It started with the Kentucky Derby, followed shortly by FEI World Cup in Vegas, then the Land Rover 3-Day in Lexington, then the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Small local shows and events continued to operate, because let’s be honest, if you are riding a horse you are generally maintaining a six foot distance from other humans. Only participants and their family or assistants actually spectate at small/local events so there is usually more than enough space in the stands to practice social distancing, but still media panic drove these events to shut-down as well. Local venues hosting rodeo, cutting, and roping competitions received hate mail from “concerned citizens” that probably never attended these events in the first place. Our local Expo Center management actually received death threats. I’m pretty sure that I’ve attended several shows, where looking back I never came within 6 ft of another human during a three day period, because there was always a 1200 pound horse (sometimes more than one) between us, and when there wasn’t I and my fellow competitors all smelled like said horse so we all naturally maintained a distance. That’s the reality of livestock competitions. Of course racing and larger events draw more people in the stands as spectators, but the vast majority of shows do not.
I would just be returning from the FEI World Cup in Vegas had it not been cancelled, and I had planned on attending a show on May 2, that became a virtual horse show rather than a real show. I like the concept of a virtual show, but they are difficult for me to participate. Every inch of our property is devoted to housing our animals. My riding arena is one of our horse pastures that comes complete with interactive obstacles that move into your travel path, follow you around the pasture, and generally attempt to actively sabotage your ride. I’ve enjoyed watching the videos of these virtual shows, and especially the blooper reels one of the shows started posting.
At this point I may only have one event this spring, and unfortunately my fall schedule isn’t looking much better with or without Covid due to a wedding and the rescheduling of events Darling Husband is involved with. 2020 is quickly turning into the year that wasn’t, because everything I had reserved calendar space for has disappeared. Many of the fall events and large shows even if they take place will be some weird alternate version of themselves as many competitors will not have had a chance to qualify for the event. The large breed shows and competitions have mostly waived their qualifying requirements, meaning either there will be a reduced number of competitors overall or there will be an influx of competitors who may never have qualified under normal circumstances take advantage of situation.
It will be interesting to see how everything plays out in the horse world this year. Top US Olympic competitor Beezie Madden sold her Olympic ride, Darry Lou, after the announcement of the Tokyo games postponement. A few canceled and postponed small local shows really don’t mean a lot in the grand scheme of things, but for someone that pours all their time, energy, and discretionary (often not discretionary) spending toward competing, it’s still a blow. On the flip side though it does give competitors some advantages. For competitors that may have barely missed qualifying for larger shows, this is an opportunity to slide in and get that experience, maybe a once in a lifetime experience.
For me my mustang, Johnny Cash, isn’t under saddle yet, but I had hoped to have thirty rides on him before my first show this year. With the adjusted calendars, I just might manage to make that happen. It will be a struggle to get that many before the end of May, but not impossible. Odessa popped a splint and was going to miss all spring competition anyway. Comanche doesn’t present well at the QHA shows because he’s just a hotter running animal. I want that for dressage/jumping/cross country, but it’s not very competitive against the peanut pusher hunter under saddle horses at our local QHA shows that don’t even boast a single hunter hack class or hunter course. I swear I will get him to an actual 1 or 3 day event in the near future. So I have a little more time to work with the wild man, Johnny Cash.
In the grand scheme of things missed equestrian competitions are not catastrophic when compared to other more important endeavors. I mean equestrians for the most part are really just living out pony fantasies with bigger bank accounts than they had as children, but the American Horse Council National Economic impact study found that the horse industry makes up $122 billion dollar impact on the US economy. So the hit to equestrian competition threatens the livelihood of people employed directly and indirectly by the industry. Like everything else, I’m hoping for a quick recovery and reopening of the industry. It’s bad for the people and animals when the industry contracts. Large animals are expensive to keep and one of the first luxuries to go when the economy takes a downturn.
As someone that is always keeping an eye out for a diamond in the rough at local auctions. The influx of unwanted horses or horses that became too expensive when their owners met financial hardships have driven meat market prices way down. Which means all animals are harder to sell if you suddenly cannot afford to take care or them. These are the conditions where many animals will suffer from neglect when their owners cannot sell them, but cannot afford to feed them either. Many rescues and organizations have already set up funds for temporary assistance to help equestrians keep their animals, but a quick economic recovery and reopening of events is what the horse industry and really the rest of the world needs right now.
On the upside Texas is opening state parks again. I’ll have the time to get the Hyperbike and ponies out on some trails since there’s really no point in focusing on shows this spring. I’ll do my best to get Johnny Cash under saddle in the next month or two. If not I’ll throw in the towel, accept that mommyhood has lowered my level of risk tolerance, and pay someone to put in the most dangerous first rides. I’m hoping that by summer, communities will not give into fear, but bravely decide to celebrate the holidays with parades and local events. I do have a few tentative but very large milestones for more my mustang this fall, and will continue to keep working towards those. It would be nice to be able to dress up the ponies and show them off as well though.
So stay safe and healthy my friends. Make good lifestyle choices that will keep your immune system strong, and have faith that this too shall pass (Covid-19 is the kidney stone that keeps on giving).