While some lucky riders migrate South for the winter, not everyone has that option. Many competitors choose to brave the frigid temperatures at the St. Louis Winter Series at the National Equestrian Center in Lake St. Louis, Mo. This premier venue attracts top caliber horses and ponies from near and far.
But what is it about this quaint Midwest facility that draws the attention of such an extensive group of exhibitors?
Courtney Link, 14, who rides under Katana O'Brien, plans to show her large pony, Top Gun, for two weeks of each month of the entire winter series. Many riders say that the St. Louis horse shows are friendly, but for Link, there is more to it.
"Everyone knows everyone! It's just like being at a local show, but with really hard competition," she said.
Other perks? Link can think of several. "There are tons of kids, so lots of new friends. In the wintertime, there are hunter derbies and even costume classes, which are both really fun to watch. The pony divisions have hard competition, but it doesn't have the snooty feel that you find at other shows. Everyone says congratulations to each other."
Finally, Link finds that convenience alone makes this show worthwhile. She notes that the indoor heated facility is a plus, but additionally there's no good reason to travel across the country when there is such an impressive show happening just minutes from her home.
It's not surprising that the predictable environment is mentioned and appreciated by all exhibitors. "It's a big plus to not have to worry about Mother Nature!" said professional rider Jessica Jackson. Jackson rides for Jane Schweiger of White Fox Manor in Olathe, Kan.
Schweiger and the riders from her barn are regulars at the facility where they show eight months of the year. Jackson said she would recommend the winter series to just about anyone, because it caters to a huge variety of riders. To Schweiger and Jackson, this horse show is very practical, and they find that long journeys to horse shows in the South are senseless during the winter months when they have access to a more local facility. Similarly to Link, Jackson finds shows at the National Equestrian Center to be friendly.
Cece Andrews, 15, rides under Abigail Blankenship and attends multiple two-week shows in St. Louis each winter. To Andrews, Indianapolis, Ind., these shows serve as a great warm-up before she travels to the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Fla.
"WEF is a one-of-a-kind show, but St. Louis is fun in other ways. It's closer to home, making it more practical for more barn members to attend. More riders always adds to the fun!" she said.
Andrews didn't hesitate when asked about her favorite parts of the St. Louis horse show. "I love the warmth from the heated barns and arenas! There is always good competition and good opportunity for points, but I feel like the points are generally pretty evenly spread."
The St. Louis Winter Series is an impressive venue, catering to riders of all ages and ability levels. While Andrews, Jackson and Link each pointed out multiple reasons they enjoy St. Louis, they all emphasized a common trait of the horse show—accessibility. While there are beautiful showgrounds from coast to coast, sometimes staying local can be the most beneficial for all.
For exhibitors, particularly those who are students, travel can be challenging, and long, frequent hauls are stressful on our equine friends. Link mentioned that she attends every St. Louis horse show offered, but she added that, "I never get tired of it. I love seeing my friends who return, but there are always new faces."
Andrews, Jackson and Link also focused on the indoor heated facility as a huge plus. Not only is it comfortable for the horses and riders, but it also removes the uncertainty factor produced when weather works against the horse show and its competitors. Rain or shine, hot or cold, windy or still, classes can go on.
Exhibitors were wrapped in layers upon layers, racing through temperatures that plummeted below zero to heat their cars, but the show and the comfort of the horses remained unchanged, allowing competitors to get a great showing experience without upending their lives to go south.
From time to time the Chronicle publishes show reports from junior reporters such as Mindy Coretz. Mindy is 17 and lives in Tulsa, Okla., where she attends high school as junior. She trains with Libby Barrow of Farewell Farm and competes her children's hunter, Premiere.