What a Cluster

Boy oh boy was it insane to see how everything unfolded (or I guess… didn’t) with Pony Finals. That was a cluster of epic proportions.

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I do feel a bit sorry for everyone that already spent a lot of time and money getting there, only to arrive and have it be canceled before it really even got started. Mostly I feel sorry for the ponies that spent days in a trailer and went through all the stress of traveling, for no reason, and for the kids who now have to learn a tough life lesson about disappointment. All because people (adults) seem incapable of making good decisions right now. And I’m not talking about USEF (although their timing was impeccably bad and it sounds like the situation left a lot to be desired with how it was handled, by case #4 they had no choice but to shut it down). Pony Finals was a terrible idea in the first place, on USEF’s part and for everyone that went.

At what point are people going to say “hmmm… maybe hauling out of state to go spend a few weeks at a horse show with other people also coming from all over the country, in a middle of a pandemic that has spiraled completely out of control, to a place that is also struggling to control the spread locally, is not a good idea“. Shit, people. I’ll say it: it’s selfish. Tell yourself what you want, bury it under all the excuses that you need to, but it’s totally selfish. Yet it also seems like as long as big horse shows are offered to people, they will come, no matter what.

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Pony Finals in particular was only a victim of cancellation because of the two preceding weeks of horse shows with all the same people, which was just long enough to establish covid spread on site. If there hadn’t been those two weeks to establish undeniable spread, PF most likely would have happened and everyone would have gone on their merry way home again afterward, carrying said spread with them all along their route and back to their home areas, unknowingly (which, granted, is now happening as we speak anyway, but at least maybe without as many as infected children as there would have been otherwise). Or hell, maybe people are carrying it knowingly, since time and again people have had pending covid test results but insisted on going about their normal lives anyway until the test results come back, as several of these horse show cases have played out that way now.

What’s undeniable here in all of this mess is that you can, indeed, spread covid at horse shows, despite what a whole lot of people want to think. Despite the USEF protocols and guidelines, and despite some people following the rules to the letter. This is not the first big show to spawn more covid cases, and at this rate it’s unlikely to be the last. Yet what is the one major thing that all the top health officials are saying right now? Oh yeah – that we as a country must get a handle on this thing and get the numbers trending down now, or we’re in for a world of hurt. Continuing to hold big national level competitions helps do that… how, exactly?

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A lot of the local, smaller, and one or two days shows seem to be faring much better, which makes total sense. Less mingling, less interaction, fewer people, shorter shows, generally staying within their home community. That makes a lot more sense. You could sell me on that. So at what point do the powers that be realize that “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” with these bigger national shows and events? This seems like total insanity to me at this point, to still be looking at things like AEC, TIP Championships, the National, Equitana, etc. No. Just… no. It’s not just a risk to our own horse community, it’s a risk to every community that people travel through along the way, as well as the destination community they end up in. People don’t just go to long horse shows and never leave the shows grounds. If you’re staying for a week you end up in grocery stores, or restaurants, or liquor stores (I know you people), or Walmart, or feed stores, or even local tourist spots, etc. Now you’re a problem to the community you just put yourself into, and they’re a problem to you as well. Not to mention that Kentucky has now advised (not required, therefore no one cares because clearly none of this applies to horse show folk, right?) a 14 day quarantine for people coming in from hot spot states. Think anyone going to these shows is actually doing that?

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Anyone who’s entering these big shows right now should take a good hard look at how this Pony Finals situation unfolded. Are you prepared to get all the way to the show and have it be canceled last minute? It’s a very real possibility for any horse show right now. On one hand I’d like to say that I’m shocked that some of these big shows haven’t canceled yet of their own volition. On the other hand, knowing that PF likely would have gone on without those two weeks of shows preceding, and knowing that none of these other upcoming championships have that same situation at play… I can see why they’d still try. Even though the chance of someone having, spreading, or contracting covid at said events is undeniably real. By the time anyone found out for sure, the show would be over, so… no problem!

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And… surely I am not the only one that shrieked at the news that some of the big fall indoor shows (which cannot be held in their local communities due to covid restrictions) have simply found new venues in other states with fewer restrictions (ahem Florida, not like that’s a hot spot or anything…) so that they can hold the shows there instead. What. The. Actual. Fuck. People?

