is irrelevant to me. I hope one day there will be room for the maroon coat in the hunter ring, maybe a solution would be to allow it for juniors and amateurs only, after all, they are the ones driving this sport forward, currently being the heaviest populated divisions in horse showing today.

Don’t give up ladies. And R.J Classics? Don’t give up on us drab and dreary hunter riders.  We are coming for ya, just wait a little moment will ya?

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BigEq.com proves that showing in maroon ain’t all the bad actually.

Poor Meggie wants to leave the hunters behind just so she wear the maroon coat. Shoutout to The Boot and Bridle Tack Shop for adding to the discussion.

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mom, dad, we need to talk. Parenting in the show world.

Guide to being a better parent in the horse world, coming from someone who isn’t a parent. Doesn’t seem fair does it? Like, what do I know? I don’t have children. Why should I address parenting? What gives me any right to think I know better? Maybe I don’t. That is fine. Just be aware I am not the only one out there with no children….. From what I have experienced, there are far more childless trainers in the hunter world than trainers with their own kids. So, there is that.

The relationship between trainer and client is always tricky when it involves kids and parents and VARIES with trainers all over the country. Every trainer has stories, some are good, some are horror stories, and everyone has learned from hard mistakes. Many times the trainers who have strict rules about parents is because of these hard lessons, not just because the trainer is being a hard ass. Let’s take it to the back to the early years, but these apply no matter the age of your kid.

Do you have a plan?

After you have (painfully, or gleefully) decided to invest in the world of hunter showing for your rosy cheeked tiny person, and found the perfect pointy toed, spawn of the devil, pint sized creature, we like to refer to as a PONY, what next? What’s the plan? What are your goals? What are you trying to accomplish here?

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Even if you are not quite on the level of assuredness to the commitment your checkbook will allow, the plan needs to be formulated WITH your trainer, not simply announced on a week to week, or month to month basis. Take it seriously, sit down, and think about your options. Is this a hobby? Is this a career? Is this a true commitment you are willing to give up soccer practice for? Your weekends? Holidays?

It becomes a lot less overwhelming when you think about your child’s junior career in four year increments.

Believe it or not, your goal of Pony Finals may not happen in the same year your child learns what a diagonal is. Nor should it.

Learning to ride and writing a check are two very different things. So, invest wisely. A GOOD trainer should be able to recognize what is a feasible time frame for attaining a goal, so listen. And make sure your trainer wants to go to Pony Finals. Sometimes the stress of getting there for one kid isn’t actually at the top of a trainer’s list when there are half a dozen other kids who have different goals, just because you think your child is extra special…. If you are going to be the one parent who causes stress and resentment, it won’t be a very fun adventure in Kentucky. I can promise you that.

Even if you are just stepping into the show world and a championship is not even on your radar, what do you see happening over the next four years? In Grade school, your kid will learn to read, write, multiplication, and form independent thoughts. You expect this and a report card will show progress, but in the horse world, we don’t issue report cards, because you are responsible for the financial obligation regarding the depth of knowledge your kid will attain. From lead line to the first cross rail, it all depends on your checkbook, and commitment. So, if you would like to see little Susie go from lead line to division showing, or lead line to Pony Club Rallies, it will be part of your four year plan. Write it down, say it out loud, and comprehend what this means. Each path is ok, and will work around your budget.

Are you living vicariously through your child?

There are many scenarios for this, but not really too many beneficial ones.

When I see parents struggling with the color of ribbons, I internally freak out. It never seems enough that your kid is happily flying around on Cheeky Sporty Firecracker with pink and green bows, finally remembering all of the courses on the same day, not dying in the ring, and now we struggle with “Why didn’t we win? I WATCHED the other ponies! Please explain now!”

Look, no one is judging you. No one is judging you based on the pony you purchased. We are all here in the sport together, knowing perfectly well it is subjective, it is tough, sometimes political, sometimes unfair, sometimes works in your favor, and sometimes it rains. Relax. If each show depends on at least one blue ribbon, you may not really be in the right sport. If you are demanding to know WHY the placings fall as they do EACH time your kid shows in the ring, but your kid is thinking about daffodils, your trainer will really start to get annoyed, even if they are professional enough not to show it. Please take a breath, you are in it for the long haul, the results this week won’t really make your child any less lovable. I swear. I’ll still like the tiny person who has daffodils on her mind today. I am good enough to see that there is still potential for success there even if we were last in every class. If the child is happy, why can’t you be? Happiness is not always the color blue. One of the worst feelings is disappointment, and over time when a child feels he or she is constantly going to disappoint a parent by being last in every class, guess what will happen? Can you guess or does someone have to spell it out for you? My heart breaks for these kids.

Trainer Solution #1 – The Parent Box. During competition parents are encouraged to watch from the other side of the ring. Or from the stands. Somewhere other than the in gate.  And be quiet. Trainers who have this rule have found improved concentration from kids and a closer understanding of the trainers’ instructions without unnecessary distractions. This allows a child to ride for the trainer, not for the mother.

Trainer Solution #2 – No Placings Discussions same day of competition. Implementation of this rule has shown 24 hours following competition, the urgency to know all of the answers fades.   

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I think a lot about ‘the need’ to always be winning. It is not really that healthy. Not only that, it doesn’t actually teach kids anything about the real world, where, as an adult, they are not always going to win. He or she is going to have struggles, bad bosses, bad roommates, better co-workers, and your child might lose a job or two as and adult. If you have spent years criticizing your child for losing in the show ring, how will they handle losing their first job? Gracefully? Tearfully? Will he/she have a complete meltdown and get depressed? Learning from fails or failure can be directly correlated to mental attitude in the show ring as a junior progresses through the ranks. First of all, what is really failure when you are on horse? I mean really, who is homeless here? Thank you. NOT WINNING is actually very useful, and key to development. No child should go through life with an urgency to win rather than learn. And sometimes learning means NOT winning. It means learning to do the lead change properly, learning to add in a line when the pony is strong, whatever.

One of the best parent interactions I witnessed was a dad who bought chocolate chip ice cream for a kid who chipped to the single oxer in all five classes over the weekend. He felt she deserved the best chips in all the land in the form of a tasty treat for the best chip performance. It was funny, she laughed, and was able to let it go. She would joke later she was more focused on earning another ice cream rather than missing at the single oxer and gradually her fear faded, and performance improved.

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When Denise Richards braids her kids hair. PC Daily Mail

Parent competition –  I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Some of the worst stories that trainers have come from parent competition which often can rapidly turn into parent bullying, a trainer’s worst fear. Save this crap for the reality shows on Bravo, honestly, what could be worse than parent shaming over a pony? What on earth will this teach your kid? My sympathies go out to all of the trainers having to deal with jealousy among the moms and dads of kids just trying to have a good time. There really are no words. I have seen parents refusing to allow their child to do the same exercises, lessons, share trailer space, share the same lesson pony, and on and on because of comparisons to another riding kid. “my little precious does everything on her own already, she doesn’t need to hear what the trainer says about show protocol.” What your trainer wants to say is where you can stick it, but again, the fear of losing yet another immature client usually brings silence, so these parents get away with it, while confident parents KNOW it takes a VILLAGE to accomplish these big dreams, not just the checkbook of one person.

Not a fan of “Sharenting” – It is great you want your kid to be a model of the pony or junior world, ambassador of this, ambassador of that, etc. etc, but is your kid actually a role model for showing or a role model for good horsemanship? BIG difference. And how many instagram pics are really necessary? Promote the good stuff, the important skills, and maybe spend a little more time showcasing the virtues of understanding colic versus tying up, rather than the amount of stripes on a show coat or bareback jumping. There is an awakening happening with horsemanship, be the parent who shares those skills, stay ahead of the curve to earn the respect you think you need. It will be better for everyone in the end.

