Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023

So Much Has Happened!

Who could have expected the events that have happened in our country and our world over the past year? History has been made in numerous ways, and in our much smaller world of horse shows many significant things have happened too.
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Who could have expected the events that have happened in our country and our world over the past year? History has been made in numerous ways, and in our much smaller world of horse shows many significant things have happened too.

After the shock and fear of the devastating tragedy of Sept. 11 had worn off, only Americans could have risen from the ashes and awakened a patriotism far larger and deeper than we have ever seen, even for events like the Olympics. How joyous it has been to me to see people banding together, happily, to do things for others, again, as we oldies were taught to do in our youth. To see “me, me, me” replaced, if only for a while, by “we, we, we” gives me cause for hope. Perhaps the Golden Rule prevails again.

I am so proud to be an American’I’ve never taken it for granted’but to see two new generations realize how lucky they are in the wake of the appalling tragedy and reach out to help their fellow men and women is humbling, yet gratifying. It’s been 60 years since Dec. 7, 1941, and I only hope it will be much longer until another tragedy of that proportion strikes.

Despite this very dark cloud, our sport has had a wonderful year, other than the USA Equestrian vs. U.S. Equestrian Team dispute, which I hope now is truly and at long last over. I am so thankful that the U.S. Olympic Committee didn’t have to solve this
useless fight. Possibly Sept. 11 put things in perspective for all concerned.

Good Things

In the hunter world, the Legacy Cup finally became a reality at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, Va., in May’and I believe it will quickly become a permanent fixture on our calendar. We have long needed a place to showcase our hunters and their professionals, and it was done superlatively. Now all we need is more support, which I’m sure will happen, and they’ll be turning away entries.

But I hope the managers keep it a truly special, singular show. I hope they don’t let it get so large that the time schedule doesn’t allow for fun and relaxation, as has happened with the Capital Challenge (Md.), which is just too much of a good thing.

Another great new happening was the USA’s first outdoor, FEI-sanctioned show jumping competition at the Oaks-Blenheim facility in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., host of the final Olympic selection trials in 2000. It was a rousing success for the jumper world, and it will happen again in 2002. Kudos to Robert Ridland and R.J. Brandes for bringing it to fruition. It’s a show that’s truly worth seeing, as I’ve said before.

All our shows in California have done nothing but improve’both hunter and jumper’and that’s a development that’s definitely good for the exhibitors. Del Mar, Showpark, Menlo, Pebble Beach, Santa Barbara, Griffith Park (Los Angeles Equestrian Center), Oaks-Blenheim and the newly added Lake Tahoe circuit, along with Indio, give us so many wonderful places to show that we are truly blessed. All the managers deserve congratulations for improving their venues.

In November I was the technical delegate (another California invention) at the L.A. National, where Brenda Outwater and Larry Langer outdid themselves with their best show ever. The hospitality and decorations were amazing. They catered four dinners for all the exhibitors and grooms (each night a different motif) and two full breakfasts. Their trophies were heavy crystal bowls and vases, each filled with fresh roses, and the special classes were even more ornate with monogrammed coolers and bouquets of flowers to owners, trainers and grooms.

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Why California Rules In Equitation

Let’s talk about equitation for a bit. What wonderful finals we had at all the different venues across the country, and most were so good that the winner wasn’t obvious until the last rider had jumped the last fence. It was such a quality year with so many good riders that there was only one duplicate winner’Jamie Taylor, who triumphed in the BET/USET Talent Search Finals West and the Washington International Equitation Classic. She also got into the work-off in both the Pessoa & Miller’s/AHSA Medal and ASPCA Maclay finals and earned a good ribbon in both.

Jamie was our most consistent rider, but young men won all the other finals in outstanding fashion. Randy Sherman never needs to worry about riding in the AHSA Medal again’although he has two years left for the Maclay and five for the USET. As a matter of fact, he didn’t spend much time showing in the equitation classes last year, having concentrated on jumpers and his other school sports. When he arrived in Harrisburg, Pa., he rented a horse he’d never seen, and 12 hours later emerged the winner. Was it luck? Not at all.

What do Randy and Jamie have in common? They, and five of the ASPCA ribbon winners, are all Californians who, for the most part, show through the California system and are ready to compete when they arrive back East.

