You go, Mary Babick.

One of the first things I noticed when I switched to eventing from h/j-land was how the sharps containers at events were a) very sparse b) never had anything in them. At the bigger events there were maybe 3 of them scattered across the stabling area and they always appeared untouched. At the smaller events you may or may not even see one at all. Yet at h/j shows it seems like there’s a sharps container on every other aisle, and they’re full pretty much from the word go. We have enough of our own problems in eventing, but sticking lots of needles into our horses isn’t one of them.

As most of you know, I grew up doing h/j and spent plenty of time in the hunter ring. For a long time I thought that the A/O hunters were my ultimate fantasy. I bred Sadie specifically hoping that she would grow up to be my fancy hunter. Yet by the time she was 4 I had already grown very weary of the hunter ring, and it didn’t take long for that weariness to turn into complete and total disillusion. I had a great trainer who was one of the “good guys”, but I noticed more and more that the good guys were awfully damn few, and often at a disadvantage. Needless to say, I was not disappointed when we re-routed Sadie to the jumper ring.

I was hopeful that when the derbies started getting super popular, good changes would come about and some of the demons of the hunter world would fall by the wayside. They didn’t. Before a derby class at one show, a horse dropped dead because of an incorrectly administered magnesium injection. It wasn’t the first, nor would it be the last. But that’s the day I wrote the sport off, for me personally anyway, as lost.

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When I saw Mary Babick’s facebook post earlier this week, I thought here, finally, was someone saying exactly what I’ve been thinking. Judging by the way it went viral almost immediately, I’m obviously not the only one. There was one part in particular that really stood out to me:

“As I sat in the airport, I was joined by two fellow USEF directors. The talk turned quickly to the shocking statistic which was presented in Murray Kessler’s Strategic Plan. That statistic? That almost 60% of all doping violations are in the hunter sport. The two directors (an active athlete from dressage and another from Morgan) expressed horror at our transgressions. The dressage athlete told the two of us that people in dressage are embarrassed to be part of a doping violation. She asked why we were not.
Her question rang true with me. Why aren’t we embarrassed? Have we lost our love for horses? Do we love money more than our honor? I don’t know the answer but I do know that this lack of integrity is both a sickness of people’s souls and our sport.”

This is exactly what I’ve been wondering for a long time. So many BNT and BNR have had doping violations, some of them on a pretty damn regular basis. And these are only the ones getting caught using testable substances… what about all the others that have found their way around the tests? Yet it doesn’t seem like a big deal to anyone. These people still show, they still win, they still sell horses, they still have a barn full of clients, they still have good reputations, and they still make plenty of money.  This is what has always been so shocking to me… the level of acceptance that seems to exist, and the number of people who are seemingly okay with it.

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The fact that Mary, USHJA president, was willing to come forward and state her opinion in a very public way gives me some hope. Hats off to you and your lady balls, Mary. I really hope that this is the beginning of some good conversation and some positive changes within USEF and USHJA. I’d love to be a hunter fan again.

22 thoughts on “You go, Mary Babick.

  1. “I was recently told that I needed to be careful what I post since I am a public figure. I would like you to know that this post may make you angry, and we may disagree on this topic. I am 100 percent OK with that.”

    That she even had to preface what she wrote with this? The hunters are ridiculous.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Horse people in general can be pretty ridiculous. The outpouring of sympathy for Glefke/Farmer and Keenum? I don’t get it, but it illustrates how backwards some people’s mindset can be.

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      1. Outpouring of sympathy? For cheaters? Excuse me, but I just threw up a little in my mouth. Hunterland isn’t for me, or really anyone else that thinks drugging your horse is wrong. I started assuming that all the top trainers and riders cheat by drugging their horses several years ago. It’s disgusting and I’m sorry that a good sport has such a bad reputation, but they EARNED it, after all.

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  2. I happy she said something, it happens all too often. I remember my one and only hunter show. My trainer buted the horse an hour before I went in. She also lunged him for over an hour before my class. Looking back on this “trainer” I should’ve seen it coming… my first ever lesson was on an Aced horse, then I was then allowed to lease a horse 3 months later with the instructions to give her Ace before each ride. I hope they can clean things up, I saw on COTH that Chad Keenum was suspended for 2 horses testing positive for GABA yesterday. Maybe that’s a sign that they are trying to crack down.

