In south Florida there is a mall that is over two million square feet in size. It is called Sawgrass Mills Mall because it is so close to the everglades and it is surrounded by hotels and plazas with more shopping and an arena where the Florida Panthers professional hockey team plays. Sawgrass Mills is the sixth largest mall in the United States and on any given day of the week it is overflowing with people from all over the world. When we shop there my children and I play our own game we made up called “guess the language” of the shoppers. The way the people dress and speak varies greatly and we’ve seen some interesting things from the international visitors. It’s like a huge gathering of foreign nations right in our neighborhood, and because of all the different people there is no mall like it we’ve ever seen. If you’ve ever traveled outside the U.S. you have experienced a taste of how different people live all over the world. Life can be much different outside the United States for people and horses. Showing stock horses internationally reflects American influences, but also maintains characteristics from the cultures and people that live in each country.
One main difference is organization and rules. The United States Equestrian Federation is the American national body for equestrian sport. It governs the Olympic-level United States Equestrian Team and oversees it. For horse breeds who wish to utilize the drug testing, judge certification and standardized rulemaking process of the USEF, it runs horse events and shows. The USEF also sanctions events in disciplines and lower-level competitive areas that are not internationally recognized, such as show hunter and equitation. Other US organizations such as the National Cutting Horse Association, United States Eventing Association (USEA), and United States Dressage Federation (USDF) organize competitions for specific disciplines. Within the U.S. we also have our breed organizations such as the AQHA, ApHC, and APHA that govern their own breeds and shows.
As most experienced show people know, horse shows in the United States have various formats. Ranging from “open” or “all-breed” horse shows, which offer both classes open to all breeds as well as breed-specific classes for many different breeds, to specific breed shows which require horses to be registered in a particular association or club. “Open” horse shows have become an American trend and are usually specialized by discipline into hunter-jumper or sport horse shows, dressage shows, and shows featuring English or Western riding events. The multi-day, all-breed events that feature multiple breeds and disciplines have become popular and some feature big prize money such as the Reichert Celebration.
The Fédération équestre internationale (FEI) governs international events. There are ten and they are: dressage, eventing, horseball, paraequestrianism (Paralympic equestrian sport for athletes with disabilities), reining, show jumping, tent pegging, vaulting, combined driving, reining, and vaulting. FEI rules govern competitions open to riders from all nations, including the Olympic games and the World Equestrian Games. For beginning equestrians, Pony Club is an international association for young people that teach eventing and other English riding competition skills. Pony Clubs also sponsor horse shows for the under 18 age bracket and encourage sportsmanship. It is a good starting point for kids with the show bug. Comparable to Pony Club, the United States has 4-H, which is a program with a similar philosophy and goal.
Dick Gahimer has judged all over the world and his passport is a testament to his many travels. Stock horses all over are similar to here now, he says, not like when these breeds started to have shows outside the country. In the eighties, the first shows in Panama, Italy and Germany were outside, and, in Panama and Italy, often on a soccer field. Now all these countries have indoor arenas to compete with the best in the United States. Grevgarden, Sweden, Kreuth, Germany, and Moreton Hall, Shrewsbury, England, are just of few of many that have multiple indoor heated and cooled rings with shopping, motels/apartments, restaurants, cross country courses and more. “To get an idea, check out Kreuth , Germany and its Willkommen auf Gut Matheshof facility online,” says Gahimer.
American trainers showed horses bought in the U.S. back in the eighties. At the time Keith and Linda Long in Italy, Tom McCutcheon and Brian Turnbull in Germany, Doug Allen and Bob Mayhew in England were some of the early trainers who ventured into the international training world. Back then, all shows were judged by American judges. “Now it’s different. I judged the first German NRHA futurity with five judges in 2005. It was won by a German-bred horse and shown by an Austrian trainer. I joined a Canadian, an Austrian and two German judges. The winner, Rudy Kronsteiner, has now won the NRHA world open championship multiple times,” he adds. Trainers and judges are now European, though they still use multiple judges with some from here and others local. All the associations now have foreign judge approval programs.
Shows are well attended and many charge admission; the public loves them and looks upon them something similar to a circus or carnival, believes Gahimer. This is due partly to the crowded urban situation,he believes. Germany is a good example, as it is about the size of Georgia with 120 million people within its borders.
Gahimer has spent a his fair share of judging outside of Europe and says the “caballo lifestyle” is much more appreciated in Central and South America much like when he was growing up with Roy and Gene, Gunsmoke, the Rifleman and so on. “All shows are governed by our rule books, so, though styles may vary, much has been standardized now compared to 30 years ago. Except for roping, which is banned, most other classes are similar to ours in format and conduct.”
One unique facet of international showing is that, especially in Central and South America, they only hold halter classes as a special event and the classes are huge. “Mega Halter in Sao Paulo was four days with 10 to 30 Quarter Horses, Paints and Apps in every sex/age division and attended by thousands of people. It was held in a facility like the Miami Beach Convention Center with sand hauled into the heart of the city of 20 million people. It is still one of my favorite memories.”
Gahimer has made over 25 trips to Germany in his last 35 years of judging. “I have been to the church in Freckenfeld, Rhein-phalz, where my great grandfather emigrated to America from in middle of 19th century. I have many friends in Bavaria and already have scheduled two trips there again for 2013 for shows, clinics and more. The facilities, horses and people are much like here now, albeit when I started out judging there, that wasn’t the case. You saw many John Wayne flap shirts, stampede strings on floppy felt hats, and there was a lot of touching horses in the classes.” A 2010 trip to Panama to register 55 horses for a client down there who Dick first met in 1985 and has visited many times over the years is another favorite memory. “One time I was flying with Noriega’s helicopter pilot up in the mountains to a gold mine owned by this fellow. We delivered rice, pork, and other supplies to a mountain top camp only reachable by mules or helicopter. It was truly amazing and the tropical rain forest is not what you see in National Geographic. It is much more! I have judged several shows in Mexico, at Zacatecas, Lagos de Moreno, Leon, and Irapuato, which are all a couple hours south of Mexico City by plane. Their agriculture fairs have all the looks of fairs everywhere from hogs, cows, sheep, and, of course, horses, and every kind of tractor, baler, and equipment you see here. However, the birds for sale were a little different as was the ring help – just saying’!” laughs Gahimer.
The biggest surprise for Americans about international showing would probably be how similar they have become to us, says Gahimer. “NRHA, Apps, Paints and Quarter Horse world shows here all have international classes now and the Germans, Brazilians, Italians, whoever, fit right in with our showmen, not as it was in the beginning.”
A 2010 trip to Panama to register 55 horses for a client down there who I first met in 1985 and have visited almost as many times as Germany. A memorable time here was flying with Noriega's helicopter pilot up in mountains to a gold mine owned by this fellow. We delivered rice, pork, and other supplies to a mountain top camp only reachable by mules or 'copter - truly amazing.
A little different aspect This is a 10 year old Gypsy Vanner imported from England os owned by a doctor here in town. At a show in Perry she won a large driving in hand trail class of 30 or so by being the only entry to sidepass a rail - at a trot! I still remember the judge tipping her hat to me as we exited the arena. She was also Reserve Grand and 4th in trail, 3rd in pleasure, and won the color !