Commitment. –  I have seen a lot of trainers struggling with kids who are encouraged to play every sport while keeping Pony Finals on the table as a real goal. Again, trainers have my sympathy. The route to these big championships is long, exhausting, emotional, and is compounded by an athlete who is a jack of all trades, master at none. Trainers are not easily turned on by investing all of their energy into a championship, like Devon, Indoors or PF, only to have really mediocre or poor performances when you all get there. It doesn’t make anyone look good. Trainers are hesitant to tell you to choose, when the fear is you are going to pull your kid away all together, so it helps to have the maturity to really think this all through. Whatever your goals are, on any level, try to level with your trainer and kid about what is the most important to your kid. Developing commitment to one sport will also prove to be beneficial to adulting, as most kids who have shown focus through to the end, will make better employees in the future.

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family day! 

Knowledge of the sport –  As a parent, it can be really confusing when the pony you just mortgaged your house for doesn’t place in a medal class, when you had no idea the pony wasn’t actually being judged in that class, the rider was. And the rider was on the wrong diagonal for three laps of the ring, which you failed to notice or even look for. And what’s the difference between a children’s pony and a division pony? Or, why do I need an equitation horse and a junior hunter and a jumper? Why can’t one horse do all of those divisions? Good questions, but taxing questions. I am actually considering writing a book called ‘Horse Showing for Dummies’ which would alleviate a lot of these questions, but there is no current manual, educational video or support group provided by the Federation, so TALK with your kids about these questions before attacking your trainer. There is a lot out there, but a lot can be provided at the dinner table in your own house. You might learn more about your kid’s dedication that way, too. Other seasoned parents can actually help with this, too, but make an effort, don’t simply pout and demand answers from your trainer without actually seeing if the answers are already right in front of you.

Bad weather riding, and paying for horseless lesson – One of my biggest pet peeves with Parents, HOLY COW, not kidding. Sometimes it is too cold to ride. However, it is not too cold to learn. If I have heard this complaint from trainers or instructors one time, I have heard it a hundred.

Trainer – “it is too cold to ride, but I would like to use the hour to teach important horsemanship lessons like tacking up, grooming, picking out the feet, bandaging, equipment, blanketing, shoeing, etc.etc.etc.”

Parent – “absolutely not. I am not paying for a lesson unless my kid is on top of that pony and jumps all of the jumps in the ring”

Worst Parent on the Planet. This is what makes trainers give up and not care. This is what makes trainers go “See? They don’t want us to teach anything important, not my job, not my responsibility, anymore, I’m done”. And then the trainer invests less and less until no one is happy and you find yourself shopping for a new trainer…. If there is a trainer out there willing to take the time to conduct a horseless lesson, do not be the Worst Parent in the World and say No. For the love of all things equine, DO NOT SAY NO. Allow your kid to learn the most important and vital part of being a proper horsemen so we can together turn this country around in it’s thinking. Whether you like it or not you are a part of it now. You are part of the horse culture in America, so here is a chance to be a better parent, take advantage of it.

Purchasing animals for your child without the aid of a trainer – Generally, with professionals, you won’t find a lot of support for this isolated decision making process. Nothing is worse than feeling excluded in a pretty big decision, whether it ends up a good one or a fail. I probably will never convince people this practice is a genuine disservice to professionals and trainers world-wide, but I can speak for most of them when I say – put yourself in my shoes for one second. You are going to ask me to develop a relationship with an animal and a child, probably for a few years, ask me to fix the lead changes, fix all the naughty things it does, bring it up the levels to a division pony because someone else convinced you it was a ‘potential’ division pony, but is maxed out at 2’3”, and meanwhile not allow your kid to shed a single tear out of frustration, but you won’t let me in on the decision?  All of which could be avoided if you just let me simply guide you down a different path with a lease the first year, and possibly an eligible green pony after that IF I felt your kid was ready. Now, who is happy here? In the end, the pony cannot be properly finished, the kid has outgrown it a year too early, and may not even want to do the hunters anymore because the struggle was all too real. Again, I can’t change every parent’s thinking, but it is super sad to see those decisions being made inside the family, and not work out. Maybe some of them do, but I think most often even parents cannot predict when kids lose interest in difficult scenarios.

 

Are there any good parents?

Oh my Lord, loads of good ones. If you sit down and take a moment to talk with some good parents in the show world, you will see they have a pretty broad picture in mind for their precious spawn. Little things don’t upset them. Lameness comes along with the sport and is understood. They are not bothered by little Susie being a barn rat, but encourage equal time spent on grades. They instill enough good values so they play nice in the barn and help others. They don’t make comparisons to other parents, but offer to make sure plenty of food and water is available on the weekends when it gets really crazy busy, or make restaurant reservations, independently take care of hotel reservations, and explore prize lists online without being prompted, teaching themselves the important shows, important divisions, and routinely make sure the often exhausted barn help has coffee in the mornings at shows. Good parents are at the ready for any situation – my favorite ones will show up at a new show grounds, drop the spawn off at the appropriate stalls, and scope out the facility for all of the important amenities. Potty, show office, Rings 1-5, concessions, coffee shop, and photography booth. They don’t need to be prompted to pay their bill in the show office, and even understand what stall splits are. These parents are revered, and part of the reason members in our state show association (Maryland) introduced a Perfect Parent Award to honor those parents who show constant support throughout the show year. I love this award. The MHSA Perfect Parent Award was initiated by Tracy Magness and Wendy Leibert in honor of their amazing parents John and Barbara Bartko, who I don’t think ever miss attending a show and supporting the team throughout Tracy and Wendy’s entire careers, and as far as I know, still do. Hopefully, other states across the nation have something similar in place for the good parents, the solid, supportive parents, the good role models we need in this difficult and challenging sport.

 

Adorable blog by a kid from the AQHA here. http://www.unbelievab.ly/the-reality-of-showing-horses-with-non-horsey-parents/

 

Even Michigan State University puts out information for parents of horse kids, detailed articles, and a webinar which provides logical information to help. This speaker brings up an article which points out that Americans have the worst record for Parental Sportsmanship in the WORLD, in every sport, compared to over 20 other countries, and wouldn’t it be nice to turn that statistic around?

“It’s ironic that the United States, which prides itself in being the most civilized country in the world, has the largest group of adults having witnessed abusive behavior at children’s sporting events,” Ipsos senior vice president John Wright said.

Maybe we could lead the way for change in the horse industry…

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Jim Bridges, ultimate horse show parent

 

 

 

 

An elephant I named Murray, my take on the 2018 US Equestrian meeting.

It is a long week. A long week I am not making any money. In January. It is not a good week. The drive over the mountains from Baltimore to Paris was timed unbelievably with luck to be edging out a snowstorm creeping across Kentucky. The first flakes were falling as I crept down the dark roads to Paris and found my residence for the week, Hickory Manor. Kimmy Risser’s farm was just north of Lexington, a 20 minute drive from the convention, and she had graciously put me up for the duration of the meeting. Without her, I could never had afforded the week.

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Carefully following a snow plow the following morning, our 20 minute drive was nearly doubled from the impact of the storm. I imagined it would disrupt other people’s travel plans as well, and on the drive, we wondered who might be attending the meeting.

The “Pre-Meeting” meeting was named a Competition and Member Summit: Facing Challenges Together. It was not officially part of the big week, more like a bone thrown out to attendees to say here “We discussed things here, see?” But the title was alluring enough to get me there, it sounded like something I should attend. Looking back, it may have been the only meeting worth attending.

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Panels of four people were placed on a stage, a man named Tom O’Mara was placed behind a podium with a book of questions, and he deliberately moved discussion around with handy topics like Calendar Management, Competition Standards, and the Cost of Showing. Each topic afforded a new panel, each representing a different discipline. I realized most of the attendees were actually members of the panel and a few other curious spectators. Some big players, some regular people, and me. I couldn’t quite figure out who they were actually presenting to, per se, but we were assured the event was being recorded and would be offered to members later. There was some recognition that horse shows are getting too expensive, and clearly competition standards could be stripped and realigned, but little move to actually pull out pen and paper.

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Maybe the most exciting moment was watching Tom Struzzieri indicate he had beautifully created the perfect horse show facilities, only to see the numbers drastically declining in the hunters and that he would like to know where the clients are. I squirmed in my seat. Was he serious? I squirmed some more,and groaned. Someone in front of me raised a hand…. the exchange was the epitome of an ostrich versus the cheetah while the lemurs pulled out the popcorn.