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  3. This is part of why I’m glad I never did the “big” hunter shows. I did have a good trainer, and I’m certain in my area a lot of the trainers are pretty good. But still, the politics, the overall taint on the hunter sport, and the super unnatural way of going is just not for me. Now that I’m out of it, I see that even more clearly. I feel very similar about hunters and Western Pleasure (my first foray into showing as a child).

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  4. Money seems to always trump common sense, caring and honor. I really hope they clean it up.

    I ride endurance and we have a no tolerance policy for pretty much anything. You can’t even apply sore no more until you are vetted out and done for the entire weekend. Poultice on legs can be basic clay only. Very strict. I can’t imagine riding my horse if she needed drugs to be able to do so. We also win t shirts, pictures and buckets instead of money. Maybe the hunter world needs to get rid of the money aspect and hand out a water bucket as first place prize instead. Would be funny to see the faces of the rider/trainer when they were handed that 🙂

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  5. It makes me sad that so many people have left the hunter discipline because of this stuff 😦 I like showing in the hunters, and of course I want my friends to enjoy it too (or at least watching and cheering us on!). But it’s impossible to defend the sport against issues like this, other than to say that we aren’t ALL like that. I’m obviously an incredibly small fish in the hunter pond, but I don’t medicate my horse and no one in my (very small) barn does either.

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    1. Yeah, my old trainer (who’s been doing the A shows since he was a kid) never did anything like that either. Granted, he also took the very slow approach with all of his horses and I never once (EVER) saw him forsake the greater good of the horse just to make a human happy. Sadly, he is a rarity at that level these days. I also think that this approach has kept him from being as popular as he should be. People like fast results and ribbons, and a lot of them aren’t really interested in the methods used to acquire them.

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  6. “One of the first things I noticed when I switched to eventing from h/j-land was how the sharps containers at events were a) very sparse b) never had anything in them. At the bigger events there were maybe 3 of them scattered across the stabling area and they always appeared untouched. At the smaller events you may or may not even see one at all. Yet at h/j shows it seems like there’s a sharps container on every other aisle, and they’re full pretty much from the word go.”

    Wow. I’ve seen some of the recent posts and articles related to doping in the hunters, but the above paragraph is seriously the most shocking to me. I’m nowhere near the most competitive levels of sport, but in all my years of going to dressage and general performance shows, I cannot EVER recall seeing a single sharps container. Also, to my knowledge, nobody I know of has ever stuck a needle (of anything) into a horse that wasn’t sick. Based on my lack of experience with it, I guess when reading the other articles I was thinking that “60% of all violations” was 60% of a relatively small number. Hearing that it is normal to have multiple full sharps containers at shows makes it clear how widespread this issue really is. I do hope that the recent conversation can help make a change for the better.

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    1. It’s not uncommon at all for many h/j horses to be getting dex, robaxin, previcox, depo, etc etc etc. Some barns look more like a small pharmaceuticals company if you open their med box. It was pretty funny last year when Bobby had to fill out a med form at an event for this bronciodilator that Halo has to get in order to travel (due to his history of pneumonia). We were in the office and asked for a med form and everyone looked at each other like “huh?”… it took them a while to dig one up for him. At h/j shows there’s usually a stack of them sitting there. Different worlds, different struggles!

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    2. I remember seeing the sharps containers at the FEI events I groomed at- I never EVER saw anyone going up to them, in fact I tried to keep away from them so I wouldn’t be guilty of just walking past! At the FEI events, recognized HT and recognized dressage shows I’ve been to, I’ve never seen anyone put anything in one, and I’ve been stabled next to them before. When I was learning to be a proper groom, Trainer sat down and basically said “Don’t put anything on him- water and shampoo only. No chances on a drug test.”

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Totally agree. Hearted the article when I saw it on FB. Seems like between the suspensions and Mary speaking out change might, might be possible.

    The biggest problem though, is the drugs and the money cover up a lack of skill in many of the non-professional riders who are the professional’s cash cows. A fancier horse is bought, that can win, but that the owner can not truly ride well without professional training rides, lunging, and drugs. See the proliferation of the many under 3′ divisions as another example of the average rider having a lot less skill than in the pre-warmblood era.

