The year was 1999. The Dow Jones Industrial Average had just closed above 10,000 for the first time. President Bill Clinton had recently been acquitted in his impeachment trial. The movie The Matrix had just opened in theaters, and pop singer Britney Spears’ debut single “… Baby One More Time” was atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Google was not yet a verb—merely a newly launched search engine prototype. And the Chronicle opened the virtual doors on its online discussion forum.
Originally called “Between Rounds,” the site was organized around the magazine’s discipline-specific columns of the same name. There were only four discussion areas, where readers were invited to share their thoughts on dressage, hunters and jumpers, eventing, and letters to the editor and Commentaries from the magazine.
A few months after the forum launched, a fifth section was added for sport horse breeding, and the letters and Commentaries section was replaced with a discussion area for horse care.
The initial intent of the forum was to encourage reader discussion of Chronicle articles, but members of the “bulletin board” (as it is commonly known, or the “COTH BB” in Internet shorthand) had other ideas. They wanted to discuss what color show shirts complemented a particular color hunt coat and how to prevent unsightly panty lines under breeches.
They also tackled more serious issues that had little (or nothing) to do with horses, such as eating disorders, national politics and homosexuality. They displayed outrageously clever senses of humor, as well as enormous generosity, compassion, and interest in making the sport horse world a better place.
A decade later, the BB has almost 43,000 registered members and more than 1.2 million stored posts. It generates 1.5 million page views per week. It now contains 11 different discussion areas, as well as sections for classified advertising and archived favorite discussions.
Words And Actions
The forum has indeed proved to be a virtual gathering place to discuss equestrian issues of the day. From the National Governing Body disputes to the approved helmet rule, from safety in eventing to the National Animal Identification System, whatever issues were the talk around in-gates and tack rooms were also being dissected online.
But it hasn’t been just about talk—it’s also been about action.
The BB has provided a springboard for grassroots efforts on a myriad of fronts. One of the first was a series of rule-change proposals, written by BB members and submitted to the then-American Horse Shows Association at the annual meeting.
|Is That A Trainer In Your Pocket?
“Pocket Trainer” was a fictional BB character who parodied the sometimes over-dependent relationship between show hunter riders and their trainers, and this person offered facetious advice in a “Dear Abby”-style format.
Dear Pocket Trainer,
I recently had a terrible show experience. While my horse was longed to exhaustion, had the course memorized, and was drugged to near unconsciousness by my Pocket Trainer, I still placed only a measly sixth.
I must only conclude that this is because my Pocket Trainer did not exhibit the mandatory “whoop, whoop, whoop” at the end of my round.
After calling my Pocket Trainer 1-900 advice line (and paying the $9.95 per minute fee), I was informed that I do not have the Pocket Trainer Sound and Speaker system installed.
How do I go about purchasing and installing this system? As you know, even the best round on the most-dead horse cannot place highly without vocal assurances from a well-known Pocket Trainer at the conclusion!
All Too Silent
Dear All Too Silent!
Pocket Trainer must apologize profoundly and sincerely! Our records show that you did order the Whoop Whoop upgrade ($1,595 with a $19.95 per class surcharge), and we failed to turn it on. We sincerely regret this horrific oversight on our part.
In order to make this right with you, a valued client, we have 1) refunded all 900 charges; 2) turned the function “on” and given you six free classes of whooping; 3) contacted the judges in your next three shows to arrange for a little “consideration” that should help make this right; 4) arranged to have the programmer in question summarily executed; and 5) shipped you a lovely bottle of 1994 Whitehall Lane Reserve Cabernet to ease the disappointment.
We here at Pocket Trainer hope that we have “re-earned” your trust again!
Yours in a Pocket!
See the light! (Light available - $99.95)
The BB membership also served as an incubator for a “Save The Three-Day” movement by event riders and enthusiasts, a campaign against reinstatement of U.S. Equestrian Federation membership by those involved in the insurance fraud horse killings, and most recently, a study of dressage scores prepared in opposition to the U.S Dressage Federation’s proposed performance standards rule change, which was voted down at the 2008 annual meeting.
The BB’s activist streak has an altruistic side as well.
Members have provided support for innumerable rescue and charity efforts, including fundraising auctions for injured event riders Ralph Hill and Kim Meier, and for Aiden Hawk, the young son of a fellow BB member, who required a liver transplant.
But looking back over 10 years of BB history, perhaps the most striking aspect of this online equine community is the “community” part. Despite being spread across the country and the globe, and despite the fact that members might not even know the real names of the people they’re conversing with, the BB has fostered a real sense of community among participants. Real-life get-togethers take place at competitions and annual meetings…or just for the heck of it.
If you ask longtime BB members to illustrate that sense of community, many of them will point to one particular event—the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Although all discussion on the BB is supposed to be related to horses, there are days when the real world intrudes. The BB became a source of information and solace that Tuesday, and a natural gathering place for its members—those who were at home in front of the television provided updates for the “desk jockeys” who were at work and unable to get news online when heavy traffic bogged down sites like CNN.
