With the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s ban on competition set to expire on June 1, plenty of questions remain about what horse shows will look like when they begin again. U.S. Hunter Jumper Association President Mary Babick addressed questions posed by members on May 6 on a Zoom call with more than 200 attendees. It’s her second virtual town hall in as many weeks, and she was clear about her goal once shows resume.
“The USHJA board met and said the most important thing is the safe and socially responsible return to horse showing,” said Babick. “We definitely have been working on that along with zone managers.”
Babick shared several presidential modifications that the USEF is considering for the remainder of the 2020 show season, all related to keeping a safe show environment in the age of COVID-19. For example, one modification would eliminate the need for jogging—and congregating in the warm-up area—by requiring a soundness test in another form, namely trotting at the beginning or the end of the course. Another addresses the model in conformation hunter and pony hunter classes, possibly removing it so that judges won’t have to come in close contact with exhibitors. Paramedics will not be required at premier shows, as there simply aren’t enough available (they still must have EMTs). Food stands can offer pre-packaged meals, or managers can let exhibitors know there will be no food available at a show. Horse shows will be allowed to limit entries in an expedited way, so if a state or county doesn’t allow many horses at a show they will be able to take entries on a first-come, first-served basis.
Babick also showed a presentation from an infectious disease specialist, which will be on the USHJA website, highlighting guidelines for safe practices. They include encouraging riders who have a temperature of 99.9 degrees to stay home (and riders with anyone in their immediate household who has an elevated temperature), washing hands properly, wearing masks, disinfecting everything with a solution of at least 65% alcohol, not using communal items, scheduling lessons with a 15-minute gap to have fewer people at the barn at once, providing time to disinfect things and limiting crosstie use.
Babick spent the majority of the town hall answering questions on a variety of topics. Here are the highlights:
What is the USHJA going to do about green hunter reinstatement?
Look for an answer next week. The USHJA Board of Directors is meeting on Monday to discuss this, and they need to decide what they’re going to do with the Platinum Performance USHJA Green Incentive Championships (Kentucky). Babick has tasked Robin Rost Brown, head of the Hunter Working Group, with soliciting opinions from riders on this topic.
What precautions are you personally taking for your own horses and customers when you attend shows?
“I’m nervous about going,” Babick said. “We’re going to Saratoga [Classic (New York)] in June as long as the state of New York is open. We’re going to use a lot of the same biosecurity protocols: wearing masks and keeping people separated. We’re going to stay away from people. The biggest question is what will we do about hotels. My [adult amateur] customers want a house. I’m not sure I want to live in the house with my customers; that’s getting closer to people than I feel comfortable with. The jury is out for me as to whether or not I’ll do that.”
What happens if we arrive at a show, and they are not acting safely, and we feel our health is at risk? Can we get a refund on our entry fees?
This is at the discretion of the show manager, not the USHJA.
“All of us, when we go to a show, we have to act responsibly,” said Babick. “There’s a likelihood of getting not just ourselves but others sick if we don’t. I would leave if [the show wasn’t acting safely].”
What is the USHJA going to do about points for the Green Incentive and International Hunter Derby programs and other USHJA classes?
The USHJA has already changed the rules for 2020 so that horses don’t have to compete in any applicable classes for the Platinum Performance Green Incentive Championships and Platinum Performance International Hunter Derby Championships. They just need to be enrolled. USHJA Pony Hunter Derby Championships hopefuls just have to compete once.
Will virtual horse shows count for points or awards? Or is it just a fun idea to occupy people’s time? How will horse welfare be monitored in a virtual horse show format?
The USHJA has been working with a virtual horse show platform company so riders can get together and show virtually if they’re not able to in real life, but these shows won’t count for points. The virtual platform the USHJA is working with will be awarding ribbons and scoring young jumpers on technical merit. Babick said she didn’t know if it would be possible to police horse welfare at virtual shows.
If horse shows have to limit entries due to state requirements, how will this affect USEF Horse of the Year points?
Look for a firm answer next week after the USHJA board call.
There are rumors about possibly moving the fall indoor circuit and equitation finals to Florida, so they can take place outside. Is this true?
“I’ve heard those rumors too but nothing substantive,” said Babick. “There are three different horse show management teams that would have to get together and move horse shows there, either teaming up with another manager or getting a mileage exemption if there’s already a show there.”
Can the USHJA waive the rule requiring horses in USHJA International Hunter Derbies and grand prix classes to be on the grounds 24 hours ahead of time so they can trailer in? Will you encourage horse shows to waive ship-in fees?
Ship-in fees are at management’s discretion for each horse show. While Babick said that the board hasn’t discussed the “24-hour rule” for derbies, she was on a call with the USEF, and the idea of waiving the requirement for grand prix classes got no traction, for horse welfare reasons.
What are some guidelines you’re giving to horse show managers when we’re still trying to social distance? Fill every other stall? Wear masks?
Babick reminded everyone that the USEF will be issuing protocols at the end of this week, but as she understands it barns will skip aisles, and people will be discouraged from congregating in barns. USEF has taken the position that individual shows can ask exhibitors and attendees to wear masks.
The USEF covered many commonsense protocols and precautions for upper-level shows. But what about shows that have portable toilets, ship-ins and exhibitors who care for their own horse? Do you have safety advice for office staff, jump crew and other staff? Who will enforce social distancing? Do shows need to hire extra staff and safety supervisors?
Virtual entries will help keep people out of horse show offices. Many shows are putting up plexiglass shields for secretaries, and some are only allowing one person in the office at a time.
In addition, there were modifications made to the specifications that make it so that judges who are supposed to judge in pairs may sit separately and provide two sets of scores.