 

 

But the elephant in that particular room was still lurking in the corner, which seemed to be the inability to address multiple levels of financial backgrounds of the actual people who want to horse show, and how it is drastically affecting the horse show community, our livelihoods, and the Federation.

Tuesday morning started with what I considered two very important meetings happening simultaneously, the Vet Committee and Competition Standards Committee. I was going to have to split my time between both somehow. I started to walk toward Competition Standards, but Stephen Schumacher caught my eye inside the Vet Committee room, and I changed course. At that moment I thought hmmm, there is a touchy subject floating around the hunter community, maybe I could find answers here.

Fifteen minutes into the meeting, bored, and scrolling through FB,  I found the press release from the USEF describing the results of the arbitration ruling in favor of Larry and Kelley. I froze. Then I squirmed. I showed Kimmy. Every expletive went through my mind. I couldn’t focus. The conversation continued.

I sat there and listened to the discussion of various rule proposals being put forward (collapse rule, willful toleration of abuse, and some other random thing) and also the depo update, how 4 or 5,000 forms had been submitted since September, USEF had to hire a temp to sort through them all, and wouldn’t it be nice to require all members to file electronically by February 1st, to get out of this quagmire of paper? Bill Moroney reminded the group that people might only be filling out the paperwork at the horse shows when they actually see drug testers on the grounds and my head began to spin. Another exhibitor fail. Now the results will be forever skewed. great. Exhibitors might never get it together.

One positive topic was the use of Pergolide or medication for Cushings horses…. Following the direction of WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency)  and the use of TUE’s (Therapeutic Use Exemptions) these forms would allow all users of Pergolide to file just one time and show their ponies on the drug. There was acceptance in the group that this allowance would be fine under the Federation’s Drugs and Medications policy. So it was a good step for those ponies….

I was just about to give up on the rest of the topics, however, (even leaving the room to visit next door) when the lurking elephant finally came to the table. Thankfully, Kimmy pulled me back just in time and I heard Susie Schoellkopf’s recognizable voice coming through the telecom, asking when we were going to talk about the real issue. This was it! And it was awkward. So I will just leave this right here….

(Sadly, I cannot share what I witnessed through the blog. Video had to be removed)

 

Still mildly fuming, and internally frustrated, I moved back into the Competition Standards meeting……. After witnessing the summit the day before, I was prepared to watch the committee members to be hard at work deciphering exactly what needs to be on the list of requirements for each level of showing. I was disappointed…. extremely disappointed. Instead of breaking apart the requirements there is actually a Super Premiere show option up for debate. How is this even possible? Another level beyond Premiere? How can you fix what is broken by inventing another avenue? I already have HUGE issues with the idea of reducing the amount of Premiere shows from 250 to 25 per year, and now this.

If this is hard to follow, it is, but it is crucial that it doesn’t happen, simply for the welfare of the horses, which few people seem to remember in these meetings. There are members insisting that National points and Premier points are the same. (they aren’t) Those same people did not predict that 250 shows per year would acquire a Premiere rating (they did). Feeling like that is saturating the market, these people would like to see all those shows reduced to a National rating (how?) and see this country only offer 25 Premiere horse shows per year. (which ones?) First of all, circuit showing will be greatly affected, but have you seen how many points it takes to get into Devon and Indoors? Without a cap on how many shows ponies can show in per year, to get the points needed these ponies would be subject to a horrific show schedule. This is in direct conflict of horse welfare. You can’t do one without the other, and this is beyond over regulation of a Federation.

I am not sure what the hesitation is to address the actual standards, but start there first, and give the stewards the same checklist to review. If the stewards aren’t aware of how the shows actually qualify for their rating, how can they report properly? And how can improvements be made?

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The amount of people seeking out unsanctioned shows is on the rise in many parts of this country, and they are sacrificing amenities to accommodate their budgets, time, and energy to have a simpler, shorter, and more gratifying experience. I know this to be true, and not just because I polled the public.

 

That afternoon, we were subject to some more theatre. The forum on Safe Sport I feel has been hammered into us repeatedly, with much the same affect each time, and yes I get it, the gymnasts fucked us all, but really, our horse community is not wholly on board. I am not personally opposed to the training, it is not that, but when I asked the speaker to tell me how many of the 150 grievances reported in last year were actually equestrians? She had to think. Maybe 5 or 6. And of those 5 or 6, only half had enough evidence to substantiate an inquiry or investigation.

Maybe we are too early into the process, maybe we will see more, and maybe this is out of our hands, but that elephant has yet to leave the building in this discussion.

The irony of the next speaker did not escape me, and although she was quite capable, and a talented speaker, I felt Sarah Hamilton’s forum on Crisis Management could be directed solely to the Federation and it’s employees. She thoroughly explained how to get in front of a crisis, and the tools needed to save an organization from a complete break up. I looked at Kimmy… was this for us? or for Murray?

I skipped the Coaching Register, which may have been a mistake, but I was cooked. I had to hear later how USEF will eventually be moving forward with much the same requirements for Coaches and Trainers that USHJA will be implementing, Safe Sport training, certification, and another background check. The only problem (a big one) is that the requirements are not aligning with all of the organizations, and certain background checks are not acceptable to the USOC, USEF, USHJA, and other affiliates. The certification requirements are vague. So this might be getting tabled until the details can be scrutinized a bit further. Yikes.

Moving on to the Ted Talks.

Thursday morning came quick. I was slowly losing hope on any sort of forum to vent frustrations, but tried to enjoy the nice breakfast anyway. I wanted a front row seat for our Murray Kessler presentation, so we finished quickly enough to make our way to the ballroom a few minutes early. When the minions outside the closed doors told us we couldn’t go in until everyone else had arrived I was like what? Why? Is this high school? I thought they were kidding, and didn’t feel much like standing around like an idiot, so entered the room, finding a table closest to the stage.. Jesus Christ, get over yourselves. Kimmy followed me.  I looked around, bewildered at the Las Vegas style stage, house music blaring, and an intense light show. Within a few seconds of sitting down and pulling out my notebook, Murray Kessler was hurrying to our table in dramatic fashion to inform us we had entered the room too early. I stared at him, trying to comprehend. It was 8:26 am. He didn’t want us to panic that we were the only two people in the room. I looked around again. I hadn’t noticed. Nor cared. I suggested he open the doors, and he left us. I looked at Kimmy. What in the actual Fuck?

 

What followed for the next four hours was painful. We were berated with an ongoing celebration of US Equestrian patting itself on the back and films or slides describing the steps they were taking to move ahead. I pulled out my phone and used FB Live to put the whole craziness online. I sympathized with his staff. A young staff. Dozens of wonderfully endearing cheer leaders clearly dependent on their income to celebrate and sell the Joy of US Equestrian. In fact, it seems he has cleverly and deliberately positioned young people in their 20’s and 30’s so maybe they can not and will not call him out on his mistakes, or warn him of his narcissism, and they somehow enable him as he continues to stabilize the Federation financially, at seemingly great cost to its members. It is almost too clever. The clash of a corporate leader with a fan club in an emotional and draining sport is almost too much to bear. How in the world did we get here?

The USEF ‘Ted Talk’ left me stunned and sour. No bigger disconnect could easily be described. The zoo this organization has become has turned to blatantly burning cash for no more than a fancy slide show, while all of its members, (including all of my friends) are on show grounds all over this country cleaning the shit out of their horse’s stalls, braiding, bathing, prepping, learning their courses, and actually working to make a living with the creature who brought us here in the first place. The horse.

For the rest of the day I wandered in and out of meetings, challenging myself to pay close attention, but missing reality outside the walls. Sure, some moments were important, and I was happy to share any experience with others, I utilized my phone to broadcast to members, because why not? The more that time passed, the more I realized what I actually wanted. Needed. Was desperate for. I wanted answers from Stephen Schumacher. I wanted a conversation with the Chief Operating Officer of the Drugs and Medications department of US Equestrian. I couldn’t find him. He had mysteriously vanished. I sent an email to him. I asked Murray and his assistant where he was. I asked more minions. I got nothing. I gave up, hoping to hear from him by email. I returned the next morning to wait in the halls for him. Most of the meetings were closed to the general public, so I waited. I snuck into a Closed meeting and watched some more boring and depressing discussion. I waited for a few more hours then returned to Kimmy’s farm. I suspect he doesn’t want to talk to me, but I have these questions for him…..

