Written By Penny Hawes.
The photos included in this article were contributed by our Facebook fans. They exemplify the diversity of breeds and disciplines of riding in Virginia. We congratulate all of our readers for their success in 2014.
This year was an active one for many equine organizations in Virginia. Although there was record attendance at some events, participation was a bit lower for others. Several individuals with their fingers on the pulse of hunter/jumper shows, dressage, eventing, and the Virginia Horse Center took a look back at 2014 and shared what they’re looking forward to in the coming year.
VHSA Shows Take a Jump
The Virginia Horse Show Association (VHSA), which serves the needs of hunter/jumper riders across the Commonwealth, reported a good year. Angie Mauck of the VHSA said that numbers were up overall. The Rated Horse Show Program saw 69 shows fill the calendar this year, which is four or five more than typical. On the Associate Show side, numbers were very good, with 496 shows participating, about 30 more than last year. The VHSA Finals, held at the Virginia Horse Center Nov. 13 through 16, had a good turnout, with 375 to 400 horses in attendance. Mauck said the show received kudos from competitors for being well managed and organized.
One of the people responsible for that well-run show is Clyde Poarch, chairman of the Associate Committee. He’s responsible for the VHSA Finals and heads up the oversight of the 496 Associate Shows.
Poarch said this season there were as many as 30 shows per weekend during the busiest times. Participants at Associate Shows can qualify for Finals by attending a minimum of five Associate Shows during the year. Both rider and horse must be members to qualify.
There were almost 400 horses that participated at Finals at the Virginia Horse Center in November. According to Poarch, “That’s not a good number, that’s a real good number!” “It was a good year. Along with most everything else, after small recession we had back in 2008 and 2009, a lot of activities like this, that people spend discretionary money on, took a little bit of a hit,” continued Poarch. “I think we’ve gotten through that, maybe not all of it, but some of it.
There was a period of two or three years when the numbers were down a little bit, but now they’re back up to a very healthy state.” Poarch noted there are a numerous independent shows that help make up the Associate program, along with some of the larger groups whose existence predated the program. These groups include the Capitol Horse Show Association in Richmond, The Virginia Beach Horse Show Association in the Tidewater area, the Battlefield Horse Show Association in the central part of the state, the Southwest Virginia Hunter Jumper Association, and “many others that go together to make this up. They are organizations that were mostly there prior to the Associate Program coming into existence. They all combine to make up the Associate Program,” he said.
When asked about plans or changes for the coming year, Poarch replied, “For 2015, other than a few tweaks here and there to the rules, which happens about every year in any large organization, we don’t plan anything different. We hope to repeat 2014 and have another successful year.” For more information on the Virginia Horse Show Association, visit their website at www.VHSA.com.
Eventing—A Tale of Two Regions
Eventing in Northern Virginia is a different scene than in the southern regions of the Commonwealth. Joe Verga, who is on the board of directors for the Commonwealth Dressage and Combined Training Association (CDCTA), and Kelly Frey Linn, a member of the board of directors of the Blue Ridge Eventing Association, took a look back on 2014 and shared their thoughts on the state of eventing in Virginia.
Linn viewed 2014 with mixed emotions. While she loves her job handling volunteer hours and points for year-end awards, she’s a bit concerned about the state of eventing in southern Virginia.
“While the coastal areas and northern Virginia seem to have events every weekend during the season, from mid-state down, it just seems a little lacking in what we have available,” she said.
Linn based her views on the fact that the bulk of all eventing in the southern part of the state rests in the hands of just a few organizations: Blue Ridge Eventing Association and Virginia Horse Trials, which were owned and run by Brian and Penny Ross until October, when they were purchased by New Zealander Andy Bowles.
“But if it’s not the Virginia Horse Trials or Blue Ridge Eventing, I don’t know of anything else that’s being offered. We are a volunteer organization and we struggle, we really struggle to have enough people to do things. If something happens to that organization….”
Verga’s comments confirmed Linn’s view of the disparity of available competitions in the two regions. “Northern Virginia has long been recognized as the epicenter for eventing in the United States,” he said. “We are blessed to be within a stone’s throw away from dozens of USEA-recognized events as well as numerous schooling shows. Eventers in Virginia as are also privy to some of the best tutelage in the country, as the landscape is dotted with former and current Olympians as well as experienced professional FEI riders. This is still the perfect environment for eventers at every level.”
Linn also noted the challenges an organization faces in providing members with competitive opportunities in the southern half of Virginia.
“You have to have a tremendous amount of experience and contacts. With eventing you have to have dressage judges, you need to have a technical delegate on site. If you want to have a large entry at your event and want to break even, or maybe even put some money aside for the next event, then you’ve got cross country, and that puts in a whole new element because [Blue Ridge Eventing] have it in our bylaws that if we have cross country offered, we have an ambulance on site, and that’s a minimum of $500,” Linn stated.
Despite the challenges, Linn noted that Blue Ridge Eventing’s shows were well attended.
“October was one of the largest we’ve ever had. It was a huge, huge event. We needed to add a second dressage judge. We saw a lot of faces we hadn’t seen before. We have a lot of new members, and they all seemed to come out. The Virginia Tech Eventing Team was there, too,” he said.
CDCTA events were also well attended, with Verga noting strong turnout to the recognized horse trial and dressage shows.
