On May 12, the World Equestrian Center owners announced they would close the Wilmington, Ohio, facility from Sept. 1, 2020, to March 21, 2021, in response to the predicted resurgence of COVID-19 in the fall months. Roby Roberts has seen first-hand the effects of the coronavirus, and after taking into account the enclosed nature of the WEC Ohio facility and advice from Wilmington’s health department, he felt he had no choice but to err on the side of caution.
“We have friends that are very ill from this,” said Roberts. “My daughter’s pediatrician that we’ve known her whole life, he’s been struggling with this. He’s had a lot of real challenges with it; we’re very concerned about him. And then we have some employees with it and things like that, so we know it’s real. If there’s the possibility, like they say, of it coming back, then [if] one kid or one grandparent would get sick and die or get sick and not have the quality of life they had before—no dollar amount is worth that.
“It’s a really hard choice,” he continued. “We also use the local health department because we live in a rural town of about 12,000 people, and they’re very concerned about bringing people in from all over the country to the town knowing that there can be some real hotspots that people come from. We use them as a sounding board too, and if they say they don’t recommend or they’re strongly against it, it is hard to go against the town that has been so good to us for a number of years.”
Roberts wanted to make the decision early, so judges and exhibitors could plan in advance and alter their schedule.
“It is all about people. If they can come in and be safe, we want them,” said Roberts. “But if there is any chance of them not being safe, we’re never going to take that chance either at any of our facilities. We would never want to say we can have a horse show when everything points to we’re probably not going to have a safe horse show.”
Because Roberts promised to hold WEC Premier championships, which would include the Premier Equitation Cup and two Hunter Classic Premier Cups—with cars being awarded to the winner of each—he moved the championships to the WEC Ocala, Florida, facility.
“If I say we’re going to give three cars away, we need to give the three cars away,” Roberts said. “So, we just moved that to the next horse show that would make sense. The two don’t have anything to do with each other—the championship and the showgrounds—because we just wanted to keep our word.”
At the Ohio facility, 52 new “Home Away From Home” units and four new arenas will be available when it reopens in 2021. But despite the millions of dollars put into the facility for this year, Roberts believes it isn’t worth opening prematurely.
“I could never say, ‘It is all for dollars and cents, and you can’t put life safety above dollars and cents,’ ” he said. “We made [the decision] with the best information we have, with the best resources we had, using local, state [and] federal. Everybody we talked to said there’s a greater chance that there’s going to be resurgence this fall/winter, and it could possibly be worse than what we had the first go-around. With that being said, there is no way we could possibly take that risk and bring people into that facility.”