The Chronicle of the Horse is celebrating its 85th birthday in 2022. For eight weeks leading up to the publication of our 85th Anniversary Issue, we’re bringing you a decade-by-decade look at the history that has filled its pages since 1937.
The past decade has been one of evolution: Horse sports reckoning with their past to better protect riders in the future, and the magazine that covers them evolving to deliver the news readers want in the formats they want to see it.
The Chronicle’s website and social media channels now deliver news and features to the palm of your hand all week long, while our print publications offer in-depth analysis, personality profiles, gorgeous photo spreads and more to tempt you to sit down, relax, and flip the pages to catch up on your favorite sport.
In 2012, the magazine undertook a milestone redesign in which it asked readers to vote on a new cover style. They chose a modern take on the masthead from the past, featuring whimsically sketched horses, hounds and foxes—honoring the Chronicle’s past as it moved into the future—coupled with a change from the traditional artwork to photo covers. The April 9, 2012, edition was the first in the new style. Show jumper Reed Kessler and her Cylana were chosen for the occasion, and they went on to be selected for the 2012 Olympic team in London, with Kessler as the youngest-ever U.S. Olympian in show jumping.
While some readers were sad to see art leave the cover, the magazine continues the tradition of featuring equine artists through the regular Art Gallery inside the magazine.
In 2013, the Chronicle launched UnTacked, a lifestyle publication packed with deliciously photographed features, travelogues, artwork and more—an addition capable of classing up the coffee table while inviting readers to meet some of the industry’s most charismatic personalities and dream of riding in far-off places.
Online, www.coth.com fills the gaps between publication dates by offering daily doses of news and features from around the horse world, as well as breaking news updates, live competition coverage and features that take readers behind the scenes in the horse world, from Behind The Stall Door to Behind The Photo; Ringside Chat to Groom Spotlights; along with doses of inspiration from regular installments of Amateur Showcase, Day In The Life and From Rescue To Ribbons.
The Chronicle changed ownership in 2013 when Mark Bellissimo, a real estate developer and managing partner of Wellington Equestrian Partners LLC, owners of what was the Winter Equestrian Festival (now Wellington International) in Florida, purchased the company. In 2014, Bellissimo opened the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, North Carolina, which quickly grew to be a destination location for horse shows, dressage, eventing and more horse sports, as well as a venue for concerts and other activities. Just a few years after being established, it would step in to be the last-minute host of the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games.
At the top of horse sport, the decade included three Pan American Games, two FEI World Equestrian Games—one held in the U.S.—two summer Olympics and two U.S.-based FEI World Cup Finals.
High-performance highlights for Team USA included dressage team bronze and Phillip Dutton’s individual bronze aboard Mighty Nice in Brazil in 2016, the show jumping team’s 2018 gold medal and the para-dressage team’s first world championship medals, all individual—one silver and three bronze—at WEG (North Carolina).
The Chronicle was there to cover it all, providing extensive online coverage and in-depth magazine features.
The 2010s saw the rise of “Ze Terminator,” German eventing superstar Michael Jung. While he made his name winning everything aboard La Biosthetique Sam FBW, he continues to be a force with horses like fischerRocana FST and his current superstar, fischerChipmunk FRH.
For the U.S., Laura Graves and Verdades gave top dressage riders like Germany’s Isabell Werth a run for their money on the world stage. Riders like Beezie Madden, Kent Farrington and McLain Ward were stalwarts of the U.S. show jumping team, earning top placings among the world’s best riders all over Europe and at home.
In the hunters, pairs like Jen Alfano and Jersey Boy and Liza Boyd and Brunello were making waves in the hunter derby ring, while Tori Colvin and Lillie Keenan were cleaning up in the junior hunter and equitation rings.
In 2012, Rich Fellers and Flexible became the first FEI World Cup Final winners in 25 years when they took home the trophy in s’Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, kicking off a brief era of U.S. domination. The following year, Beezie Madden kept the trophy in the U.S., winning with Simon in Sweden, and McLain Ward and HH Azur won in 2017 in Omaha. Madden and Breitling LS continued the U.S. streak with a win in 2018 in Paris.
Dressage Gains Impulsion—Without Its Top Hats
In 2011, the U.S. Dressage Federation was debating a national championship, and by 2013, it was a reality at the Kentucky Horse Park, giving amateur riders in particular a place to shine.
Meanwhile in Illinois, the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions awards national championships in 16 categories, including, for the first time this year, para-dressage.
In addition to Tryon, Bellissimo was also behind the new Adequan Global Dressage Festival, which broke ground in Wellington, Florida, in 2011 and began hosting national and international shows in 2012, changing the landscape of dressage in the United States.
The Adequan West Coast Dressage Festival gave riders in California the chance to compete at the top international level, and although the show series was short-lived, it revived the West Coast CDI scene as more organizers stepped forward to host CDIs that continue today.
One of the decade’s biggest changes in dressage had to do with safety—top hats vs. helmets—and got its final push thanks in part to an eventer.
In 2010, eventer Allison Springer started a tidal wave of change when she wore a helmet while riding Arthur in the dressage at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.
