Here in Virginia, the governor’s plan had been to release us from the stay-at-home order on June 10. So with bated breath, we all watched to see what would happen to the show local to us scheduled for the weekend of June 13-14. It was canceled. The next available outing within a reasonable driving distance would have been mid-July, and the next one that we could have hauled into would have been weeks after that.
Please understand that my team and I absolutely respect our various organizations’ decisions to run or not run their shows and understand they have to work with state rules and officials. We agree with all of the vital safety requirements put forth by the U.S. Equestrian Federation, by the Commonwealth of Virginia, etc. We love science; we hate the coronavirus; get ‘er done. But we also love showing and hate not having goals. So I looked at my team and said, “Screw it, let’s hold one ourselves.”
There was even a five-minute window where we thought about holding a recognized show, and I haven’t totally ruled that out. But I didn’t want to dive headfirst into the deep end without my floaties, so we decided to hold a schooling show, the first one I’ve ever personally organized. Here’s what we did, here’s what we learned, and here’s how we’re going to do it again.
First, let’s be clear: Whatever we pay show management is not enough. For this unrecognized show, with all entries online and fully digitized, for one ring with no qualifying requirements or criteria or extra fees or anything, the process of dealing with entries and then arranging the day was quite something. And those who entered did virtually everything right! I was tremendously impressed. But it was still A LOT. I’m one of those freaky DQ people who is almost always solid with our entries, but I am now even more a believer that, if you need to inconvenience show management with a special request, or if you bungle something in your entries, come armed with wine.
With that said, I had a few great things happen. First, nearly the entire show was filled by students of ours and students of two local trainers, both of whom are very experienced competitors. So these were not rookies. They had their Coggins digitized, their release waivers scanned, their ducks in a row. They knew how to get to the ring on time, say hello to the judge, and do their thing. Please don’t get me wrong—I love beginners, and everyone who shows has a first show at some point. But from a COVID perspective, it was lovely dealing with experienced competitors who knew the drill.
Everyone was INCREDIBLY gracious about our many, many rules.
– Masks. All the time, unless mounted. No kidding.
– No bathroom on site. Obviously we have one, and it was available for the judge (and any, ahem, emergencies). But it was expected that our participants pee in their trailers. I know it’s lacking in class to discuss these things, but a bathroom—a high traffic, small space—wasn’t a risk I could justify taking.
– We ran the schedule according to trailer group, rather than by test. So if Betty, Sally and Dave all trailered together to ride first level, second level and fourth level, they rode their tests, and then the next group came in. It meant fewer people on the property at once, and shorter stays for those who did come.
– No ribbons or prizes. Tests were scanned and emailed to competitors after their ride (more on this in a moment).
– No rider numbers. Just tell the judge who you are as you walk up.
– Distancing distancing distancing. We have a substantial field for parking, and I read everyone the riot act about behaving in a safe way, which everyone did with aplomb. Judge Dilly Jackson brought her own scribe, and the scribe had a Tupperware into which she put the tests, and then she kept that Tupperware a bit outside of our judge’s booth, so I could pick them up from a distance.
– Cleaning products a-go-go. We had Lysol by the spigots in the parking area and in the indoor arena for the mounting block. Plenty of hand sanitizer.
From there, it was quite simple. We had no major hiccups. One minor one we identified early was that the viewing gallery of my indoor arena, which we used as our warm-up, is at the short side of the ring, and as such isn’t terribly big. I had said no spectators, but even with reduced numbers, there just wasn’t enough space for coaches, grooms and the odd support person, so I booted everyone outside except the coaches. Everyone was terribly nice about it, which I appreciated!
The thing about emailing the tests is that one has to have consistently good internet to do so, and just be really diligent, two things I didn’t appreciate. I missed a few folks (not permanently, of course; I just had to go back and find their paper tests and scan them again the next day). Again, everyone was very understanding, which I greatly appreciated.
In an attempt to keep our numbers down, I didn’t ask for volunteers, and it meant we just didn’t quite have enough hands on deck. I needed a ring steward at both the show and warm-up arenas, as you can’t see one space from the other, so we ended up a bit chronically behind schedule. I also know now that I should leave a little more time for each test, as at a schooling show, the judge often likes to chat with the rider for a moment after the ride to give them some thoughts on what to work on. By the way, I’m also terribly, terribly grateful for our judge for the day. Dilly Jackson is a joy, and she also has the mental bandwidth to jump from test to test, something that I can’t imagine was easy to do.
In short, a great time was had by all, and I’m optimistic this show won’t be our last. Mostly, though, I’m grateful for the confidence it gave me that, even in this crazy COVID world, with some time and forethought, it’s not only possible to hold a safe horse show, it wasn’t honestly that hard. You have to plan in advance. You have to have a facility that can tolerate it, for sure. You have to have participants who believe in science and are capable of thinking of others, and that don’t think masks are voodoo or infringing on their freedoms. And for sure the addition of overnight stabling or staying in hotels would have added more to the equation.
But it’s doable, very doable. Stay vigilant, of course, but go show!
Lauren Sprieser is a USDF gold, silver and bronze medalist making horses and riders to FEI from her farm in Marshall, Virginia. She’s currently developing The Elvis Syndicate’s Guernsey Elvis, Beverley Thomas and her Ellington, and her own Gretzky RV and Ojalá with hopes of one day representing the United States in team competition. Read more about her at SprieserSporthorse.com, or follow Lauren Sprieser on Facebook and Instagram.