When asked about her favorite moment of 2014, Linn couldn’t narrow it down to just one, saying, “Several members had a great year. Two junior members moved up to larger ponies or horses and moved up a level; we had new members who started out the year just doing walk/trot and cross rails learn tests and improve their position. We’ve seen the whole membership take a step forward this year, so it’s been fun to watch.”
Verga echoed Linn’s praise of up-andcoming riders.“I would like to give a big shout-out to all of the low-level dressage and eventing riders!” he said.
“Every rider has to start out somewhere and often it is at these shows that horse and riders get their first taste of performing in a competitive environment, which is quite different than in your backyard or at a trainer’s facility. This year we saw some great performances and outstanding competitions in our entry-level classes,” he added.
Blue Ridge Eventing is looking toward a similar schedule for the coming year. The organization will offer at least two events and a clinic and other educational opportunities, and Linn hopes they will “continue to grow and move forward.”
CDCTA is switching things up a bit for 2015. Both horse trials will be held in April, two weeks apart, instead of one in the spring and one in the fall. This is being done mainly to help control overhead. There will also be more of an emphasis on the lower levels “to encourage those who are new to the sport or who just would like to try it out for the first time,” added Verga.
Neither Linn nor Verga could come up with just one favorite moment of 2014. Linn said how much she loved her job keeping track of points for year-end awards because it affords her contact with members.
She is a long-time volunteer for the organization and truly enjoys her work, including sharing in riders’ success stories and sending them “little pep talks” when they email her and let her know that they hadn’t done as well as hoped in a competition.
Verga summed up the year and his hopes for 2015 nicely: “From a show organizer point of view, my favorite moment is when nothing noteworthy happens!
For those who haven’t experienced behind the scenes of a show, it can be quite hectic with volunteers running around trying to put out the latest fire. No show goes exactly as planned; if it is not a missing judge, it is the generator dying, or perhaps lunches not showing up on time. Then there are the competitors and the myriad of things that they need, whether it is a schedule change or a missing shoe, or broken equipment.”
“This year went off virtually without a hitch! For instance, I distinctly remember mentioning to a stadium entry gate volunteer, ‘This day is going just perfect!’, only to have them run around looking for some wood to knock on for fear that I would jinx it. I just hope next year goes so well!”
For more information on the Blue Ridge Eventing Association, visit www.BREventing.org. To learn more about the Commonwealth Dressage and Combined Training Association, check out their website at www.CDCTA.com.
The Virginia Dressage Association looks back
The Virginia Dressage Association (VADA) and its chapters had a busy 2014. While membership in the eight chapters has been down a bit over the past few years, Alison Head, VADA president, feels that members were very active with the organization this year.
Although it is hard for her to judge exactly how active members are due to most of the activities being held at chapter level, Head noted that the Chapter Challenge show and the George Williams clinic, both held at the Virginia Horse Center, were well attended.
The Chapter Challenge show, held Aug. 23, was the second for VADA, and saw more than 60 rides with entries from all over the Commonwealth. Winning team honors went to the Southwest Virginia Dressage Association.
Head said the licensed shows held by various chapters all did well, and the VADA Fall Show, which featured the Colonel Bengt Ljungquist Memorial Championships, was “one of the best ever.” Participation in VADA’s popular awards program remains consistent.
Another high point for VADA came in August, when the group donated $12,000 to the Virginia Horse Center to renovate the restaurant at the center, now known as The Blue Hen. VADA also donated $800 to Friends of Homeless Animals, the annual recipient of donations collected during the dog costume show held at the VADA Fall Show each year.
When asked if anything stood out when looking back over the year, Head replied, “Not really. I feel like we are very stable at the moment with a good board, active chapters, and no big issues. I’ll take that any day.”
You can learn more about VADA at their website, www.Virginiadressage.org.
Watershed Year for the Virginia Horse Center
The year didn’t start that well for the Virginia Horse Center (VHC). Financial issues brought on by the recession led to shortfalls in servicing an $11 million loan from the USDA. When leaders of the Virginia Horse Center Foundation approached local government for an increase in the percentage of tax revenue the center receives from hotel rooms, officials balked when the Foundation’s representatives were unable to produce a five-year plan and were unwilling to share the names of board members.
Things have changed considerably since then. After the meetings with Rockbridge County officials, there was change in leadership at the VHC, with Ernie Oare taking the reins as president of the Virginia Horse Center Foundation; Glenn Petty stepping in as interim executive director; John Nicholson, former executive director of the Kentucky Horse Park, signing on as a consultant; and Tom Clarke, new owner of The Natural Bridge, becoming treasurer.
Fast forward to December, and Nicholson feels that 2014 was a “watershed year” for the VHC, citing the new management structure and the “wave of enthusiasm for the future of the Virginia Horse Center.”
Nicholson continued, “The size and scope of the Virginia Horse Center family has expanded greatly, and we have a great foundation for going forward.” Just a few of the positive elements of 2014 for the VHC:
- Increase in percentage of tax received from Lexington and Rockbridge County from 2 percent to 3 percent • Donation of $12,000 from the Virginia Dressage Association
- Creation of the Blue Ribbon Task Force, a group of dozens of members of the equine industry from across the Commonwealth. To date, the task force has met twice, with a great deal of positive feedback from members
- Partnering with the Phelps Media Group, a nationally known equine marketing firm, to handle media relations. When asked about 2015, Nicholson continued his optimistic comments, noting there are “exciting things in the pipeline. The situation has stabilized and everyone is excited and poised for the future.  is going to be our best year yet.”
For more information on the Virginia Horse Center, visit www.HorseCenter.org.