“It was amazing the impact it had,” said Springer. “I got some letters and emails from people who said they never felt comfortable wearing their hunt cap to show, and now they had the courage to wear a helmet. It’s funny how much you’re influenced by what other people in the sport are doing. I certainly wasn’t any icon in the sport or anything. I had no big plans; it’s just what happened there.”
Change is often slow, though. While eventers largely adopted helmets in the years following Springer’s Kentucky ride, it took some time for many international dressage riders to give up their top hats, despite high-profile accidents within the sport like the fall that permanently injured Olympian Courtney King-Dye in 2010. It wasn’t until Jan. 1, 2021, that the Fédération Equestre Internationale mandated helmets in all FEI disciplines. The U.S. Equestrian Federation was ahead of the curve and required helmets during competition for eventers by 2011 and for dressage riders in national shows by 2013.
Conversation between traditionalist dressage riders and those advocating for safety at every level flared online for months following the FEI decision to do away with top hats.
Chronicle writer Mollie Bailey penned an in-depth feature on concussion in equestrian sport that ran in the Feb. 26 & March 5, 2018, issue.
Safety Drives Eventing’s Evolution
While body protectors have been mandatory in cross-country since 1996, it was in 2012 that inflatable vests entered the USEF Rule Book. Today, the vests are ubiquitous on cross-country courses, and their popularity has helped them migrate into the jumper and hunter rings as well, though their pros and cons continue to be a topic of study and debate.
In response to concerns about “level creep,” or the idea that lower level cross-country tracks were becoming too difficult in the U.S., the U.S. Eventing Association introduced the new modified level in 2017. With a maximum fence height of 3’5”, the level was designed as a stepping stone between the training (3’3”) and preliminary (3’7”) levels.
“[That gap] is the biggest one we have in our sport and the hardest one for a lot of people to bridge—not only in the size of the fences, but also in the speed of the cross-country,” said Mike Huber, who championed the new level as chair of the USEA Competition Calendar and Rules Committee at the time. “I feel that there really is a need.”
“I hope that in 10 years’ time, looking back, that it was really a gamechanger,” he said in 2015. “When I was president of the association 20 years ago, at that time, there was the movement of getting beginner novice to be a recognized division, and there were a lot of people that resisted that. I think now, we wouldn’t really imagine our sport without it. … I believe [the modified level] will really help the horses and riders in this country to work their way up the ladder.”
Frangible devices, which allow cross-country fences to collapse under pressure and are meant to prevent rotational falls, became more common through the decade. In 2018, frangible devices became mandatory on all appropriate fences for the preliminary level and above in the United States, and in 2021 the FEI did the same for all international events.
In 2017, the Chronicle partnered with USEA to host an eventing safety summit.
“One of the conflicts we have as a sport is that inevitably you’re trying to grow. We’re trying to grow membership; we’re trying to grow numbers, but I think at some point as a sport we also need to say, ‘You know what? Eventing really isn’t for everybody. You have to be a certain type of person. You have to be a certain type of horseperson,’ ” panelist and Chronicle contributor Jon Holling said. “The next thing we need to do as eventers is be talking about rider responsibility, to say you also have to be really good. Not only do we have to have good horses, but you have to be very accurate.”
The USEA headed discussions looking into rule changes related to rider qualifications and education, some of which—such as last year’s proposal to substantially increase the minimum eligibility requirements needed for horses and riders to move up the levels—have created pushback and debate among riders.
“ ‘Well, I have a special situation, I live in Iowa; I live in North Dakota…,’ ” Danny Warrington, a member of the USEA Safety Subcommittee that proposed the rule change, said of the pushback it received. “Everybody has a special situation, and everybody has a special horse, but I have a special problem—people are getting hurt, and they’re trying to ruin the sport that we love. So we have to, at some point, stop them from hurting themselves and educate them on how to become educated, so obviously the more times that you go out [and compete], the more experience that you gain.”
In 2018, the world came to Tryon for the FEI World Equestrian Games, the last world championship to host all eight disciplines—dressage, para-dressage, show jumping, eventing, reining, endurance, vaulting and driving. (Not only did the FEI move away from the single-location championships as untenable for most venues, it also parted ways with the National Reining Horse Association, ending reining’s brief tenure as the eighth FEI discipline).
Tryon wasn’t supposed to host the games, but when Bromont (Quebec) ran into funding problems and had to withdraw their WEG bid in 2016, TIEC stepped in at the last minute. While construction wasn’t quite finished by the time horses began arriving, the competition went on the best it could, despite a hurricane that swept through North Carolina. The weather caused the dressage freestyle to be canceled and the eventing show jumping to be delayed by a day. The endurance championship was abandoned due to heat, rain, course preparation and issues at the starting line.
New Drugs Mean New Rules
Drugging horses has been a hot topic since the Chronicle first started rolling off the presses, though the methods and means have changed over the years. In the 2010s, new calming substances and the ethics of using them to show horses took center stage. In 2012, USEF banned the use of Carolina Gold, which contained gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), thought to induce a calming effect on horses. The FEI quickly followed suit.