Who was responsible for the broken chain of command in the Glefke/Farmer case?

What will happen to that person?

How will an ‘Outsourced Audit’ of the Chain of Command within the USEF Lab help?

How will the Drug Testers be educated from here on out?

How do we report bad Drug Testers?

Can we ask them to wear gloves?

Shouldn’t they be wearing gloves? Hospital workers wear gloves.

Can we report to you how vials are handled?

Is it ok when Drug Testers open vials with their teeth?

Is it really ok to have a Drug tester demand to test a horse between rounds of a class? (Yes this is actually happening.)

Do Drug Testers get randomly drug tested? Should they?

How come you cannot outsource the Labwork?

How long will it take to see improvements with Drug testing?

What actions are being taken to restore faith in the members regarding Drug Testing?

Will it be enough?

Proposed GR414.6 is on the table which will Prohibit the Possession of Magnesium Sulfate on Competition Grounds. How do you plan on enforcing this? Will you be giving the authority to Drug Testers to raid tack trunks looking for bottles of an illegal drug?

If this rule passes, will it open the door to other random inspections of possessions?

I am still here in Kentucky, I want to go home, but instead, I am going to walk through the convention doors tomorrow morning and wait one more time for that interview. We’ll see if I get it.

Drug me.

The Monday morning hangover.

Why do Americans seem so attached to pharmaceuticals? A few decades ago I pondered this question as I learned more and more about how the rest of the world ‘deals’ with their daily lives, the good, bad, and ugly.

Our culture is vastly different, and alarmingly attached to items which make life easier for us, or remove anxiety, or inhibit feelings all together. When I watch Netflix dramas about how crazy fast drug cartels were getting their product into ports and over the borders in the 60’s and infiltrating schools and streets across the country within just a few short years, I was fascinated by ease in which those cartels worked, but I also realized how long we have been accustomed to drug use because of those cartels, and how TOLERANT we have unwittingly become of the current drug culture. So many of us are constantly exposed on a continual basis and we don’t even realize it. The drugs are just there. All of the time. We read about it everywhere, we hear about it every day on the news, in our social media feeds, it never ends. Every facet of society is exposed to it in one form or another. I personally find it is really difficult to find one person in society who has never taken any form of drug or narcotic. Can you say you know someone who has never put a drug or narcotic in his/her system?

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Maybe one of the biggest impacts for a lot of society was watching Lance Armstrong get caught using drugs, flat out lie about his usage, only to later admit he actually was one of the biggest abusers in sport. It was impressive. But not all that surprising. Possibly the only other country which comes close to similar habits is Russia. The weird thing about Russia, is that drug use (in the form of steroids) seems to be clearly pushed from the government on its own athletes rather than cartels from Colombia infiltrating children, which is a whole other can of worms. After watching yet another Netflix drama Icarus, I was shaken by the extent of government involvement. Maybe I should stop watching Netflix, I don’t know.

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In this country, compared to others, doctors are brazen about prescribing medications for alleviating pain, or attention deficit/eating disorders and whatever other ailments out there. Prozac is a household name. In fact, there are four horses with the name of Prozac listed with the Federation. We know, or think we know, a LOT about pharmaceuticals in this country. Commercials for pharmaceuticals outnumber the amount of Starbucks stores found in this country.

Each person has his/her own interactions with drugs, and our tolerance for them has led us to become woefully abstract on what is an appropriate point of view toward them. For example, medicating dogs before travel is not an atrocity. Other countries might feel different about our acceptance of drugs, however.  And while some Americans are gleefully popping Prozac or Valium, other Americans are trying to wrap their heads around losing family members to heroin and Fentanyl, and if you asked a family in Germany to discuss pot or Adderall, you would get a lot of confused and surprising looks.

Adderall was nearly impossible to obtain in Germany for many years, and Ritalin not much easier. Pot usage is not as common with high school students as it is here, and generally experimented more in college and adulthood, rather than the age of 12 or 13… Remember, many kids in Europe come HOME for lunch during school, a luxury Americans cannot seem to comprehend, like riding a bike to work. (Alcohol, on the other hand, might be a different story.) So meanwhile, back on home ground, we have to read articles like this one. https://nowtoronto.com/news/why-is-fentanyl-showing-up-in-street-drugs-/

So what does this have to do with the horses?

Well, I think it correlates immensely with culture. If you were to ask me why so many people use pharmaceuticals on horses, I would probably respond “Because they can.”

 

I am not entirely sure why people are so shocked, either. Drug use among horses is nothing new. We just hear about it more now because of Facebook. But the USEF did not decide last week, or even last year to start drug testing horses. Drug testing came into fruition because of a MASSIVE abuse of product in the early 70’s. Reserpine (officially developed in the 50’s) was wildly rampant in the horse show world, because we were desperately trying to SLOW EVERYTHING DOWN. We were creating divisions which exemplified poise, brilliance, and tactical coordination, on horses coming directly from a racing career. Well, how the heck do you think that worked? Think about it for a second…… It only took one person to be brilliant at Madison Square Garden on a horse six months off the track before jealous tongues started to wag. And without any strict State or Federal regulations regarding veterinary medications, Reserpine (and eventually Acepromazine) bottles started popping up in tack trunks all over the country. The prestige of winning at Madison Square garden far outweighed the risk of being caught. Long before The New York Times was publishing articles about collapsing ponies at Devon, they were publishing articles about winning at horse shows, I mean really!

http://www.nytimes.com/1970/10/18/archives/hulick-captures-horse-show-title-junior-takes-hunter-seat-trophy-at.html?_r=0

If you go back and take a look at who the presenter was that year for the AHSA Medal Final, you may or may not recognize the name as being connected with something else. Yes, Dick McDevitt was closely related to the Devon Horse Show but also the person responsible for implementing the Drugs and Medication protocol within our current Federation.

Richard E. McDevitt took the helm in 1976 and began developing the regulatory structure for the Drugs and Medications program. After just two years as head of the AHSA, McDevitt met one of his greatest challenges when he approved a rule requiring that show horses be tested for reserpine, a powerful tranquilizer. His leadership paved the way for equine welfare discussion and protection for years to come. One of his greatest contributions was in his steadfast commitment to keeping a fair and just process for all cases brought before the Hearing Committee. McDevitt also established the model for individual memberships to the AHSA.

Above was taken from the history page of the US Equestrian website

Once pharmaceuticals took a stronghold on the American hunter system, the need for horsemanship skills started to slip through the cracks. Now a whole new world was opening up into which socialites could earn titles without having to do all the hard work. Many big show barns depended on these socialites to bring in business. These show barns were not interested in going to the Olympic Games. They were interested in going to the Hampton Classic. Think about how WEF gained so much popularity. A winter retreat, not exactly a gateway to the Pan-Am Games. The USET Headquarters was located in Gladstone, New Jersey, not Wellington.  Winter retreats require perfectly set up horses for the weekend traveler to hop on a plane on Friday, show in the sun for a couple days, then return North. No one was really thinking about horsemanship skills, trainers were trying to appeal to their clients, and eventually horsemanship simply waned. Well, then the next generation learned from those same trainers, learned those same habits, became comfortable using needles, because that is what so many people were actually doing. Using drugs. Now this generation is seeing a return to basics over the pharmaceutical option, and is struggling with where to learn those essential tools. Pony Club was never popularized by the most influential figures on the covers of horsey magazines, and soon even the extremely knowledgable and dedicated Pony Club Organization was forced to take a seat on the struggle bus, with membership numbers falling with atrocious ferocity.