The emotions flowing from keyboards were raw and immediate, and flurries of phone calls and e-mails ensued as New York-area BBers were tracked down to be sure they were OK. Many of those topics are preserved in the BB archives, a snapshot in time of the most significant event in a generation.
The sense of community was also evident in the shared joy over births and sorrow over losses (equine and human). The BB experienced a loss of its own when one of the early members, who posted under the username “Cactuskate,” shared news of her cancer diagnosis, even posting a picture of her determinedly riding her horse with a backpack oxygen tank. When she died, BBers conducted a fundraising drive to place a memorial ad in the print Chronicle, as well as make a donation to a local hospice and the Los Angeles-based Horses In The Hood in her memory.
Forum members also experienced virtual joy and loss through the career of event pony superstar Theodore O’Connor, whose breeder, P. Wynn Norman, has been an active BB participant since the very beginning.
The breeding forum, in particular, brought its share of highs and lows each foaling season, as online foaling cameras allowed a “next best thing to being there” view. Names like Frosty and Suerte are forever entrenched in BB history for the mares’ stubborn refusal to disembark their foals in a timely manner, leading to days-long vigils by BBers who were almost as bleary-eyed as the enormous mares’ owners! The forum was also a place to share the inevitable heart-wrenching losses of foals among virtual friends.
Alter Egos And More
But the quality most associated with the BB, and most treasured by its members, is its collective sense of humor.
BB members debated proper dog park etiquette, wrote a collaborative tongue-in-cheek novella titled “Suffering Pines,” and diffused contentious and heated discussions with silly diversions (mostly centered around various foodstuffs, like marshmallow Peeps, baby carrots and chocolate).
The Canadian members of the BB started an annual tradition—the “Thanksgiving Invasion,” when they would descend en masse while the American members were busy eating their turkey, posting silly, Canuck-themed threads about show jumping moose.
A whole stable of “alter egos”—additional usernames members would register for fun—emerged, often confusing the uninitiated, who weren’t quite sure why Alan Greenspan, Anne Murray, Hillary Clinton, and Teddy Kennedy were “posting” on a horsey BB.
Many BBers took on their horses’ personas, registering accounts in their names and posting in their voices. The most famous of these was Willem, a Hanoverian owned by BBer “Coreene,” who “spoke” with a German accent and was voted Horse of the Year by the BB membership in 2003, beating out horses like Fein Cera and Brentina by a 2-to-1 margin.
Willem developed laminitis, a complication of Cushing’s disease, and had to be euthanized in 2003. Some of his thoughts—channeled through his owner—included discussion on death. (Read with a mental German “accent” for best effect.)
Willem said: “Some times you don’t nott to know we be mit you, aber trust me wenn I say that we do. Mebbe you feel little breeze wenn die trees they don’t nott to be moving, or little nudge in your back und there don't nott to be nothing behind you. This it be us.”
The “Favorites” forum on the BB contains many of these old treasured threads, and many more can be found in the depths of the archives on any particular discipline forum. To celebrate the BB’s 10th anniversary, we’ve collected some excerpts here, for those who might have missed them the first time around. Go to www.chronofhorse.com and click on BB 10th Anniversary Links.
Not The Same Old Tune
The BB creativity was on full display in the summer of 2001, when members took a stab at parodying famous songs, changing their lyrics to poke fun at the horse world. Some favorite excerpts are below.
Sung to the tune “You’re So Vain,” by Carly Simon.
Parody by COTH BBer “DMK”
You cantered in the show ring,
Like you were walking on to a stage
Your hat strategically molded to your head
Your TS's were greenish beige
You had one eye on the judges,
As you started to compete
And all the men dreamed that they'd be your trainer, they'd be your trainer...
And you're so vain, you probably think the show is about you, don't you?
You're so vain, I bet you think the show is about you, don't you? don't you?
You showed me several years ago,
When I was still quite pre-green
When you said that we made such a winning pair
And that you would never lean
But you gave away the mounts you ruined
And one of them was me
I had some dreams, were there drugs in my sweet feed, drugs in my sweet feed...
Sung to the tune “Desperado” by the Eagles.
Parody by COTH BBer “AAJumper”
Why don't you come to your senses
You've been crashing through fences
For so long now
Oh you're a brave one
But I know that you've been a lawn dart
Those courses that please you can trick you somehow
Don't you gallop to the combination
He'll refuse it if he's able
You know the inside turn is always the best bet
And it seems to me some fine mounts
Have been walkin' through your stable
But you only buy the ones that you can't ride
Oh you ain’t gettin’ no faster
Your spurs and your big crop
Are making him nuts
And time faults? Oh time faults
That's just some trainers talkin'
Your horse he would rather jump this course all alone
Don't your feet get stuck on your stirrup pads
Your horse won't go and you have to add
Should you do the seven or the eight?
You're dropping all the rails and poles
Ain't it funny how the ribbons go away
Why don't you come to your senses
Stop jumping those fences
Trot through the gate
You may be off course
But there's a trainer to school you
You better let that poor judge buzz you
Let that poor judge buzz you
You better let that poor judge buzz you
Before it's too late