I get that everyone wants to go back to their normal lives. I get that trainers and braiders and organizers and vendors and horse show staff have to make money somehow. I get that sponsors still want things to happen. It’s just crazy to me that we’re pretty much the only sport that is going ahead with big, national events, despite the knowledge that it will inevitably be problematic somehow. Maybe by the time it infiltrates our community and kills/seriously harms someone big name, that’ll finally be enough? Beyond the comfortable walls of our little horse world, we have a greater responsibility to our community, and to our country, and I don’t think said horse world is fulfilling that responsibility right now. People keep saying “give us a choice about whether or not we want to stay and horse show and take the risk with covid, don’t cancel it!” but… newsflash people (and this may be hard for some people to hear) this isn’t about YOU. It’s about everyone else. The community at large. Your fellow American. The world. Choosing to knowingly put yourself in harms way has much greater repercussions beyond just you – that’s the entire problem.

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In the end, this is temporary. It will pass eventually. Things will slowly return to normal. But the longer it takes to get control over the situation, the longer it will take for those things to happen. It sucks. We’re all well aware. I just don’t quite understand what makes the horse community feel like they’re exempt. That they can keep doing all the things they really want to do, damn the consequences. All we’ve really proven is that yup, we are indeed contributing to the spread with these big nationwide shows. No one will die because they miss a horse show, but people very well could die if we continue as-is.

The other thing is, I think there ARE (or could be) alternatives. Do things more locally or regionally to keep the travel to a minimum. Restrict entries. Stagger schedules so that fewer people are onsite at one time, and for fewer days. We’re seeing shows do things like that with success. Would it mean that the national championships can’t happen? Yes it would. But lets be honest – if we’re being responsible citizens, that ship has long since sailed. We’re clinging to something totally unrealistic. If we were smart, if we really wanted to hold on to some shred of being able to keep doing what we love throughout the entirety of this pandemic, even if on a smaller scale, we would stop being part of the problem.

24 thoughts on “What a Cluster

  1. The “funny” thing is – if it were a horse-related disease that their horses could get, this would be no problem. Cancel everything. No problem. There is always next year. But people? May the odds be ever in your favor.

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    1. Bingo. 2 years ago we cancelled our annual state show in 2 5 minute conference calls because of 2 horses that had equine Corona virus attending the show before ours at the same venue. Hardly thought twice about it. But this year we seem willing to risk a lot of people’s health just to ride around a ring for 15 minutes with other people.

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  2. Not sure if you caught this. But USEA had put out new COVID guidelines for AECs that required everyone to have a negative COVID test within 7 days of coming to the horse park. (I have screenshots). It has now been revised to say that tests are strongly encouraged… but not required. So we thought that everyone needs a test, but then when that became a practical impossibility, we decided that its ok that people don’t have a test? Instead of determining that without the ability to properly test, things should be cancelled? (granted, i dont think testing would help either).

    I will say, I am going to a show this weekend. The show is at a fairly remote location (instead of near a small city like Lexington). I am rooming by myself. I already bought my shavings (thanks to curbside pickup at tractor supply). I am driving my own car. I have a horse that I know I can handle on my own. And I have a plethora of masks to wear and hand sanitizer on me.

    And, not for nothing, but this show is smaller (compared to AECs). At a venue that has seen less use (KHP has been BUSY since things opened up). And this show mostly attracts people who are fairly local (vs. from states like FL and other states that have mandated quarantines).

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    1. Totally agree with you. I get that our big orgs are struggling right now, both with how to handle this and with financials. This is something we haven’t had to deal with before, and that’s complicated. But what isn’t complicated is the moral aspect, and the greater “is this potentially really bad” aspect. There is no doubt on that part. None at all.

      From what I have seen the local shows and events have gone off pretty well, for the most part (maybe not so much at venues that just don’t seem to give two shits). It’s much easier and less risky on a smaller, local scale. Big and national is just totally insane right now though.

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  3. I was honesty surprised when Heritage, one of the big junior/big eq barns from NY said they weren’t going to PF, Jr Hunter Finals, or the Hunter Derby Finals in KY. Considering they usually have multiple riders showing multiple horses, and have a very good chance of wining, it was a shock they decided to not go. I’m usually not a big Heritage fan but good on them for looking out for their clients and staff.

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  4. I agree with pretty much everything you said here. My barn was planning to attend. I’m not going into that. That said, they were leaving the following morning and no one is all that upset. The best reaction? The 8 year old. When asked if she’s disappointed Pony Finals were canceled? “No. It wasn’t going to be fun this year anyway.” To the rest of the people freaking out, take a page from kid.

