3/17- UPDATE- Since publication of this article, AQHA has made the decision to cancel all three Level 1 Championships. Click here to read more.
By: Brittany Bevis
Over the past two months, most Americans have watched news coverage showing people wearing face masks being bused from cruise ship terminals or standing in lines outside of hospitals in places like China and Italy. The sight was certainly disturbing and worrisome, but it seemed as if the coronavirus epidemic was isolated to the other side of the globe. Until now.
As cases began popping up in states across the country, and numerous deaths have been reported, health organizations are taking increased precautionary measures to limit exposure to the virus. One of the first high profile casualties of the coronavirus epidemic was the New York City Half Marathon that was scheduled for March 15th. Then, Coachella was rescheduled from April to October. Perhaps the biggest news in sports came March 12th, when the NBA decided to suspend their season until further notice following the news that a player from the Utah Jazz tested positive. Talk shows like Live with Kelly and Ryan, Late Night, The Daily Show, The Ellen Degeneres Show, Dr. Phil and more are now taping their programming without live audiences. Countless universities across the country are making the switch to online classes.
Now, it’s hitting a little closer to home in the equine world. The first cancellation was a big one- the 2020 AQHA Convention that was to be held March 13-16 in Las Vegas, NV. The next to fall was the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. The event had actually already began on March 3rd when it was abruptly cut short on March 11th due to an order that came down from the City of Houston and the Houston Health Department.
The shortening of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was the first indication that the decision of whether or not to hold an event may not be entirely up to the event’s organizers. Patrick Kayser of Peak Equine Productions, LLC. had all intentions of holding the Southland Circuit AQHA horse show this week in Murfreesboro, TN. However, the show was to be held at the Tennessee Miller Coliseum facility, which is part of Middle Tennessee State University, and the campus has now been closed to outside events. Many other events are being cancelled if they’re located within towns where the local government has put blanket restrictions on gatherings over 250 people.
Today, An Equine Production event management company relayed the news that all of their remaining March shows will be cancelled, which includes the Aggie Super Circuit (March 19-22 in College Station, Texas) and Maple Leaf Circuit (March 28-31 in St. Louis, MO.) They have not made any decisions regarding April shows at this time. The Gordyville IL Spring Show March 19th-21 and March 23-26 has been cancelled as well.
The World Equestrian Center in Wilmington, Ohio released a statement indicating that they will be suspending competition at their facility beginning after competition on Sunday, March 15th. “The facility will remain closed for next week, and we will continue to address the closures week by week. We will proactively issue updates regarding our reopening. We feel this is the right thing to do at this time.”
The Equine Affaire that was scheduled for April 2-5 in Columbus, Ohio has been cancelled. The IHSA has cancelled the remainder of their 2019-2020 season. “This cancellation applies to all IHSA shows including Zones, Western Semi-Finals and Nationals. Our top priority is the well-being and safety of all our members. This decision was not made lightly and is based on the latest information concerning the coronavirus (COVID-19).”
The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) and United States Equestrian Federation announced the cancellation of the 2020 FEI World Cup™ Finals in Las Vegas that was scheduled for April 15-19 in Las Vegas. The National Collegiate Equestrian Association National Championship that was set to take place April 15-18 in Waco, Texas has been cancelled.
Now, many people are wondering if this is only the beginning of horse show events that may be cancelled, shortened, or moved as a result of the coronavirus. If something needs to happen regarding major summer horse shows, like the AQHA L1 Championships, AQHA Youth World, APHA Youth World, or NSBA World, such as shortening of the schedules, moving dates, or an outright cancellation, how early would people be notified? What about waiving qualification if people cannot travel as much to compete at events? We don’t have all the answers, but we reached out to the organizing parties to get a bit more information about how decisions regarding events are made during this unstable time.
AQHA has confirmed that they are currently monitoring the situation for the Nutrena AQHA Level 1 Championships that are set for April and May. At this time, the Nutrena AQHA Level 1 Championships and Built Ford Tough AQHA Youth World Show will proceed as scheduled.
The AQHA Level 1 Championship East is scheduled to take place at the World Equestrian Center in Wilmington, Ohio April 29-May 3. Since the facility will be making their decision on reopening on a week by week basis, AQHA is still planning to hold the event.
“AQHA is working closely with facility management, and our top priority remains the safety of our exhibitors, their American Quarter Horses and AQHA staff, in addition to the local community,” said Justin Billings, AQHA Chief Show Officer. “The World Equestrian Center management expects the facility to reopen well before our event, which means the suspension would not affect the Nutrena East AQHA Level 1 Championships. In the event of the show not moving forward, AQHA would notify exhibitors as soon as that decision was made and refund exhibitor show fees.”
What about the AQHA Level 1 Championship West in Las Vegas or the AQHA Youth World Show in Oklahoma City? How will AQHA make decisions regarding these events?
“AQHA staff is monitoring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health districts’ reported information regarding coronavirus cases and following guidelines and recommendations from these agencies for each event. Our priority is the health and safety of our members, staff, and American Quarter Horses,” says AQHA Media Representative Sarah Davisson. “We encourage AQHA members to use necessary precautions as recommended by the CDC to prevent the spread of respiratory disease. AQHA will communicate any modifications to upcoming events as soon as decisions are made by the AQHA Executive Committee and AQHA leadership.”
APHA released a statement indicating that, at the present time, they have no plans to cancel the APHA Youth World Championship nor APHA Open/Amateur World Championship Shows. “If circumstances change, we will communicate it widely. Regarding APHA-approved shows, each show manager needs to make his or her own decisions about continuing their horse shows. Horse show managers should remind exhibitors to take precautionary personal hygiene measures to reduce the spread of the virus.”
As far as local weekend horse shows are concerned, AQHA says the decision rests with each show management team. “The decision to move forward with or cancel any sanctioned (weekend) shows would rest with that specific show management team, which would best know the conditions in their particular area,” Davisson says. “AQHA encourages those management teams to have a plan in place and to stay in close contact with local health authorities, similar to how the Association is handling the AQHA championship shows.”
NSBA has cancelled their Foundation Coaches Summit, which was scheduled from March 30-April 1 in Dallas, Texas. It will not be rescheduled in 2020, but will be held in 2021. NSBA Executive Director Stephanie Lynn explains how NSBA will make decisions regarding their events in the coming months.
“NSBA acknowledge the concerns over the COVID-19 Coronavirus and will continue to monitor updates provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as it pertains to the NSBA World Championship Show,” Lynn says. “At this time, there are no plans to make any changes to the 2020 NSBA World Championship Show. Every situation is monitored and considered on a case by case situation with any change to protocol based on the most current available information.”
“At this time, there are no plans to change or alter any part of the show. However, should any catastrophic event prevent the show from happening as normally scheduled, NSBA would use all means of communication immediately to notify members and exhibitors. NSBA encourages everyone to refer to the CDC precautionary measures for prevention and personal care recommendations. Anyone feeling at risk should seek medical attention with their personal doctor and follow the protocol from the medical professional.”
The bottom line is that while trainers, competitors, and horses have worked very hard to prepare for the upcoming summer show season, the situation we are currently experiencing is unprecedented. A global pandemic of this scale justifies thoughtful reflection on what is truly the most important, which is the health and safety of people and animals. If you do decide to attend an event, AQHA recommends that all exhibitors and spectators following the CDC’s best practices to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases, including:
This is a very fluid situation with changes being made daily. We will continue to update our readers on any additional event cancellations as they are announced.