During the 80’s when Americans started discovering the discarded warmbloods in Europe and found an insanely simple use for them in the multiple Hunter rings, we went WILD for them, importing them like mad because our jobs were suddenly made even EASIER! The slow was being bred into these fabulous creatures from the getgo  and we could achieve stunning results with no reserpine! Slower, steadier, creepy, crawlier canters prevailed! They could jump five times the amount of jumps without breaking like those spindly Thoroughbreds! Prices soared through the next couple of decades, further separating the gap between the wealthy and not wealthy, and we formed a society of superb competitors, but again, with fewer horsemen. The hungry, less well off candidates, often applying for working student positions just to be around the horses quickly soured to what they were witnessing happening in the show world, frowned on the constant collapsed veins, nerved feet, injected tails, dehydrated and otherwise maligned creatures taking top prizes in this country. Instead of reserpine, we were oozing painkillers into the horses because somewhere along the line, we missed how many jumps is too many jumps for a horse and never educated ourselves on longevity. Horses inherently became incredibly disposable. Those valuable working students, with loads of compassion, vanished, and were replaced with the grooms of today.

So fast forward to current day status and we see the USHJA tries to come to the rescue with the EAP program. Maybe that will hold for a few individuals, but not all. Then we also have TCP, or Trainer Certification Program…. meh. We have a Federation seemingly hell bent on instilling the fear of God into drug users at horse shows. That’s great. Members pay for that by the way. And we have hundreds of young aspiring individuals in this country with precious few role models to look up to as exemplary drug free equestrians. The winningest ever derby rider our country has ever seen is currently being ostracized in the media, and even three top Eventers are being penalized for “amphetamines” by the FEI. Some of these positive findings quite possibly could have been doctor prescribed. That thought is terrifying to me, and it has angered hundreds of people in our society. A doctor in this country who was PRESCRIBING a drug to HELP a patient has caused the World Doping Agency to freak the fuck out. Who wins here?

So yes, I think our American society is extremely conflicted in the world of pharmaceuticals. I think some people feel strongly they are HELPING the horses feel better doing these jobs we have created for them, and no science has proved otherwise. Some drugs are tolerated while others aren’t. The idea of a completely drug-free environment in the hunter world is hard for me to envision, but if that’s the goal, then yay for us, I guess.

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I think this conflict started several decades ago, and will take decades more of education to resolve, and in the meantime? Our Federations will be forced to tighten the screws on horses and people alike, whether we like it or not.

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Withdraw me.

If you have actually ever experienced a high from a drug, or alcohol/narcotic experience, you know firsthand that those highs can be so super fun. However, the hangover is not the same fun. It is dreadful. It hurts. It is scary. It is borderline deadly. And guess what? The drug/alcohol/narcotic is still in your system. But you feel like death warmed over. You may have peed or puked most of it out by the morning, but it is still there in your bloodstream.

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When a positive hypersensitive drug appears in a horse’s system, it is likely that the administer was looking for that ‘hangover window’, not the actual high. Cocaine likely leaves a horse much like it leaves a human, painfully, and with a massive headache.

Steroids have a similar effect. Pump a horse full of steroids over the period of a month or whatever, then suddenly pull him off, and voila, you have a seriously incapacitated but beautiful looking creature to work with for a few days. Like at Derby Finals.

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What happens to compassion? I am not sure what happens to love and compassion. Horse dealers are a tricky bunch. You have a few who really seem to value every moment of their horses lives, and treat them as their own children, then you have those who don’t see why horses can’t be a commodity.  Our society has created these two different species, and now it will be up to you and the next generation to decide which one you would like to be, and hopefully influence those around you to choose the better path with you. Good luck to you, it is a harder and longer road toward clean living and better horsemanship. It is steeped with disappointment and fewer magazine covers, but I think, at least in my own mind, worth it to you and your animals to be that better person.

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The TCP, or Trainer Certification Program. Can it be saved?

The Trainer Certification Program has been in place with the USHJA for a number of years, but has failed to gain much traction.

For one, it seems illogical to think you need to be certified to go to a horse show. Two, it is very pricey for something which requires renewal every 5 years. Three, it doesn’t have a clear direction.

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I understand being certified to run a boarding or teaching facility, but to write a check? I am riding my horses either way, but being certified to compete sort of gets lost on me. And this country is too large to begin encouraging all competitors to be certified to compete.

I also disagree with the concept of the wealthier clients you have, the higher tier you are in the the certification program. Actually, I might be a better trainer than a lot of people at the top of sport with deep pockets, and sometimes they might even send me one to fix, so because I choose to not compete on that level, or teach kids anymore, I can’t be considered a top tiered trainer? I beg to differ. I have also seen multiple TCP trainers which I have really questioned how they achieved the certification. I even know of examples where TCP trainers have been written up by stewards for borderline abusive behavior.

One of the biggest faults with the TCP is that it is lost between a competition world and real world. This country is making it seem like showing horses is the same thing as training horses, and it is not. They are two very different things.

I looked on the website to see what kind of information was put up for each trainer and I was a bit shocked, actually. They are recording in graphs and charts how many ribbons are won. Holy Crap. That doesn’t seem right. And it proves my point about how this country perceives horse training. Ugh.

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You also need to think about it as a future process. Established trainers do not need the USHJA to tell them they are established trainers. If you have been in this business for more than 20 years, forget it, the TCP is useless to you, right? Zero benefit. You have the clients you have, that is not likely to change. You find the horses you need to find for your clients. The TCP doesn’t help you with that, does it? The TCP needs to aim toward the next generation, not the existing one. And clearly, with incentives, and with benefits. Start thinking about how to entice the under 30 group. Trust me, I have been watching the TCP flail for what, ten years? I’ve lost track. Those members who learned about it at the age of 18, and ignored it are now 28, and lost. gone. uninterested. Let them go. Trust me.

IF TCP wants to have better equipped competitors the fix is easy. Offer classes restricted to TCP professionals. They could be really interesting classes actually, not just 8 jumps and a ribbon. They could be wildly technical, too, with the freedom to incorporate each discipline, hunter, jumper and equitation. Or, similar to what the TB’s have done have a TCP Hunter, or TCP jumper class.

Those classes would be judged with score cards, the rating of the judge would be noted, (i.e.: you have just been judged by a R or r judge, or learner judge) and you may either enter the class yourself or choose a student you train to participate (but you would get credit for). The TCP Restricted classes can even have a finals, so accumulating points throughout the year would qualify you for a final, which maybe you win a County Saddle, or a complete Pony Club Manual set, who knows. It looks like Markel insurance is very involved with the program, which seems like a smart move, since they offer insurance for Professionals, so maybe they might offer their own incentive.

The Score Card would be filled out similar to a dressage test. Say a Dressage test scores ten movements, then has four little boxes at the end to score Submission, Rider Position, Impulsion and whatever. The Score Cards would be generated within the TCP program, depending on what the TCP feels a professional should be required to perform, and put online, and could be downloaded by the horse show secretary as needed.

The score cards would also satisfy the rising desire for feedback. There seems to be a steady increase in really wanting to know what the judge thinks about your round. There was even a push for numerical scoring this year to become standard practice for A rated divisions. Instant feedback for each round.

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If you need a Tiered program, which I don’t think you do, you can offer a tier based on points accumulated during the year in these classes. Maybe with double points offered at the Final.

If the Finals or classes were offered with prize money, the incentive speaks for itself. Have a $10,000 TCP Finals? I actually would consider participating.

I think people like to be reassured that the monies they are putting up for programs are being recycled within those programs. So if the total costs are nearing $2,000 for each individual to be certified, how much is coming back to the individual?

rundown of discovered costs for TCP, according to the website…..

$100 Application Fee

$225 Exam if Application is approved

$500 Clinic attendance (required)

or

$200 Online Certification

$20 Background Check

$?? 400 insurance – varies

$65 Manual fee

Travel Costs for clinic – let’s estimate $500

$75 Renewal Fee every 5 years

The George Morris Equitation thing? Remember when it started and there were all these horsemanship requirements to participate, but no one would do them, and everyone complained, so it was decided to just drop those requirements and expectations? so now it’s just a clinic or something, I don’t even know. or care. Welcome to real life. no one cares, right? bingo. However, I believe it is a very different reality on the State level.

I think encouraging horsemanship comes from a different area in this country. I don’t think it should just come from the USHJA, which is still relatively low on the popularity scale. However, chances are there are more horse people signing up for the state level organizations, such as the Maryland Horse Show Association, Virginia Horse Show Association, etc. When introduced to horse showing, more people than you think start with their own state horse show organization, see if they like showing, and move on from there.