    I will say, I can’t see the other finals at KY going on if they’re held in conjunction with the KY horse shows. Of course, I can’t see the KY horse shows cancelling due to $$ because, in the end, it’s all about money. I wish everyone would just stay closer to home. I’m not even commenting about indoors…

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  5. Very, very well-said. I have some decent perspective on the situation: I’ve attended two local small shows (both two days long) and know someone who just left KY, having spent a week there showing her jumper and who had planned to stay for Pony Finals with one pony.

    To the best of my knowledge, no one has gotten sick at either of our Club shows. My trainer is on the board and she would have heard. We are proceeding with preparation for the next show scheduled at the end of the month, and if the state puts more social distancing requirements back in place we will comply as we did for our first show. I did not feel unsafe at either show, both with and without the SD rules. I’ve gotten in the habit of standing far away to chat with people, and mainly I’m busy with the horse the whole time anyway, either on or off him.

    My acquaintance who was in KY traveled there from TX. She appears to be fine at the moment and undoubtedly the child whose pony they brought is heartbroken about PF, but hopefully she and her family are all fine, too. HOWEVER, I must say I was a bit surprised to open FB this morning and discover that the travelers stayed last night at the home and barn of a famous former Olympic equestrian. I personally would feel a bit squeamish about that, but… 😑

    I had planned pre-COVID to go to Equitana. Frankly, I’m astounded that it hasn’t already been cancelled. Seriously? A ginormous indoor trade show, in Kentucky, with thousands of people from all over? Nope, not a very good idea. 🙄 I’m going assume it’s just wishful thinking on the organizers’ part at this point and SOME sensible person will pull the plug soon. Which is very disappointing as I’ve only gotten to go once and it was a BLAST, but hey, COVID has ruined everyone’s plans (and many lives) this year so I’ll deal.

    USEF needs to get its head out of its ass, along with other big show organizers, and realize that just because horse people think they’re Sooper Speshul and want their pretty ponies to prance, the virus isn’t going to magically not infect them. Sorry, folks. Can’t ignore this one away like you do with other social issues or things you’d rather not think about.

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  6. Agree with what you’ve articulated, except the slow return to normal.

    That’s just simply not true. “Normal” will not happen for about 5-6 years or a decade until the efficacy of a rapidly produced vaccine is realized. Portions of normal will definitely shine through but our dense population and political underpinnings of “liberty or death” have reduced the ability to return to normal before medicine generates a treatment / vaccine nearly completely.

    Funny how if COVID was strangles… the behavior of some in the horse world would be very different.

    Since when does society feel that animals > people when it comes to mortality? Especially for a freaking luxury hobby. It’s pony finals not the World Cup .. . Horse shows aren’t a human right 😂

    I don’t show, so I don’t care much personally. But ugh yeah feel you on the frustration.

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    1. My definition of slowly is years. Horse shows will probably be one of the things that gets closet to “normal” a bit quicker, albeit probably on a smaller and/or different scale than before.

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  7. I tried addressing my thoughts on this topic on my blog today, but deleted everything because I was talking myself in circles. So thanks for this. I agree completely with you. No one dies from disappointment and horses really are a luxury. If everyone took a step back for a year, the world wouldn’t stop turning. I agree, showing within state could probably work fairly safely. I think one days seem pretty safe right now while we can be outdoors. Trainers could offer their clients special clinic days or in house shows or something along those lines to help with the bills. I’m confident their customers would be on board. And wouldn’t staying home and actually TRAINING be beneficial when it’s safe to get back out there? I would think yes? Money well spent in my opinion.
    Signed,
    A crotchety old lady who hasn’t gotten to show in years anyway

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  8. Very well said! I still can’t wrap my head around people being OK with risking other’s lives, especially when it’s over a pony show. I’m keeping mental notes of all the places encouraging bad behavior by not cancelling their events so I don’t inadvertently give them money or support in the future – they’re telling me loud and clear right now how much they really value the health and safety of their staff and membership. We’ve had a couple of local club clinics and virtual show filming get together I felt good with – no travel, scheduled ride times, along with a shared ‘Covid Plan’ for the day that we had to all sign off on. With more responsible options like that available everywhere and in all aspects of our lives right now it makes it seem even more ridiculous to me that people can’t seem to stop themselves from making dumb decisions.

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  9. Well said.

    If the USEF is paying attention to the big three sports leagues in the U.S., a lot of experience is accumulating fast.

