BY KIMBERLY MALOOMIAN
In roughly June of 2020, I got a text from Ellen Toon regarding WEC Ocala: They’ve opened up stall reservations for the winter. We are going weeks 1 and 2, you should come. I hear they are moving the car classes there.
Initially I was overcome with excitement. Of course I wanted to try and win another car, so I logged onto the site to reserve my stalls. As I was going to through the registration process it dawned on me. There was no way they would do those classes during the first weeks of the show. They would hold them at the end, so I promptly booked stalls for weeks 1,2,11, and 12 and basked in the glow of an upcoming adventure. But a couple days later it hit me and I texted Ellen, Why in the heck are we going to Ocala the beginning of January? Do you know how (bleeping) cold it’s going to be up there?!
I spent many years in my mid 20s weekend warrioring to Ocala only to find the temp about 10 degrees warmer than the Boston winter I had left 3 hours earlier. With no sympathy for my amphibious body temperature, she responded: It will be fun.
Over the summer and into the fall, our social media pages filled up with drone camera footage of the new facility. But at the same time, our email boxes filled with notices from WEC and USEF in regards to the conversation over rating the show dates at the new venue. Speculation, rumors, and personal opinions about the controversy were definitely not in short supply. People would ask me about once per week, “are you going to WEC if it’s not rated?” My answer never changed. “Absolutely. That team does a tremendous job and I want to support them.” For years I have been a big supporter of WEC-Ohio, and I knew that if they were starting from scratch they would design and create something no one could compete with. I wanted to be part of that experience.
Just a few weeks before the show was to start, there was a new panic on the streets. “If you go to WEC the USEF will sanction you and you won’t be able to compete at a recognized show! Why would you ever do that?” It took everything in me to not sit these people down for a lecture. It would have gone something like this, “You have a brain in your head, think through what you just said. How is it possible that USEF can sanction you for participating in an event they have no control over? They can’t sanction you for going to a schooling show. They can’t even sanction someone for breaking the rules in the outreach division at a rated show because you don’t have to be a member to compete!”
Just when I about had enough, another email came through regarding the USEF/WEC battle. And with it, I was done. I immediately located the email address of the NSBA president and fired off a letter to her. In it, I detailed which USEF and USHJA committees I had been on, how disappointed I had been with the lack of leadership, lack of follow through etc. I outlined that she was going to need some hunter people on her committees and that I was volunteering my time. Her response was “Excellent, I can’t wait to meet you week 1.”
Yes! Let’s do this.
So on Monday, January 4, 2021, the Kimba caravan rolled into WEC excited for the weeks ahead and slightly bummed that I was not allowed to enter the famous car class because, This year it is just for children (apparently being a child as heart doesn’t count).
By now, everyone has seen the entrance at least on social media, which depicts the splendor of WEC Ocala. Finding my stalls in barn C was not hard. If you have never been to a WEC property, they love themselves a directional sign and I can appreciate that! The stalls are huge with comfort mats, bucket hooks, and crosstie hardware installed in every stall. They mounted wood along the center aisle walls for people to hang their drapes from. The fresh paint in the stalls was gleaming it was so white (within hours I would be mortified that my horses had painted the interior walls with the wet food they eat!), and the running track material down the barn center aisles to provide cushion and traction to all two and four legged creatures was a perfect tennis court green. It took a hot second to understand the curbside manure pickup system, but man is that a brilliant idea. No gross manure pits with piles of trash in them, overflowing outside the barns growing bacteria and causing fly infestations because the tractors can’t keep up with hauling it away. I can only hope that curbside manure pickup will catch on at other places and one day we will tell campfire stories of these dreaded ‘horse show manure piles’ and future generations will think we made these awful tales up.
Tuesday morning I waited forever for the sun to come up, pulled up my COVID gear which doubles as insulation against the Ocala cold, and mounted up on my sight-seeing horse Finch to give ourselves a tour of the facility. To say I was excited to see what was around each turn is an understatement. People have mentioned that WEC is just like Disney world. I’m going to say it has a meticulously thought out infrastructure like Disney world with bathrooms and restaurants strategically placed, gas station, laundromat and convenience store, but without the herds of crying children. Later in the day, Choclat (who likes to impersonate TB race horses) and I tested out the horse path routes by going for a gallop on them, and later I tested out one of four 80 degree indoors on the real TB race horse (much safer that way!).
Now I don’t want you to think the facility is perfect. After all, nothing is perfect. It is currently still a major construction project with crews that work around the clock. And I’m not joking about around the clock. There were mornings I was there before 5am, and they were out working on the hotel or planting bushes or dumping footing on a newly built portion of horse path.
What makes this place stand out is that they care. There is a team of people all day who walk around sweeping the green track in the barns or picking up horse manure inside and outside buildings. On cold nights they cover the flowers and shrubs so that they won’t be affected by a frost and uncover them in the morning. There are crews all day cleaning the bathrooms and wash racks, and if you order feed/bedding it arrives before you realize you’ve even sent the stable office the order email. If you put a suggestion in the suggestion box, they do it. WHAT?! Crazy talk I know, to see a show actually listen to competitors and make changes in real time.
The highest guy in the pyramid is in the ring at 6:30am picking poop out of the footing, and everywhere you look people are happy. They are happy to be working. They are happy to be competing. They are happy to be there.
Everyone working there from the management team, to the awards, to the in-gate, show/stable office, jump crew etc. was hand-picked (or poached… however you want to look at it) and is at the top of their game. Not a single competitor I spoke to cared if they weren’t getting points (they actually couldn’t believe I was leaving and going back to Wellington!). No one was doing anything offensive or abusing horses or outwardly conducting deviant behavior like the USEF wanted us to believe would happen without their oversight. People were engaged with entertaining classes, beautiful competition areas, relaxing spaces to enjoy their horses and plenty of prize money.
I see WEC being a place that horse people and the general public can commingle when we can finally get back to shows that attract the community to come and watch. Actually, it has already begun. In just two weeks, I saw more lay-men walking through the barns and taking photos of horses and enjoying the beauty of the animals then I have seen in a decade, and shouldn’t we all be excited by the prospect of this? Sharing our love and appreciation for the beauty of the animals? After all, community involvement leads to sponsorship which leads to more prize money for competitors and more incentive for people to own horses and get involved in the sport. THIS idea my friends is the future, and the future is here.