By Lisa Blackmon
The first thing I feel the need to do is say thank you to all the judges, management teams, and volunteers for risking their health so that we can show during the pandemic. Let’s face it, this is a sport; this is not a job critical to humanity. We all work extremely hard and we all love this sport; however, the world is not going to change because I get to show my horse, so thank you again for all the people who put on the shows and put up with us riders/coaches/trainers. When I was asked to write this article, I had to think about what I would want the takeaway to be. I think the bottom line is as a rider, you know what the rules are and what the expectations are, and if you are not willing to follow those rules do not show. It’s a pretty easy concept. Yes, it is going to be hard to ride in 100-degree weather and put a mask on your face before your foot hits the ground. Yes, it is hard to police a bunch of people that do not want to, but must, put a mask on. We collectively are not a group of kindergarteners that do not understand why we are being asked to comply with certain rules. We understand and we agreed to follow a few basic guidelines so that we could show our horses. In fact, we were the first sport to reopen after the COVID shut down. This is largely due to the USEF and USDF working hard to get these rules in place for the shows.
Since we have that introduction out of the way, let’s talk about the nitty gritty of showing during the pandemic. I have had the good luck or fortune to show a lot this year. Our barn has been from Houston to Chicago and back, we have seen good behavior and bad. Without a doubt the USEF got it right in Chicago! During the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions, the people allowed on the show grounds (riders, trainers, grooms, owners, and Moms and Dads) were allowed to watch the classes by sitting in designated areas or standing a safe distance apart. If in their enthusiasm they got too close, a volunteer or staff member gently reminded them to stay apart. No one was made to feel like a criminal.
Is criminal a strong word? Yes, I think it is, and yes, I believe criminal is an appropriate word for how some people have been made to feel and believe me, I have seen some unbelievable behavior! People taking it upon themselves to yell at someone not having a mask on, people taking pictures of someone that just stepped off of a horse and has not yet put a mask on then turning it in to the show management or posting it on social media. It is just bad behavior and uncalled for. We all want to show, and we all want to stay healthy. Take a breath before you turn a molehill into a mountain! Polite reminders work for most of us and I think it is important to remember the situation or surroundings that you might find yourself in.
The other extreme is just as ridiculous, I watched a show manager have to call the police because one woman refused to put a mask on or to say who she was or why she was even on the show grounds. We all really think she was there just to watch and therefore had no business on the show grounds, but either way, she clearly liked the drama! At another show, we had people sitting in an aisle, clearly a husband and kid that did not want to be at the show anyway. The poor TD came by 3 times to ask them to put their masks on and keep the masks on, they did not, they just watched for her and put them on when she drove by. Just leave the family at home. This goes back to my original statement as well, be mindful of your surroundings.
So what can we take away from this? What is the bottom line to our sport? As a Persian once said, “This too shall pass.” We know that this virus will not affect our lives this dramatically forever. The sooner it’s gone the better, but until then we as a community will continue to sacrifice a few comforts in order to continue to do what we love. I urge my fellow riders, coaches and trainers to practice patience and understanding. I beseech our “fans” and well-meaning family members to exercise this same understanding and always remember to keep your rider in mind. Remember not to overshadow your rider’s blue ribbon achievement by being escorted from the show grounds for a “misunderstanding.” We have proven that we can show during these trying times, let’s work together to have a successful show season and not let COVID tarnish your successes.
I would like to add though that although I miss seeing people smile, sometimes I even miss recognizing people due to the mask. I am thankful to be showing my horse and taking my clients to shows. I am thankful I still have a job I love and can do during this pandemic. I consider it a privilege and I believe most people do too. I think 95% + of the people on the show grounds, even in the 100-degree weather, are glad to be showing their horses. We all want to voice our opinions about the mask and having to keep social distance, but it is better than staying at home or getting sick.
So, buck up, put your mask on, and let’s keep showing!
Lisa & Jackie Blackmon are the owners of Black Star Sporthorses, located in Rockwall, TX.