    The MLB, NBA and NFL are trying to create “bubbles “ so that the season starts with quarantined, negative-test players, coaches and staff who don’t intermingle with others.

    We’ve learned: One person breaks the rules and shows up positive, and within days the whole team has an outbreak.

    If they can’t control Covid with that much power over the participants, how can horse showing?

    Baseball MLB is the least restrictive on off-field activities, and 2 weeks in to the modified season the league is struggling to keep the schedule going. Two teams have outbreaks and can’t play their schedule for weeks, plus they’ve exposed other teams .

    Just for fun, below is a link to the timeline of woe for the Florida Marlins, who had one guy test positive just after the opening game two weeks ago. They are now up to 20 positives on the team as of yesterday. Leading to an expanding list of games that have to be canceled or postponed.

    How does the league play to a championship from here? Anyway, IMO, that plus the KHP debacle tells the tale on larger scale competition, through both data and experience.

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/29571468/mlb-postponements-line-how-positive-coronavirus-tests-impacted-schedule%3fplatform=amp

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  10. I’ve had very good experiences with local shows here. But also, my area is taking this whole thing very seriously. I personally think the championships should be cancelled. Not just national ones, but regional championships too. They encourage too much traveling. (And the regions are so big!) That said, I can see why cancelling those early would make USEF nervous. It would cut the incentive for people to do the local shows.

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  11. Completely agree with everything you said. I wonder if the last minute cancellations are for insurance purposes? With some events, insurance will kick in if the government mandates the event closure, but if the event chooses to cancel on their own before that time, insurance won’t cover. Supposedly that’s why the Houston Rodeo didn’t shut down until they were required to by the local government.

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  12. I remain stunned by the USA. I’m President of our state committee for endurance. We were meant to hold the Quilty (National championship) here in September, which would have been some of our members’ only chance to compete in it in 6 years (it rotates between the states and we’re a LONG way from everywhere else). We made the decision to cancel… IN APRIL. It will be held here next year (we hope!). Australia’s actually doing really well for COVID but now Victoria (second most populous state) has fallen over and is back under level 4 lockdown. So no one could come anyway. We got told we were being pessimistic back in April and “all the borders will be open by September”… I take no pleasure in being right, but I’m not prepared to be (even tangentially) responsible for someone’s death. And now, currently our state has zero community transmission and we’re all able to pretty safely go to local events. We’re still social distancing and hand sanitising, and wearing masks in the vet ring where you can’t stay 1.5 metres apart. Our state border remains shut, although that is currently under challenge in the High court (FFS).

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  13. I’m another in Australia who has been astounded by other countries responses or lack of to Covid. In our state (Western Australia) we are only just starting to see competitions coming back and I fully expect everything to be shut back down if/when covid starts to have community transmission here, given whats happening in Victoria. Right now there is no community transmission but we still have restrictions in place that limit numbers and enforce social distancing.

    I find it hard to understand how other countries with so much higher rates of infection can run non-essential things like horse shows. I understand that some people depend on these things for their livelihood, but we must learn to adapt because this isn’t going away. Places like the US and the UK have seemed to reopen very quickly and returned to sports like eventing well before we did and I find that crazy. We have had 1 event here so far, and very few have been held in the rest of the country because no one wants to jump the gun and have to shut things down again. The places I have been are being very careful and enforcing new rules around covid.

    I hope desperately our borders can remain closed to the rest of the country and the world, because once we reopen we will have to work much harder to control infection rates. Right now that is being challenged by one very selfish person, and everyone I have spoken to wants them to remain shut. Yes, it’s hard not being able to travel freely. I have family stuck in America (and the UK), that actually can’t get home. There are many others like me and yet we still want things to stay the way they are.

    People here are very concerned though largely not for themselves but for their loved ones and the other vulnerable people in the community. This is one of those times where everyone needs to think about people other than themselves and understand that not going to a horse show wont kill them. however Covid could.

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    1. This comment. I don’t understand why people who live in the US can’t see this perspective. It says a lot about Americans as a whole: they are incapable of thinking of long-term consequences and consequences to loved ones. It’s all about themselves and immediate rewards. I personally think that any country that is considered a global epicenter should not be running something as frivolous as horse shows, not even at a local level. Just…why??? I have never been more embarrassed to live in the US…and I would love to leave (we had actually been planning to leave pending November’s election), but because of so many selfish people who can’t see beyond the end of their nose, we’re all stuck here now for better or worse. It makes me want to scream.

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