Wellington, Fla. – Aug. 15, 2020 – While numerous hunter/jumper shows across the nation have raised a white flag in surrender to COVID-19, dressage shows, which often have fewer horses and attendees that travel less frequently to compete, are holding out hope for safely run events. Many have already succeeded — at the local-level licensed shows like Dressage at Lexington run by the Virginia Dressage Association (VADA) have been pleased with their outcomes despite smaller than normal shows. Officials are aiming to also have a safe and positive experience at this week’s U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions and Markel/USEF Young & Developing Horse Dressage National Championships hosted by the Lamplight Equestrian Center in Illinois.
Varying greatly from state to state, health and safety regulations for holding equestrian events have been a grey area for governing bodies and show organizers as states have navigated their respective reopening phases. At the local level, venues and show organizations have often been left to make their own regulations while operating within the guidelines recommended by their state and town health departments as well as USEF.
Diane Boyd, Committee Chair and Licensed Show Manager for the Virginia Dressage Association, explained the ins and outs of planning for a show in the “new normal” climate created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Getting their wheels turning months ahead of time, organizers were first faced with the decision to hold the competition, not knowing what the world may look like when the time when show day approached.
“Once we made that decision, we then connected with the facility,” Boyd said. “They can really impact your planning in terms of supplies that are needed to handle the disinfecting requirements as well as the signage and what kinds of controls they are going to put in place. I have to give the Virginia Horse Center a lot of kudos for such an enormous effort and a really good job of putting everything together.”
She explained that the venue controlled access to the facility with a checkpoint at the property entrance, requiring first-time visitors to sign a waiver, answer a health questionnaire and have their temperatures taken. Once that was complete, they received a wristband so the officials knew the screening had been done but were required to re-check temperature every time they entered the facility.
“The venue also provided sanitization stations for the barns, competition and warm-up rings,” Boyd continued. “They chose to go with the combined hand washing and sanitizer stations, and we got a lot of good feedback from competitors about that. They also brought on additional cleaning staff to clean throughout the day in high touch areas and mandated that masks must be worn at all times. We were in an area of Virginia that hasn’t had a big impact from the virus, so we had to deal with a local government that was concerned about outsiders bringing the virus into their county. Virginia, despite its huge equine industry, didn’t provide much guidance. While other states have given lots of direction to the horse industry, we were left with dealing with general phase 2 and phase 3 requirements.”
Boyd also explained that sourcing supplies that were not exorbitantly priced was a challenge at the beginning of the planning phase as shortages of things like cleaning supplies and toiletries were common. “Our organizing committee of six people spent a lot of time trying to find supplies. We went to Costco often and got excited when we found Clorox wipes. We overestimated some of it, but we have another show in October so we’ll have all of that taken care of. Believe it or not, hand sanitizer was something we did not use much of, likely because of the sanitization stations we had that people used instead. We also bought some face shields that we thought might need but actually didn’t.”
While the show had run seven rings in past years, the organizers made the decision to only operate four to keep things more contained and reduce the amount of volunteers needed. With close to 200 horses on the expansive grounds, they were able to keep people spread out for safe social distancing while still hosting a well attended show.
“Fortunately the barns are large and have adequate spacing in the aisles,” Boyd said. “Barn aisles are public access though, so that’s where we cared about people having masks on and social distancing. We spent the first couple days going through the barns reminding people to wear their masks and distance themselves, but it caught on quickly.
“Across the board, everyone was glad to be out and back showing,” she continued. “Everyone was very appreciative of our jobs, more so than normal. Maybe they realized it was so much extra work to do at this time. They were appreciative across the board, I didn’t hear any negative issues.”
Kaylee Christensen, a U25 competitor, shared similar sentiments as Boyd about being back on the showgrounds. She’s competed at a handful of smaller licensed shows throughout the midwest region including Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin. While competing at the Silverwood Dressage series in Wisconsin this summer, she noted that they also had people walk through the barn areas to remind competitors to socially distance, but that rules were well respected. and entries were all done electronically prior to the show.
“Only the rider, trainer, groom and owner of the horse were allowed at the ring and warm-up,” Christensen said. “It was sad not being able to cheer on others at my barn that were competing but it was understandable due to the circumstances. It was so nice getting back in the show ring. I love to compete and I am so happy that we are able to compete now especially since I had not shown since September. The judges had their scribes sit six feet away in the judges booth which I wasn’t used to seeing, but the judges looked really happy to be back at the horse shows too.”
Although the pandemic delayed her show schedule this year, Christensen has kept her goals in clear view as she has prepared to compete in the ‘Brentina Cup’ U25 National Championship this week with her own mount Chateau 28, a 15-year-old Holsteiner gelding.
“My goals have not changed this year,” she stated. “Due to covid, we had more time at home to work on the tests and in some ways I feel more prepared. I am entered in the U25 national championship and striving for the US Dressage Finals in the Grand Prix as an Adult Amateur.”
With dressage championships, both regional and national, still on the calendar for the remainder of the year, many still have high hopes for getting their chance to vie for titles despite missing out on ring time this spring. The next competition on the docket, the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions and the Markel/USEF Young & Developing Horse Dressage National Championships, will kickoff Tuesday, Aug. 18 and will wrap up on Sunday, Aug. 23.