EC Blog by: Kory Kumar
There are many words that could be used to describe the competitive equine industry; but, at this current time, only one word comes to mind- resilience. This is the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.
No other sport has managed to rebound to the same degree, or to create alternative means of engagement, to the likes of the horse show industry in the recent months of the COVID-19 pandemic. No other group has reconfigured, and regrouped as quickly, nor as seamlessly as the competitive horse show industry.
The 2020 horse show season began much like every other year. In March, however, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic required a shift in traditional thinking and planning. Regional equestrian clubs took huge financial hits as they attempted to continue forward with horse shows. No club learned this more, than the Southwest Washington Paint Horse Club, who took a huge financial hit. “We knew the show wouldn’t be big, due to conflicting events, but we did not think we would lose this much money,” said club President, Niki Abilla.
In the wake of uncertainty, and in the confrontation of the overall financial impact of a small show, the Southwest Washington Paint Horse Club, like so many other groups, started thinking outside of the box, for ways to engage equestrians and to provide a platform for continued competition. I’m so very thankful to Sandy Jirkovsky, Ann Jones, Daren Wright, and David Denniston, who so selflessly gave their time to help ensure the success of the SWWPHC recent grassroots efforts.
While facing the possibility of brick and mortar horse shows not resuming until a later date, creative and innovative thinkers brought forward e-shows. Resilience is about being able to overcome the unexpected, but sustainability is about survival. “The goal of resilience is to thrive,” says Jamais Casico.
The competitive horse show industry has not only jumped over the hurdle that COVID-19 laid down before us, but it has also found new ways to thrive. The popularity and participation in these e-shows, in some cases, rivals the participation of regular brick and mortar shows. During this time of a global heath crisis, it provides a safe and sustainable alternative for those who wish to still compete.
It is not just that the birth of e-shows has enabled people to continue competing in our beloved industry, it is also that during this time of uncertainty, we, as a collective group of equestrians and horse show enthusiasts, have banded together. We have given our personal money to groups doing the work, and it’s a lot of work, to put together e-shows, and it’s the amazing judges, who have donated their time to judge, and it’s the people to enter the shows. This triangle of participation is what has enabled our industry to grow and thrive during a time of great uncertainty and void. It’s the triangle of support or participation that will have a lasting impact on our industry as we move forward.
Business is not exactly back to usual, and it’s not likely to be for some time yet. However, creative thinking is paving the way, and events are going forward all over the United States. “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts,” says Winston Churchill. All over the country, regional clubs, and teams are opening up arenas in order to host events and successful shows.
In late spring, I asked my Facebook friends a series of questions about their personal feelings and health needs in order to attend local horse shows. The results showed a high percentage of people were willing to engage in whatever was needed in order to be able to have shows go forward.
Breed organizations have also provided published health/safety protocols or requirements for shows going forward. During an informational Zoom meeting with Billy Smith, Executive Director of the American Paint Horse Association, he stated that show staff have an obligation to follow protocols and show exhibitors that their health and well being is cared about.
In mid-July, the Cascade Pinto Horse Association is hosting a five-day, dual show in Washington State. This is in fact one of the first events to go forward since the March 2020 shut down. Show Manager, Wendy Davidson, has published strict health protocols that are to be followed, without exception, by all exhibitors and staff. Every care is being taken to ensure the safety of exhibitors and staff at this event, and Wendy, like so many other volunteer horse show managers, has worked in collaboration with the venue and state in order to ensure that protocols are followed.
We are in a new age, my friends. I expect that as things progress, the strict protocols will fall away; but, for now, this is our reality. I do not, in any way, want to minimize the potential health risk associated with large gatherings, nor to minimize the potential financial risk for clubs/groups associated with hosting an event at this time. I do, however, feel that those groups that are willing to assume the risk, and follow the rules, should be praised for their hard work, and dedication to our sport. It is the creative thinking of these people that is a building block that our current industry is supported upon.
The American Paint Horse Association, of which I am a proud member, has worked tirelessly to consider and implement positive changes within in the industry. In the face of COVID-19, the association has looked critically at ways to support and sustain themselves. The forward reach of these changes has the potential for creating positive and lasting changes that will promote the positive longevity of the horse breed. I am constantly reassured and encouraged by the news from within my association. Most recently released is the proposed adjustments that will impact the direction of breeding, registration, and exhibition of our APHA horses.
I am completely aware, no more than anyone else, of the stress and fear associated with planning for positive horse show outcomes during our current time. I have cried, worried, furiously scribbled out potential scenarios and outcomes, and calculated costs versus rewards. I have lost sleep and mourned the shut down of events right along side of many of you.
This too shall pass my friends! One day, we will look back on this history and have cause to praise what came from it. My fellow equestrians, we stand upon the precipice of greatness! We have faced the force of adversity in our industry, and it is one that many of us in our lifetime, never thought possible. We have regrouped, reorganized, and moved forward magnificently.
I am so proud of all of us! I am proud of the resiliency we have shown and the sustainability we have created! I am proud of the hope beating in all of our hearts and the understanding blooming in our minds. I am proud of the brave groups who have looked COVID-19 adversity in the eyes and forged ahead. We fall, we break, and we fail; but then, we rise, we heal, and we overcome.
Very truly yours,
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