Put Blame Where it Belongs: Improve and Enforce Covid-19 Show Protocols

Trash cans left for days at the KHP


Why was Pony Finals cancelled? Well, at this point, I’ve heard just about everything. 

The rumor mill is raging. I’ve heard about non-compliance from USEF members and non-members alike. I’ve heard the show management planned to cancel it all along. I’ve even heard that the ponies simply revolted. Okay, that last part isn’t true but after finding a swastika spray-painted on our stalls last year, I might not blame them. 

I don’t believe any of these rumors to be true, and I have no proof if they were. They are simply rumors, and should be stopped or verified. 

But the show isn’t running, and we all want someone to blame. The obvious choice is USEF. Do I blame them for trying to hold it when everyone told us not to? Honestly, not really. They were trying to protect the industry. They were trying to protect the people who buy and sell, who make their living on shows, and kids getting the opportunity to get their special time in the show ring. At a time where most other sports are completely cancelled, USEF has really been trying to keep our sport alive. 

I know, the Pony Committee voted no. Was it the right call to try? I don’t know. Yes, we have a global pandemic and it probably should have been cancelled right away. But our industry relished having something to look forward to and a bright spot in this rough year. The Kentucky Horse Park is huge. Maybe people could spread out? Having to come in for business, I felt a little boxed in. Still, I don’t blame them for trying. 

Most exhibitors showed up prepared to follow the rules.

Instead, I place my blame on the execution. The Kentucky Horse Park simply was not clean enough. They didn’t do enough to ensure the safety of everyone, and enforce necessary consequences when people didn’t follow the rules. Given the egregious errors made in the prior two weeks, USEF made the only call they possibly could, to cancel. 

Let’s put the blame where it belongs—on horse shows not upholding their own safety standards, and USEF lacking in leadership not to try to keep the sport alive, but enforcing it continue as safely as possible.

First, what did the Kentucky Horse Park do well? They requested people wear masks and stand apart. 

Dirt, grime and germs left on the soap dispensers in the bathrooms all week.

Simply put, that’s not enough. There were far more places where safety measures were absent or the facilities at best unsanitary (at worst filthy). 

  • No temperatures taken of exhibitors, trainers, grooms or barn staff
  • Empty hand sanitizer dispensers all over grounds
  • No online gate check-in
  • No effort to limit the number of people on the grounds 
  • Trash barrels not regularly emptied 
  • Bathrooms not cleaned regularly & missing paper towels, soap, and toilet paper
  • Lack of hand washing stations 
  • No replacement gloves or hand sanitizer coming in and out of the schooling ring
  • Public water coolers full of ice water where people dunked their bare hands 
  • Ring crew not wearing gloves all the time 
  • One pen for everyone to use for sign-in for order of go 
  • Mask enforcement was attempted, but without back-up of consequence, largely ignored by some
  • Calling 40+ unmasked children at once through the in-gate and lined up to split the hack. 

Perhaps these conditions and the following cancellation is everyone’s fault. We are all complicit for showing up. Many people posted photos going out to dinner, reuniting with their friends, children hugging each other, judges not wearing masks, and many more. It is all unacceptable. It is all part of the problem. 

2020 is an unusual year, but the Kentucky Horse Park was business as usual. This outcome was preventable. People could have been told of protocols and what would lead to the show being shut down. Other shows have done this right and continued safely, but that didn’t happen. They could have added additional cleanings. They could have walked around with disinfectant spray for golf carts, public areas and jumps. From the outside looking in, it looks like one of the most profitable horse shows on the calendar decided not to spend the extra money to help our safety.

Photo © Shawn McMillan Photography

What’s worse than the cancellation of Pony Finals? The fact that many people showing in the infected area immediately hopped on flights, into trailers and headed to Lamplight Equestrian Center, WEC, Tryon, Blenheim and more. The same people who shared the schooling ring, barns and air with infected persons. And USEF is happy to take their money elsewhere.

And the charges continue even if you’re trying to just pack it up and go home. There is a $25/day stabling fee for those stuck trying to navigate getting their ponies and horses home early amid the chaos. The Pony Finals exhibitor bags are being shipped to the children, and USEF certainly isn’t footing that shipping charge. At the time this was written, there has been no refund on credit cards run for stalls at Pony Finals. 

Hold the right people accountable. It starts at the top. Hold Bill Moroney accountable for this grossly mismanaged cluster of people that could easily be filling up hospitals right in his own yard. 

For those of you who weren’t there, judge for yourself. Does this look like cleanliness required for preventing the spread of a global pandemic? 

About the Author: Piper began her tenure as the Publisher of The Plaid Horse Magazine in 2014. She received her B.S. with Honors in Chemistry from Trinity College [Hartford, CT] in 2009 and her Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 2012. She is an active member of the hunter/jumper community, owning a fleet of lease ponies and showing in adult hunter divisions.
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