Exploring options on the state level. In order to become a member of a State Show organization, what if you had to pass a ten minute written horsemanship test? Would you do it? Junior memberships have two different categories (members under 12 exempt)  12–14, and 15-18. Adults have two different categories – Professional and Amateur. Members over 50 are exempt. Then, add on from there. Safe Sport Training, for example. If the USHJA wants to prepare the tests, fine, use the money you take from us and issue them to the affiliate organizations and you can even take it one step FURTHER. If the MHSA member has passed the test, and taken Safe Sport, the USHJA MEMBERSHIP fee for that year is REDUCED. Give credit for the MHSA membership which meets USHJA criteria. That is your incentive. right there.

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Remember the affiliate organizations have to PAY the USHJA to be an affiliate organization. A whopping $250 per year! There are hundreds of affiliate orgs in this country. (There are some State organizations who refuse to do so because they don’t see the benefits, and I tend to not blame them. There are none) What does that money get used for? Maybe it should be directed back to the members who choose to do their education through the affiliate organizations.

The background checks could work the same. This is a hard sell for a lot of people. Yes, there are children and every show. What worries me is that there will be a growing number of people who simply avoid showing on the national level just because of boosted requirements, like background checks. However, if you were to give credit to the membership for doing the process, you might not continue creating a gap.

What if there are too many affiliate organizations? Most states have more than one show organization, so how do you solve keeping track of them all? Well I have news for the USHJA, maybe it is time to start amending relationships on the state level and do a little extend-a-paw thing work WITH affiliates instead of against them. Data collection is the way forward? Use your staff to start collecting data on affiliate state level organizations.

I have never seen any movement from the USHJA which would indicate they would support discounts in membership dues, but even the USEF has made strides with options, so I think maybe we are seeing the writing on the walls here.

We have too many classes, no show manager wants to add yet another class. I get it, but what is worse, losing the program all together, or finding a way to put a TCP class in the schedule? If there is one thing I have seen is the lack of ability for all factions of horse competition to work together. Each group in this country is fractured and separating more each day.  You have to start somewhere, right? Or maybe another idea is out there, I feel like the answers are right in front of us, we just have to look closely.

Bore me with the details, please. 2k17 USHJA Annual Meeting.

Where was the AM meeting this year? San Antonio, Texas. It’s nice there. Food is good. Temps are nice. Not that the temps matter because meetings are generally held inside, in windowless rooms. Sometimes small rooms. Stuffy rooms. I arrived, was handed a packet of information and a schedule. The schedule is a handful of cards with a list of meetings and events.

The first item of business is reading the giant book of rule proposals. You have heard me discuss this before. Brian Lookabill is the MC, from the stage at the front of the room, he quickly reads the intent of each rule in the book, pausing for two seconds after each one, and looks up into the audience to see who is brave enough to stand up at a mic and start discussion. This is when I start sweating. Actually I started sweating when I awoke at four am Monday morning. But now I am reminded once again why wearing black is so important.

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Book 1 of 2, not including two more smaller amendment booklets.

I had questions and issues. and not just two questions and issues. several questions and issues. Throughout the week, in all of these large forums, or small, stuffy rooms, or in the hallways, I did the best I could to get my voice heard. I know I wasn’t right all the time, and I didn’t feel the need to be right all the time, but I found a way to at least speak out loud. I have to say, this year, more people knew my name. No one lynched me. People did sit next to me at meals. (at least a couple anyways)

The process from Day 1 to Day 5 is the longest five days of your life. From opening the Rule Book for the first time to watching the Final Vote the last day can suck the life out of your brain cells in your head. I have an enormous amount of respect for people closely involved in EVERY aspect of Governance.

So let’s get to it…

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I personally think all falls from either horse or rider at a sanctioned competition should be noted and recorded. No matter the severity. No matter the circumstance. I don’t even think the amount of detail is necessary. But record keeping and data collection is the way forward now. Any sport which you are REQUIRED TO WEAR A HELMET probably ought to have an idea of how many falls from either animal or human occur on a yearly basis. To me it is a no brainer. pun intended. (Pun was used by several other people besides me). Some stewards are already comfortable recording all falls, some are not.

Now it is being discussed that falls of HORSES in a competition ring must be recorded by the judge and a steward must be immediately called, so it can go in the stewards report. Not just anywhere and all over the grounds. Just the ring. Let’s start with the ring and go from there.

I grappled with the fear people must have. I have a hard time identifying with fear of other people. I refuse to let anyone have that much power over me, unless they are literally holding a gun to my head. (that’s probably pretty scary).  To every steward who is influenced by a show manager to withhold information regarding a fall FROM a horse or fall OF a horse, please help me out. Are you being pressured by a show manager to avoid recording falls at horse shows, because the show managers are afraid the data collected will affect their licensing? So is it easier to push back against a rule change rather than risk not getting another gig at the show? Am I saying this right? What if it was your own child who fell? Would it change your loyalty?  If so, you should be reassured, you are so valuable as a steward right now, you will absolutely be hired all through the year by various shows around the country. There are not many of you out there. You are valuable. Please think this through.

And then I really started to worry, just exactly how many falls go unreported? Damn. By Thursday, this proposal was approved.

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carrying a vote forward

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Numerical scoring required for A rated divisions. I’m a big nope, but on Monday I didn’t stand up to discuss it. Other people did, however. Passionately. Eventually the proposal was voted down this time around, but it might be back again, who knows.

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The mandatory use of Safety Cups took up more hours than you can possibly imagine in discussion. I am not even going there. For those of us who already thought Safety Cups were mandatory everywhere, I think you should just assume this again.

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50 shades of cruelty.

The new schooling rule proposal really set me off. Apparently a group of stewards (ironic, I know, right?)  got together in a task force and created several pages of schooling rules to unite ALL the disciplines (Hunter, Jumper and Equitation) and respective schooling areas. Like… what? Since when are the jumpers preparing their horses like the hunters? and vice versa? The task force wants to see Swedish Oxers (still allowed in hunter/eq warm up) reduced to an almost imperceptible height difference of 6” from low to high and high to low. 6 bloody inches. And walk jumps? nope, they don’t want walk jumps. Regardless of the fact walk jumps are still allowed to be used in hunter course design…

Apparently it is deemed ‘cruel’ by some members in our community to achieve a ‘rub’ during the warmup of a class. I don’t think of it as cruelty, I like to think of it as smart training. Maybe you think I am wrong.  I prefer not to have a horse be anything less than careful when in the show ring. I think it is terrifying when a horse hangs a leg or forgets to bring his landing gear up properly and falls over the jump. So yes, when I stood up in front of a room full of people and said “you bet, I need a rub sometimes for my warmbloods”, (not really the TB’s I ride) I was met with resistance. I wonder about the future of how we warm up horses is going to evolve and how far the regulations of this will become. If there is a constant push from a task force to eliminate the Swedish oxer for Pete’s sake, when will the jumping of a cooler become obsolete?

By Thursday, the proposal was set forth from the Jumper side, but disapproved from the hunter and equitation sides. (The rule is in the book three times) Although that doesn’t mean it won’t get pushed through in January, it gave me a small sliver of hope that we will still be allowed to set proper Swedish oxers in the future.

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Bonus monies. Bonus prizes. You know when that cool wheel spins at the World Equestrian Center and gives you a cash prize if you win the class of the day?  Know someone who won a saddle? A car? Lease of a car? Those “monies” or cash equivilants are supposed to be put toward the Jumper rating of the horse show, and directly affects the mileage rule and rating of the competition.  Since the material in this rule change needs more clarification, it has been referred to January.

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Stallions? Stallions in the Maclay? Thoughts? Yes, juniors can ride stallions in the jumpers, and in the talent search of the USET, but there is a bit of pushback to see more stallions in the warm-up areas and national equitation classes.  I was so surprised to see the Jumper Working Group readily approve the rule proposal, but at the end of the week, the Board of Directors voted it down. Try again next time, I guess.

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Notification of Special Competitions.

