Above: 2017 Maclay Finals warm-ups at the Kentucky Horse Park. Photo by Grace Salmon.
By Sissy Wickes
My 90 year old mother, still never at a loss for words, had some great sayings for when I would arrive home tired and stressed. Some of my favorites are, “You look like nine miles of dirt road.” And, “ You look like something the cat dragged in.” Or, “You’re as wrung out as a dishrag.”
Well, even my mother is going to have to coin some new phrases for riders, parents, trainers, and grooms after the 2017 ASPCA Maclay Finals. This year, the prodigious equitation finals begin at 5:30 AM. Yes, the lucky first rider has to walk into the ring and perform a riding test that he/she has been gunning toward for years at 5:30AM. Years of training, practicing, competing, preparing-all comes down to a National Championship that begins at 5:30 AM.
Have you been up that early plenty of times? Not that bad? Well, let’s count backwards from the time that the riders are sitting in the stands to watch or warming up for their early order. Ostensibly, the course walk will be at 4:15 AM. Forty- five minutes or so for riders and trainers to walk before the final drag and course prep. Final lessons and warm ups will commence around 3 AM, earlier for trainers with multiple strings to prepare. Lunging and hand walking? Let’s say the grooms will be on the board for 1-2 AM for those essential activities.
Our beloved horses? They are at the mercy of our decisions.
Let’s switch to another perspective: parents and spectators. Parents have already sacrificed, encouraged, cheered, and involved reluctant members of the family in this event. Their reward- up all night and up all day. No pomp, no circumstance, just a physical and emotional siphon. How many spectators will there be in the Alltech arena for this great event?
My question is: how did this happen? How did our historically significant, venerable, NATIONAL final get to this point? Does horse show management care so little for the exhibitor that it is a matter of jamming as many classes into as few days as possible? Perhaps to keep costs down?
Does the USEF sign off on this schedule? Does this bring the “Joy” of horse sport that we are expecting? This situation is a failure on the part of all of us: trainers, riders, management, governance. We are following like sheep instead of standing up for what is fair, humane to animals and people, and in the spirit of promoting our sport. We talk about horse welfare, we talk about attracting the equestrian loving public to our sport, we talk about improving competitions. Let’s make intention into action.
About the Author: Sissy is a Princeton University graduate, a lifelong rider and trainer, a USEF R rated judge, a freelance journalist, an autism advocate and Editor of The Plaid Horse. Her illustrious resume includes extensive show hunter and jumper experience. She lives with her family in Unionville, PA and Wellington, FL.
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