“A lot of shows are hiring extra personnel,” said Babick. “We cannot count on shows to bear that entire burden themselves; we will see a rise in cost. No one has the income they used to have. We as exhibitors have to try hard to help the shows by not forcing them to police you and tell you that you don’t belong in groups. At my barn there are disinfectant wipes everyplace. We should not be afraid to supply our own wipes if we can. If you’re going in a port-o-let, you’re going to need to do some sanitizing. I think it’s possible to care for your own horses, use good biosecurity, don’t touch things without disinfecting them, use good handwashing procedures.”
Can officials sign a form releasing managers from responsibility for their health and say they’re willing to take the risk to work the show?
The USEF has created a waiver that they are encouraging managers to require everyone at the show to sign.
USEF representatives said they wanted everyone to sign the waiver, including grooms. Will it be translated into Spanish?
Babick will encourage the USEF to get this done.
With so many shows trying to reschedule, is there any opportunity to review or suspend the mileage rule to provide flexibility going forward?
The USEF handles the mileage rule, and the USHJA just makes recommendations during the mileage exemption process. That said, there is a presidential modification to help expedite the timeline for the mileage exemption process.
What about giving juniors an extra year?
“I have spoken to the board, and they’re strong in their resolve that [an extra] junior year is a confusing issue and one that they’re not interested in changing, mostly because it’s not just saying, ‘OK you’re in your last junior year; you get another year,’ ” said Babick. “Where do you stop? Do you have to give the person in small ponies another year [in that division] or the medium ponies or the younger juniors? It’s not the answer people want to hear, but it’s the answer we have. Ultimately the decision resides with USEF. I’d say stay tuned for that. But not anytime soon as far as USHJA is concerned.”
Since states are just beginning to reopen, will the decision to start showing again be revisited?
“USEF is opening June 1, and the states will control what goes on,” said Babick. “Texas is wide open while others are locked down. You just have to pay attention to what your states are doing and use common sense and biosecurity that you would use for a sick horse. I’m from New Jersey where we’re still a hot spot. I’m not sure we should be traveling somewhere that’s not a hot spot. Some states have quarantines for people who come from hot spots, for example.”
Is banning braiding being considered?
Some managers are disallowing braiding because they’re worried about biosecurity with braiders going from barn to barn. The only division in the USEF “Rule Book” that requires braiding is side-saddle, and there’s a presidential modification being considered that gets rid of that requirement. Babick said some have discussed taking up a collection for braiders who are missing out on work at horse shows.
Will they change qualifying points for finals?
Depends on the final.
The USEF is coming up with a prorated points scale for the Dover Saddlery USEF Hunt Seat Medal Finals (Pennsylvania). The USHJA has taken away qualifying for the Platinum Performance Green Hunter Incentive Championships and the Platinum Performance International Hunter Derby Championship. The USHJA Pony Hunter Derby Championships don’t have a minimum number of points. There have been no changes thus far for qualifying for the AON/USHJA National Championships (Nevada). The two USHJA equitation finals, for the EMO Insurance/USHJA 3’3″ Jumping Seat Medal and the USHJA 3’3” Hunter Seat Medal Final have relaxed their point requirement, and the USHJA has created a maximum number of entries for each final.
Will numbers in flat classes be limited to avoid large groups?
Management is already allowed to split them into smaller groups.
Can exhibitors show wearing face masks?
The Adequan North American Youth Championships were just canceled. Won’t USEF Pony Finals (Kentucky) and USEF Junior Hunter National Championships (Pennsylvania and California) be next?
“NAYC was canceled because of travel restrictions from Mexico and Canada,” said Babick. “Pony Finals and Junior Hunter Finals are still on the books and trying. I think it’s going to be day-by-day, moment-to-moment to see how those end up turning out.”
Will vendors and photographers be allowed to attend horse shows?
Babick said she hasn’t heard yet if vendors would be restricted.
If shows are supposed to limit the number of people entered and have more staff to police social distancing, how are they to survive?
“Shows want to get going,” said Babick. “We have so many making their living off shows whether it’s as managers, crew, starters or stewards. Industry does need to get started again. Unfortunately, we also know that to get the industry going we’ll have to have people who will clean and people who will have to watch. A different level of staff than we have had in the past. I think as we all act responsibly shows can see we don’t need to be watched so closely. As they see we’re not that person taking the 25 items in the 10-item line, this will decrease. Why are we opening shows up at all, some ask. The industry itself is suffering greatly; we need to get going as long as we can do it in a safe and socially responsible way.”
Do trainers need to engage personal attorneys to have some sort of waiver between trainers and clients and their own staff?
“If you as a human feel you need additional protection I think you should reach out to your attorney and get that done,” Babick said.
Shows that are canceled are keeping deposits. Can you help?
The USHJA doesn’t have authority over managers to tell them to return deposits. Managers are their own entities.
As exhibitors should we expect higher fees for stalls and entries?
“I haven’t spoken to [show managers] on that topic, but yeah, they’re going to incur a higher level of expense and have to ensure that gets paid for, probably paid for by the exhibitor,” said Babick.
In trying to be careful with each facility’s limitations and space, barns may restrict extra family members from coming. Are we out of compliance with SafeSport?
“USEF is the authority on this,” said Babick. “SafeSport rules are intended for horse shows themselves. However, it’s a good policy to apply them to your barn and remember that one of the things is things have to be observable and interruptable. Let’s say I didn’t let a parent out of a car. When kids are tacking up, I would be in there and one of the grooms, so there always would be two adults with one junior. If you really can’t do it any other way, follow [the infectious disease specialist’s] protocols, make sure people have taken temperatures and they’re not above 99.9, and make sure they’re wearing a mask and staying 6 feet or more away from each other.”
Do you think the USHJA Emerging Athletes Program will still happen or is it too soon to tell?
The EAP schedule was just updated and many clinics were pushed to later dates.