The debate is about having two Special Competitions occur next to each other. Unintended consequences? Example – One full blown national show is holding it’s regular horse show and offers a National Hunter Derby on Saturday Night. However, ten minutes down the road, a Special Competition pops up, and a generously funded National Derby with five times the prize money and better prizes. Everyone at the national show leaves for the day to go compete in the fancy National Derby. Should this be allowed or prevented? Who should the Federation protect here? It won’t matter right this second, it has been referred to the January meeting for further discussion. This is actually a bigger deal than I give it credit in this blog, and a lot of people should be very concerned about the term Special Competition. If you are one of those people I would highly recommend you read the rule proposal.

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Dropping the age of Steward applicants to 21. At the moment, any 21 is allowed to apply for licensing within the USEF except as a steward. To meet the demand and fill the void of lack of stewards in this country, the suggestion to drop the age came up. and was shot down. But I questioned this, actually. It takes a long time to go through the process to become a steward. It is highly unlikely that a 21 yr old kid (probably still in college) is going to successfully earn a license within the year. Stewards get vetted very heavily and can be denied for a variety of other reasons which have nothing to do with age. The maturity aspect I get, but I am not so sure this proposal should have been disapproved.

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Lunging. Should there be a rule about how many horses to lunge in a 10,000 square foot area?

Over legislating the show prep? Is this horse welfare? Sissy Wickes believes this is the start of grappling the harsh realities of lack of horse welfare at many competitions. She says we have to start somewhere.

Trainers are not taking responsibility for their horses being sent out to lunge. True.

I actually think it is about staying ahead of a serious issue. However this is also referred to January meeting.

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The rule regarding nose nets was withdrawn. Maybe that should come back again next year with a nose net sponsor (kidding). Correctly written and promoted, it would stand a better chance.

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Catch riding now has more definition within the rule book. Well, it will, anyways. Chances are this additional description will come into play at some point in the future, but will you have to have letters from peers to prove you are actually a Catch rider? There are some overlapping influences which blurry the lines between Catch riding and actual training or coaching. I am already thinking hmm, maybe I should start carrying an affidavit from the people I ride for. Yikes.

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Think entering a ring, circling and leaving the ring without jumping a jump constitutes as a completed course in the hunters? Not anymore. That practice will have a rule change behind it now to prevent cheaters from splitting divisions.

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We are still going to be jogging all sections of Green Hunters.

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Background check for criminal activity? Start getting familiar with those words together in your life now if you haven’t already. This will be the future of our sport. If you want to sign an entry blank, you will be expected to go through Safe Sport Training, concussion education and a criminal background check. It might be shelved for now until the next meeting in January, but we have not seen the end of the discussion.

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The practice of non judges judging Year End Championships (i.e. equitation) needs to stop in the eyes of many people. Those are not really all of my own words, but I did hear them this week. And I have heard this a lot.  Remove the guest card for the Medal, Maclay, and whatever high profile classes riders qualify for. A third person is not out of the question, but two licensed judges need to be in the judge’s box.

So the USHJA put a proposal forward to add the newly formed USHJA 3’3” Jumping Seat Medal Finals class to the list of exceptions for ‘Guest’ Judges as it is currently allowed with the USEF Show Jumping Talent Search, US Hunt Seat Medal, WIHS Equitation Final, and ASPCA Medal Final. Guest judges do not necessarily have a judges card, in other words. There was overwhelming static about this practice, so the other classes might be reverting to the same guidelines in the future, and we might eventually be seeing an end to ‘Guest’ judges to those classes someday. Fingers crossed.

The rule was disapproved, by the way, so no ‘Guest’ judging likely for the 3’3” medals. Too early to tell if someone will put a rule change forward next year to remove other Finals from having unlicensed judges, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Now is your chance to think about how to start that ball rolling….

**CORRECTION: THIS RULE PROPOSAL WAS WITHDRAWN, NOT DISAPPROVED.**

 

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Dangerous rule suggestion. Adding this sentence into GR702 Violations: Making untruthful statements, misrepresentations, or engaging in fraudulent behavior in any horse sales or lease transaction. This is where being married to an attorney is so helpful. When I pointed out this proposal to him, he said the challenges of enforcing that rule would exceed the capability of the USEF. So when I stood up sweating and said that I think this was why we already have attorneys in place to cover bad horse deals, I also took the chance to remind people we are all horse dealers, and that horse dealers go back to the beginning of time as having shady reputations. We all know what we sign up for here.

This was followed by a slightly condescending reminder that this was a direct request from the membership to put this proposal forward, and that USEF was simply listening to the requests of the general membership. The room was then told we were stubborn about accepting Safe Sport and it took 5 years to get Safe Sport to pass though the rule change process. When the scolding was finished from the USEF exec, I glumly sat down in my seat. Actually, I said to myself, when Safe Sport was introduced to us five years ago, it was being slammed down our throats with little or NO EXPLANATION. Five years ago we were all told we were in some sort of violation of sexual misconduct. Five Years ago, a room full of shocked horse people looked at the stage and said WHERE IS THIS COMING FROM? WHO MOLESTED WHOM?? It took five years to correctly learn about Safe Sport Policies, and understand where the hell it was coming from. Learning, Understanding, and Acceptance is a process of yeah, just about five years with horse people.

So there.

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Hunter Breeding outcome. One horse per handler per class? What exactly happened? I can guarantee you each voice was heard. I can guarantee each side was argued. I can guarantee you the BOD felt they each received too many emails over this one.  In the end a sort of compromise was made. Only at National and Premier horse shows will the rule of one handler, one horse, one class apply. At Regional shows, it will be entirely up to the show manager. This now has to go forward in January at the Kentucky meeting.

From Kimmy: “To say this has been a long and emotional week has been an understatement. Breeding people are a passionate group, I think after this week there’s not a one that can deny that. Passion derives from an intense belief in something, and that is how I describe my experience and opinion this week. Passionate Belief. I believe that hunter breeding is an excellent tool in the toolbox of young horse ownership, but unfortunately that tool has gotten a bit rusty creaky and on it’s way to being replaced. I came this week, along with my fellow committee members, to bring about a plan to revive this ‘industry’ and bring in new blood, as well as encourage our current exhibitors to stick with it. We as a committee educated ourselves to the needs of the members as a whole, and I can assure you that every one of us made these decisions based on our total commitment and love for hunter breeding and young horses. I am walking away this week with a renewed belief in the process of USHJA, albeit a little less naive, but most importantly feeling that I put my passionate belief behind a rule I feel will be one step (among many steps) to revive hunter breeding and the involvement of the horse industry.”

From Emily: “I wish the Board would have left the entire restriction up to the individual horse shows. Many struggling areas only have access to the HB through A and AA shows where multiple handling is taking place to keep the shows filled like Florida, Connecticut, and PA . The best compromise would have been the recognize the regional differences and allow the horse show managers to restrict as their individual horse show’s exhibitors needed/wanted. Not all A and AA shows are created equal in the terms of Hunter Breeding. While I am extremely appreciative to a small concession, I know from experience that this was not the best choice for the exhibitors in each sect of the country.”

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Extreme Side Note: Kimmy Risser received the distinguished service award forth USHJA at the awards banquet Tuesday night. This is a big deal, and I am happy for her recognition!

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Kimmy Risser receiving her award from the USHJA

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Moving on from sweaty armpits. Some meetings were about information gathering, not about rule proposals, and how to move the sport forward, and maybe to get a feel for what the members are going through this year……

The vice grip of horse show managers…

I cannot even imagine the dinner talk about my daily explosions regarding various horse show managers in this country. But I likely couldn’t help it. Why couldn’t I help it? Because I had to endure a presentation of a new USHJA Championship event..>>> A Finals to be held in Las Vegas geared to all of the C rated divisions in the USHJA, think Children’s, adult and children pony hunters… Guess who was running the presentation? I’ll give you a hint. His name was Tom Struzzieri. The amount of energy he is putting toward this event in Las Vegas? Apparently an enormous amount of energy and time, which I wonder should not be put toward his own existing facilities and shows in this country. Forgive me if my reluctance to jump on the USHJA Vegas Championship train is a direct reflection on my view of HITS horse shows.

But that wasn’t all of it. Later, I walked into a Competition Management meeting and took a seat. The room quickly filled up to standing room only. The chairman had prepared and distributed a spreadsheet. I looked at the spreadsheet. An eye twitched. It was my eye. I started sweating again.