Hunter rider Kelley Farmer and trainer Larry Glefke were the first high-profile equestrians to be sanctioned by USEF for GABA violations in 2016, but their bans were overturned after proving that the testing lab mishandled their samples.
Geoff Teall penned a column about his experience on a special USEF task force looking into sudden collapses and deaths of horses at shows.
“The most important issues facing the horse show industry today are the doping of horses (the use of prohibited drugs or illegal substances) and the mismanagement of beneficial and therapeutic medications,” he said. “What’s happening out there is not only detrimental to our horses, but in some cases has even led to equine fatalities. This, in turn, is hurting our sport.”
Dr. Steve Soule also wrote a column for the March 19, 2012, issue where he discussed the dangers of GABA and the intravenous drug magnesium sulfate, a drug the Chronicle took an in-depth look at in 2011.
“I’ve been in practice for 40 years, and I was showing horses for the 20 years before that. [The lack of ethics] has been a situation that’s been present my entire lifetime. There are all kinds of people who are basically law-abiding people who try to do things right, and then there are cheaters. Whether they’re drunk drivers or speeders or whatever, there’s a percentage of the world population that isn’t going to be law-abiding,” he said.
“Decades ago, acepromazine was the gold standard. Then it went to reserpine and then to fluphenazine. Then it went to Dormosedan in minute quantities and then magnesium sulfate, and now GABA in Carolina Gold. There are others that have come and gone, but those are the biggest ones I remember in my time.
“I don’t think much has changed other than the actual drugs. I just think that there are people who are going to play by the rules, and there are people who are going to try and stay a step ahead of the system,” he said.
Molly Sorge dove deep into magnesium sulfate in her investigative piece for the July 4, 2011, issue.
Horse World Tackles #MeToo And BLM
In the April 9 & 16, 2018, issue of the magazine, Mollie Bailey’s groundbreaking story, “#MeToo: The Story Of A Trainer, A Trophy And An All-Too-Common Betrayal” hit readers’ mailboxes and was published online April 4.
Bailey spent months speaking to sources about sexual allegations against Jimmy Williams, a top trainer on the West Coast who died in 1993.
Williams was a mentor and trainer of many top hunter and jumper riders, including Robert Ridland and Anne Kursinski, who came forward to tell her story decades after her abuse.
Bailey’s story opened a floodgate, and other publications like The New York Times took note and wrote similar stories.
Chronicle President and Executive Editor Beth Rasin used her commentary column to explain why the Chronicle pursued and published the story.
“Some readers may question why we would write about someone who is dead, or why we would ‘bring politics’ into a magazine about horses,” she wrote. “Because while the horse world can be isolated in many ways, it can’t escape the fact that it is, in fact, part of the larger community and culture. How women or children or aspiring athletes are treated by those in power affects us whether we’re in Hollywood or gymnastics or equestrian sports. Because when a few people start to speak out, others tend to follow them and realize they are not alone, that they will finally be believed. Because there is power in telling truths that have long been hidden.”
The U.S. Center For SafeSport was established a year before Bailey’s piece. For the first time, an outside and independent organization was policing the sport and giving a safe space for victims of abuse to come forward, even if the abuse occurred years before.
The organization and its practices have become a lightning rod of conversation in the ensuing years, after it and the USEF banned popular riders and trainers like George Morris and Fellers on allegations of sexual abuse of students.
Responding To A Pandemic
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world, and the Chronicle found itself in a position unique in its 80-plus year history: A magazine about horse sports suddenly had no horse shows to cover.
Instead, the Chronicle turned to reporting how equestrians and people whose livelihoods depended on training, teaching and competing were surviving the pandemic.
But while shows went on pause, the world moved on despite COVID-19. The Black Lives Matter movement gained national momentum, including in the equestrian world, which started recognizing the concerns of riders of color, including lack of opportunities and inclusivity in the horse world.
Following the murder of George Floyd, top young jumper rider Sophie Gochman shared her thoughts about white privilege in the horse world on our website, calling out silence within the horse community on issues of social injustice:
“To all the so-called leaders of our sport who throw a tantrum when the judging wasn’t to your liking or your favorite rider was one second too slow in the jump-off, I want you to think about your silence today,” she wrote. “Who are you benefitting? Your white skin. Your wealthy client. Your ability to profit off undocumented workers. Yourself.”
The Chronicle was inundated with responses in the months that followed, both defenses of the horse community and first-person stories from equestrians of color about their experiences in the horse world.
As competitions slowly resumed under strict COVID-19 protocols, some popular shows had to go on hiatus rather than run without the spectators, trade shows and other revenue-generating extras that protocols initially prohibited.
Five-star events made particular news in 2021, starting with the resurrection of the 2021 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, which was saved from cancellation by a rider-spearheaded fundraising effort and then held without spectators, and continuing that autumn with the long-awaited launch of the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill, an autumn five-star that had been in the works for years and was won in its inaugural year by local rider Boyd Martin.
Read about all the decades of the Chronicle: the 1930s and 1940s | the 1950s | the 1960s | the 1970s | the 1980s | the 1990s | the 2000s