    If there is a buck or prestige in flaunting the rules many will do so until it is too painful to be caught. HJ land is not there yet on the painful aspect.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This- absolutely this. People with too much money and too little sense get horses that are waaaay too much for them, and then they drug it down so they can pilot around a course. I agree wholeheartedly with all of this!

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  8. 60% is an absolutely gross statistic, and we need to do much better. The number of outspoken individuals when it comes to drugging is growing, but the social change within the sport has yet to come in a big enough wave.

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  9. I’m excited to see at least the beginnings of a demand for change. However, the first thought that comes to my mind is a memory of a trainer at an AA show with a new and EXTREMELY wealthy client that had 2 little kids. You could see the $$$$ signs in the trainer’s eyes. His client’s kid was trying a very lovely pony that is notoriously easy to show, yet the pony wasn’t purchased because it wasn’t quiet enough for the kid to go in and win RIGHT NOW. Clients, especially those new to the horse world, often want instant gratification blue ribbons and there is just no way to give that to them without drugs. It scares me that horsemanship is going to go away because people don’t want to put in the time to learn how to ride (at home, before they go to any horse shows) on an animal that is safe, but maybe not fancy. Trainers are going to continue to feel pressure to satisfy the need for the instant gratification of blue ribbons right away. Some of those trainers are going to give into the pressure by finding ways to drug animals and do their darndest to not get caught. It is sad for the sport. Sad for the horse. Sad for how embarrassing our culture has gotten.

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  10. Your observation on the sharps container really hit home for me. Not having ever been a part of the H/J world, I had no idea it was so commonplace to stick a horse at a show like that- in my mind it was always some back-alley, in the shadows kind of thing. But your post made me realize it’s way more out in the open than I realized.

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    1. It’s funny, I didn’t even notice sharps containers at events until I was stabled next to one and had a brief “what is that” moment before it registered. They were very common at h/j shows, and well-utilized, but at events they just look odd and everyone seems to give them a wide berth as if the mere sight of it makes them uncomfortable lol.

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  11. Hunter is not an FEI monitored sport. Is this why the doping persists? Also the hunters must always be so very calm. One winter morning at WEF I noticed that the hunters wer all going around the Grand Hunter Ring very calmly despite very cool temps and a gusty north wind. The jumpers in the international warm up were leaping, piaffing, bucking .Well what the heck was going on with that? On another note I have nominated you for a Bloggers Recognition Award. And on reading this post I’m doubly glad I did. Here’s a link to the post. https://horseaddict.net/2017/01/19/bloggers-recognition-award/

    Liked by 1 person

  12. It’s been so long since I had a real hunter. Back then, it was still ok if a horse showed signs of life in the ring. My little junior hunter would give an exuberant head toss when he landed out of the two stride EVERY SINGLE TIME! And he won quite a lot. At real rated shows even! I miss those days.
    Rio did the hunters some after he retired from the jumper ring. But he’s perfect in almost every way, so he was still competitive without any sort of calming agent. Just a quick lunge in the morning to get one buck out each direction. I miss showing him so much.
    Interestingly though, I recently was talking with some people who no longer compete, but did back in the 70’s. Back then it was not only common place but LEGAL to give a little ace. So while we talk about how it’s a huge problem currently, it’s not really something new. Which doesn’t mean much of anything except that it’s been a problem for a very long time.

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    1. Yeah, several pros came forward in COTH a while back suggesting that small amounts of Ace be made legal again. I am more of the position where if your sport is so bastardized that horses are no longer allowed to behave like HORSES, you’ve got a much bigger problem, but what the hell do I know. In a lot of ways it’s gone the way of western pleasure – completely unrecognizable from it’s original intentions.

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  13. I’ve become sad to see the sport I love so much and still ride turning into a political, drug-filled ridiculous concept. This isn’t the h/j world I grew up with and loved. I don’t show the “big dog” shows anymore, but even at the smaller ones, I’m seeing it. It breaks my heart. I’m not quite ready to go eventer yet, but I’m getting close.

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  14. Reblogged this on Equine Rookie Veteran and commented:
    I’m still a new blogger but this blog, The $900 Facebook Pony, sort of inspired me to start one. I’ve been following her for quite a while and it’s very possible we’re related. Not really, but I just love the blog and I find myself nodding in agreement every morning when I read it.

    Her post today really hit home. I can’t help but share it.

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