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So the Chairman flew his own plane to the Annual Meeting the night before his committee meeting, distributed a piece of paper which basically says, “see? horse shows are not the problem”, and sat back to let us consider that a bit. I am pretty sure that I was so set off by the arrogance of it all that I made little sense when I stood up and questioned it. But I was fuming…..Why was I holding the spreadsheet in my hands? What was the purpose of putting it out there? Was it because there is concern that horse show managers are seeing a drop in business??? Ya think?? Where is the innovation you need in a business model to attract a clientele? Where are the horse show managers who answer the multiple pleas of exhibitors for a break?

Oh wait, World Equestrian Center. Did I mention the World Equestrian Center was this year’s main sponsor for the Annual Meeting in San Antonio? I meant to, sorry, my bad.

Maybe that’s a bit too snarky. I actually have heard appreciative gestures and reduced office fees of a few show managers around the country, so there is some action between managers and exhibitors. You are being noted, and I hope those gestures are working. But I am still fuming. Being part of the solution might be a better way forward for the horse show managers.

Later in the week, I reacted similarly in the Competition Standards meeting..

I. sat. on. my. hands. for nearly 90 minutes while the room around me disclosed the deepest and heartfelt problems horse shows/managers are causing to our lives. Yes, LIVES. The lives of horses and people depend on the quality of show standards. Mainly Footing. Most of us can live with other subpar conditions, but footing? Not so much. Not enough science is being contributed to improve footing right now. And wow, horses are really, truly breaking down at a much faster rate than they should be.  It was suggested that the veterinarians provide some data about the effects of bad footing to the USEF, so we can better help the industry, our lives and the lives of our animals. I listened and listened and listened. So did the committee. But the elephant in the room? Guess who wasn’t there? The irony was not lost on me that the one person who should be hearing the 90 minutes of gruesome details of the realities of crappy footing refused to be in the meeting, nor was he ever seen again after making his Vegas Championship presentation. My hand crept toward the sky and that was all she wrote. My apologies Frank Madden, but this is why you are in the Chairman seat, and not me. What else can I say? I am really pissed off.

It appears the compliance officer of the USEF IS working hard to meet the demands of exhibitors, (mainly requiring improvements on show grounds) but in all honestly, we are probably a few years out before those demands can be met. The only hope is that the realities of removing licensing from horse show managers will make them care a little more.

Irony is a funny thing. Someone like me never forgets about irony. And I never fail to notice an opportunity for hush $$$.

The also very grim reality is convincing you to fill out the three questions on competition evaluation when you see something bad at a horse show. (Like footing). I think you would like the USEF compliance officer, Matt Fine. He is super calm, super patient, non confrontational, and appears compassionate for our cause. But he can’t work without you. How do I implore the importance of filling out competition evaluations? It is a simpler process, it is now fully anonymous, and here’s the thing. Sally Ike really does read them. Every single one. So does Matt Fine. And without the information from the members, we really are in an uphill climb. It is online. It is three questions. Please, Please, Please.

To me, (and I said this out loud) the perception is one of two things.. A – The Horse Show managers are in denial about the fact that horse shows have footing issues. or B – Horse Show managers do not give a shit.

Another very alarming discussion (not a rule proposal) was about reducing the amount of Premier shows in this country. I guess there are people who believe the national and premiere points are so similar, that it shouldn’t be a big deal to lessen the over 200 shows listed as premier. Just make most of them rated national. (or single A.) Let me tell you the fall out of this…. Have you seen how many points it takes to get ponies into Devon and Indoors???? It is outrageous. Those ponies will end up showing more, not less, to get into those big shows in the culture we have created, and it will be really, really bad for ponies. Don’t do it. But if this does happen, in order to prevent a monopoly, take the suggestion from Swan Lake’s manager Mary Bast, and limit each show manager to no more than 2 premier shows a year.

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The TCP needs it’s own post. stay tuned.

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It is done. I am heading home. There were other issues popping up here and there, but I would be surprised if anyone is reading this far into the summary of the 2017 USHJA Annual Meeting. I mean, it is dull, I get it. But each year a little more clarity is earned. Just a little bit.

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The point of Two-Point

Now that it is November, and every horse in America will be suffering from some sort of back pain and raising a hoof begging for a massage session for Christmas, maybe we could follow it up with an equally, if not more, effective method of learning to ride better, and have a Two-Point December.

The two-point (jumping position) could possibly be the most important and least practiced position when it comes to riding horses. It forces you to balance on your feet, not the mouth of the horse, and strengthens your core all the way down to your heel. If you are one of those people who takes No-Stirrup November seriously, try following it up with a Two-Point December and in those total 8 weeks, you may revolutionize your riding. Forget about looking silly, or wonder what your friends might say when you are spending hours with your butt up in the air, because you will forever give yourself an edge. And I am not talking a few laps around the ring, try an hour.

If you gallop horses at the racetrack, your life depends on knowing what a good two point is, but not as many people these days start on that kind of oval.

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Exercise Rider Tara Lewis 

 

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Tara jogging a horse, relaxed and not interfering 

Fox hunters also have an advantage. If more riders disciplined themselves without waiting to be told how to get better, we might be able to accomplish more things as instructors.

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Stacey Lewis keeping pace in near perfect two-point position, PC Tammie Monaco

If two-point is intimidating, think of it in another light. Think of it has the high part of your post. You don’t need to bend over with strain awkwardly placed on your back. Number one problem people have going to the high part of the post? Keeping the heel down. Second problem? Gripping too tight with the knee. Third problem? Using the mouth for balance. That is what the mane is for. Once you get past these weaknesses, you will be amazed at how quickly your body strengthens.

You can give yourself free lessons just by spending more time in the two-point. Your horse might….. no HE WILL….. even thank you. Then maybe your trainer can do more fun stuff with you. Eventually, you will understand better when to use the two-point, and when to use a deep seat when you are on a particular horse, in a particular class, or just simply riding around.

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This year the judge asked for the Lead Liners to demonstrate a two point for the MHSA Regional Finals. 

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Winner of the first Lead Line class Kate Williams. She might be going places. 

When you conquer November with No-Stirrups, December in Two-Point, then January combine the two. Two-Point with no stirrups? I have seen it done. Recently. I believe in ride-off of the Medal Finals….just maybe watch Cooper Dean…

https://www.usef.org/network/coverage/PennNational17/

Here is the thing about riding. It isn’t supposed to be so easy everyone can do it. I don’t think it should be like golf, or soccer. It should be hard. Because it is hard. Equestrians all over the world are constantly trying to prove why riding is hard so making excuses for your horse’s behavior is counter productive.

“My horse scoots away when I go up to the two point…….”

Yes, I am sure he does, I would too if I were him.

Two point is the “up” part of the posting trot. So if your horse scoots away from the two-point, then something is changing from the “up” part of your post to what you think is the correct two-point position. Are you walking or trotting? Walk it out. Perfect the walking two-point, complete with changes of direction, circles, and halt transitions. Then, STAYING in the two-point, ask for the trot. What changes? You have to have enough self-discipline to be open to learning, so are you willing to do ten walk-trot transitions until your horse doesn’t scoot away from you?

Personally, I think No Stirrups November took off in popularity because it didn’t make people feel inadequate, or green in their riding, it made them feel committed. The difference with practicing in Two-Point is that there will be a general crisis in how people are perceived…..as a beginner. However, in reality, you should be considered more compassionate to your horse, and maybe even a better horseman. Horse welfare has become the top priority for this electronic age we live in, whether we like it or not. We string people up for a variety of wrongdoings in the horse world on every level of perceived abuse. So using the two-point more in your riding will not only help you become a more sophisticated rider, it will have a positive outcome for your horse when performed correctly. (ie: Use the mane, not the mouth, for balance.) Your horse will love you so much more than you could ever know. I guarantee it.

One last thing. Don’t tie your stirrups to the girth. This isn’t a good idea. This is one of those examples of common sense, at least in my eyes. This is one of the most dangerous learning techniques I have ever witnessed, and it will not necessarily benefit your riding. It could also blow your knees out.  Do the two-point instead, that will change your leg and your life. Feel the burn.