The system of showing here prepares our juniors for everything, and they learn to deal with pressure as they climb the ladder, starting with the Onondarka Medal (12 and under), which had 54 starters this year. From there, they have the PCHA 14 and under finals, plus many competitive county or association finals, and then the WCE-Barbara Worth Jumper Medal Finals, the USET Talent Search West, and the ASPCA Maclay regional. These are held at all types of venues’indoor and outdoor, on grass and sand, on grand prix fields and tight rings, with all types of courses set by excellent course designers.

Consequently, by the time they reach the end of their junior careers, there isn’t anything over which they haven’t competed. And nothing makes for improvement like good head-to-head competition. All the judges who came to judge our finals were mightily impressed and commented on the quality of correct equitation displayed. Amen.

The West Coast has many more equitation classes for adults than the rest of the country too, and the same system that works so well for the juniors also helps our adults. California offers a great range of classes for adults, including competing against the juniors.

We’re lucky to have good weather all year round, which gives us plenty of time to practice good habits and develop solid bases of support. There are many highly qualified professionals, and dedicated riders who aren’t improving or placing soon realize what they need and go in search of it.

As I said last year, the pendulum of excellent riding has swung back, thanks to good teaching and good course designers. I think the diversification of showing in both the hunter and jumper divisions has helped riders immeasurably. In addition, good judges are taking the time to sort riders out and test them thoroughly. The envelope is being pushed even more, and we are the better for it.

It was the consensus that the AHSA Medal was just too long this year because of the number of starters (267). Some changes must be made to make it easier on everyone’for grooms, braiders, riders, trainers, horses and the spectators. Once again, it’s just too much of a good thing. We have turned the fun of a major equitation final to boredom and exhaustion, and that’s not what we want.

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But the ASPCA Maclay at the National Horse Show was the best I’ve ever seen. The trophy deservedly went back to Canada with Brian Walker. Travis Lubow, in his last year, was a very good reserve, and all the ribbon winners deserve lots of credit. The length of this class was just right, with breaks, over two days, and time to sort out winners. Maybe it’s now time to introduce qualifying classes for the AHSA Medal, just like the Maclay?

Legends Saved And Lost

It was great having hunters back at the National after a one-year hiatus, and I’m thrilled they’ve signed a five-year lease so the show can continue. It’s a new century and the seven-day show of old is gone forever, but this show belongs at New York’s Madison Square Garden. And we must put up with whatever compromises must be made. This tradition should never die.

Unfortunately, we lost two icons of the horse show world in 2001, and their ilk will not be seen again. Each was legendary in a different way.

Tom Moore, of Saddlebred fame, was the founding father of the United Professional Horsemen’s Association, twice AHSA Equestrian of the Year, and a consummate professional.

Mrs. Sallie Wheeler, a tremendous amateur competitor and the angel of the National Horse Show, died unexpectedly in September. It would take pages to list her accomplishments, and you can read more about her contributions on page 216.

I must admit I’m looking forward to the 2002 season. Even with the economy much tighter, shows seem to remain full of entries and competition is fierce. Maybe the smaller B- and C-rated and local shows will grow, giving a place for the less experienced on less expensive horses to compete and hone their skills. Prices are getting so exorbitant that the elitist label with which we’ve so long been saddled gets to be truer and truer.

I still hope that in the hunter ranks people will strive to move up from the “speed bump” classes to the higher fences. The Indio circuit has offered an amateur-owner, 51 and over, division, and I think the time for this has come. I hope other shows will copy it. Sure, it will be small at first, but if show managers persevere in offering it, people will strive to compete. If the “oldies but goodies” must keep competing against their much younger counterparts, they are, more often than not, relegated to the back of the line.

The pony and junior hunter divisions seem well filled, but the open divisions still need more support. Equitation is bursting at the seams, and we have so many entries in all age groups that the competition and the sport are terrific.

Jumpers are overflowing at all levels. And I’m glad to see the course designers really setting the grand prix competitions higher and keeping World Cup qualifiers at their tough specifications, rather than watering them down, as in past years. Only in this way can we learn to go fast and clean to beat our European counterparts.

I am really optimistic for 2002, and now that the national governing body situation appears to be cleared up permanently, everything should be on a “go-forward” status.

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