BY KIM STEWART
COVID 19 certainly threw a “monkey wrench” in my schedule last year.
I remember hearing about the virus in Wuhan on the news in January, but didn’t think much of it at the time. I kept showing away at WEF and made plans for spring and summer shows which for me would have included Kewsick, Upperville, perhaps a couple at Lexington or a trip to Traverse City. Then Week 10 came and we were informed that was the last week of WEF. The hunkering down began.
Now I no longer take the cast of Ben-Hur to horse shows, but I had just bought a bigger trailer thinking we would do more traveling and shipping of equipment this year. With the shutdown, I felt bad that I had made such a large investment. But of course I isolated and quarantined completely as state rules mandated. We had no outside people come in except one part time worker that had been isolating and my other full time worker that lives on the farm. In spite of these precautions, my worker still got COVID 19 and for almost 5 weeks myself and my part timer did all the barn and farm work for about 10 horses and ponies in various levels of training.
But it wasn’t a sob story. The plus side of staying home has been enjoying my farm life and being home to give lessons and training to riders of various levels. I have some ponies and horses of my own that have benefitted from the extra attention. I have some students that just do not want to travel or take on the expense of having a horse of their own, so that has worked out great. Some of the animals found jobs being leased or sold that probably would not have if I had been away at shows.
The shows we have been able to do have all been at Swan Lake Stables in Littlestown, Pennsylvania—about an hour from my farm. The first one we went to was a Regional Show, and since then we’ve done a few more. I just had adults going, and I have to say it was nice to show all in one day with no stall and no braids. The financial saving is the most obvious, but there are several other benefits.
During the summer, we were able to leave the horses out all night so they were less stressed going to the horse show. Since entries were light, they went in the Main Hunter ring which was great exposure and the management was very accommodating. Even at the Regional show they used great jumps, and it felt similar to any other show except fewer rings going and fewer people.
I took a couple green ones along to just ride around at a show that had never been, so this again was a big savings on stall and other expenses while still getting the show atmosphere. I probably would have not taken them if I had been staying overnight, because of the extra help needed and expense. We lunged them a little, and then showed successfully and back on the truck and home by 1:00pm.
I love to show a well turned out horse that is beautifully braided and I am very loyal to my same braider I have had for over 30 years. That being said, it was lovely not to braid at the smaller shows. We only braided at the one Quentin 4 day show, and I would not have minded braiding at the others but I really did not want to be under tents or even in stabling to take the chance on catching or spreading COVID19. My braider did braid them on the horse trailer with our solar powered portable fans to keep the air moving and make it a bit cooler for the one Quentin show. Other than that, we showed without braids.
Sometimes we were the only ones not braided. The horses were all turned out beautifully otherwise and I don’t think it affected placings very much if at all. The best thing about not braiding is the time saved before and especially after showing, with no braids to pull, just a brush or hose off, bell boots and head home in time to turn out.
The Presentations and jogs are nice to get recognition at the large shows when there are spectators and your peers are showing and hanging out to see the results, but honestly with no spectators what is the point? To congratulate yourself by yourself is not really that much fun. The trotting at the end of the round for those classes that require it certainly speeds things along and means less people needed to hold horses at the ring waiting around. I think the no jog thing is probably here to stay, and I think it is fine as long as when things get back to “normal” they will incorporate some ribbon ceremonies. For now I am glad, as it really is a time saver.
I think for me it has been an eye opener that I have friends here in my local community that I really have lost touch with because of the traveling. I think it has been a benefit to my business and my own wellbeing to be more connected with local trainers and friends. I have reconnected with several and met some new young trainers that I did not and would not have known if I just continued going on the “road.”
I find I have more energy and enjoyment of going to my barn and making little changes in the care or training of the equines. My staff has appreciated things I do that make their job easier. I am more aware of what goes on daily and I have more empathy for the grind caring for horses can be. I try to teach them new skills and be more patient and communicative.
I feel I have gotten back to my roots of creativity in gymnastic exercises and changing up lessons and courses more regularly. We have added some logs and hay bales outside to change it up as well. I teach some novice children that make up in enthusiasm what they lack in knowledge and experience. My weeks are not eaten up with set up, warm ups and driving.
I am not sure when things will be back to “normal,” but I believe the smaller and more local model is here to stay. I will definitely keep it in the mix on our show schedule for 2021.
Kim Stewart has owned and operated Glenwillow Inc since 2000 out of Jefferson Md. She is a three time winner of the leading trainer award at the USEF Pony Finals and several Best Child Rider and Grand Hunter titles from WIHS, Penn National, Devon and Capitol Challenge as well as USEF Horse and Pony of the year awards. She imported the great hunter, Garfield, as a three-year-old who trained at Glenwillow Farm. Garfield is soon going at 19, but will soon enjoy retirement at Glenwillow.