The number of horses before her in the order of go slowly ticked down. Leslie Burr-Howard was nearing the end of her warm-up when Donna Speciale sent a shoe flying. Her team looked everywhere, but they couldn’t locate the wayward bit of metal. With Burr-Howard’s spot in the order rapidly approaching and just four more to follow, there wasn’t much time.
“It was down to the end, and obviously we can’t find the shoe, so we’ll just go without the shoe,” said Burr-Howard. “We taped up her foot with some packing tape and went on with it. Obviously, she was clear, so it didn’t seem to bother her. And the footing is so nice there—it’s not abrasive, so I really don’t think it was a factor.”
The 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Cavalier—Paris, Concorde) made quick work of Michel Vaillancourt’s first-round course in the $75,000 Grand Prix held during the Tryon Spring 6/Tryon Riding & Hunt Club Charity Horse Show on June 6 in Mill Spring, North Carolina. The pair had the enviable position of jumping off last, which gave them the edge to take home the win.
Burr-Howard has been riding Peter Howard and Laure Sudreau’s mare since she was 7.
“She’s always been a winner as horses go,” Burr-Howard said of “Donna.” “She was unbeatable as a 9-year-old, but she went through a phase where she wasn’t as good, but now actually in the last six months she’s in the best form she’s ever been in her entire life, so I’m looking forward to a nice summer with her.
“She’s such a winner,” Burr-Howard continued. “She’s fast; she’s careful; she’s scopey. She’s a competitor in the ring. She really goes into the ring to win, and [she’s] such a fast horse. You know if you’re in the jump-off there are very few that can beat her.”
Burr-Howard, 63, splits her time between Wellington, Florida, and Newtown, Connecticut. She’s currently still in Florida and will head north in another month after making another stop at Tryon to compete. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, she used the unexpected hiatus in the show season to zone in on her young horses without distractions.
“I have some nice young 8-year-olds that I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with without the pressure of feeling like I have to go to a horse show,” she said. “We have a gorgeous farm here, so it’s been nice to focus on the training.”
Since Burr-Howard primarily develops young horses, other than not being able to attend shows, much of the past three months were pretty much business as usual. She has just one student, who is a veterinarian and was making regular trips to the barn regardless.
After the U.S. Equestrian Federation lifted the suspension of recognized competition on June 1, Burr-Howard brought four horses to Tryon.
With the threat of COVID-19 not yet in the rearview mirror, there were plenty of new protocols in place. Masks were required unless mounted. All paperwork was submitted electronically, and rings had daily entry limits. Only five horses and 10 people were allowed in schooling rings at a time, and community equipment such as jumps were regularly disinfected. Ground crew members were required to wear gloves when handling the jumps. Horses were spread out throughout the barns to prevent cross-contamination between unaffiliated groups, and temperatures were monitored upon entering the facility.
“I thought they did a good job,” Howard said. “Most people were very happy to comply to the rules that the USEF has set down, which I think are a great thing. And as usual you have some whiners and complainers. I’m not sure why they would be whining and complaining against trying to stay healthy; it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. But for the most part, everybody was in good spirits.
“They check everybody’s temperature when you come, which takes like less than half a second,” she continued. “You have to wear a mask if you’re not on a horse, and I guess that was the hardest thing because it was hot, and I get it. But this is what we have to do to keep our horse shows open and keep everybody safe. It’s a very small price to pay. Social distancing—they were fairly strict about not letting people gather in big groups. The one night they had a hunter classic, and there were a fair amount of people in the stands, and for the grand prix they shut the stands down because that was against USEF’s policy.”