I was going to write about my university riding team experiences today, and I still intend to, but I, like many others in the hunter-jumper world, have been caught up lately with some of the truly bad behaviour that’s been on display from some of the industry’s professionals.
First we had Inclusive, the stunning Betsee Parker-owned hunter who Tori Colvin, teenage prodigy, has piloted to countless hunter wins, and who tested positive for GABA, a banned calming agent, at last year’s USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals. Then news came out of the Hampton Classic that Devin Ryan had been evicted from the show grounds due to evidence of abuse clearly visible on several of his horses’ legs. Oh, let’s not forget Sophie Simpson, daughter of two Olympians, who has been set down by the FEI for a violation involving capsaicin at Young Riders earlier this summer.
This was all depressing enough until Brigid Colvin, who was originally made subject to a ban that would cause her to miss the last horse shows of her daughter’s storied junior career, sued the USEF, arguing that she should not be considered the ‘trainer’ (i.e. person responsible) for Inclusive and thus should not be punished for his infraction. This suit led to several documents, including the transcript of the USEF hearing on this case, to be released publically. Honestly, don’t read them if you want to maintain any sort of respect for the h/j show culture as a whole. It’s like going down a rabbit hole from the kind of common-sense horsemanship that I’ve grown up with, and ending up in a world where one of the top hunters in the country requires a longe, two morning hacks, and NINE – count em, nine – tubes of Perfect Prep and/or lactanase before being considered ready to go to the ring for this national championship competition over heights that reach 4’+.
Oh, and no one ever denies the widespread use of GABA in their program. They simply say that they didn’t dose Inclusive with GABA anymore because in their experience, it made him too quiet, and he hit rails. Yeah. They neither deny nor apologize for a widespread culture of cheating that goes against every principle of horse welfare and fair sport. And again, this is what it takes to get arguably one of the most recognizable and winning horse-rider combos in the country, to the ring. If Victoria Colvin can’t win a hunter round without drugging, what the hell are the rest of us supposed to be doing?! Oh and PS, the fact that neither the rider nor the owner of the horse have been given any penalty for this incident is ludicrous. In my view, our national governing bodies should abide by the same principles as the FEI with regards to punishment in these cases: the rider is the Person Responsible and will be the one set down, full stop. Maybe it’ll force all of us to look a little more closely into our trainers’ medicine cabinets.
Anyways. Molly Sorge of the Chronicle wrote an editorial on this subject that articulates my thoughts exactly, so I’ll let you read that rather than getting all mad trying to write a blog post about it. But suffice it to say that I often feel alienated from my chosen discipline, between the shocking amounts of money on display at the horse shows, and the questionable horsemanship that we all know is probably taking place on the other side of the tent stall walls. I don’t have the funds to campaign on the circuit anyway, but I can’t say I’m too sad about that today.
I guess all we can do is take responsibility for our own horses’ care, let our money do the talking when it comes to programs that undertake practices with which we’re uncomfortable, and speak out against bad horsemanship when we see it. Not that it’s impossible to produce a winning horse in a healthy program that abides by the rules. But when the hunter discipline’s standards seem to be a deck stacked against you as a responsible horseperson, it kind of blows.
[Oh also, Schmoodle was kind of terrible last night. WHATEVER. Fine. Keep spooking at the same pile of jumps by the side of the ring every day for the rest of your life for all I care.]