For all the basketball fans out there, we’re not stealing your term, it just seems to fit. We are well into the madness of many horse show circuits as March comes to a close. The HITS Desert Circuit crowned its final champion on March 13th as Lucy Davis won not just one but four grand prix classes on her two mounts, Hannah and Nemo 119, during the final two weeks. More about the desert buzz in this issue’s Sporting Splendor. The FTI Winter Equestrian Festival is starting week eleven (out of twelve), with the biggest money class of the circuit, the $500,000 FTI Consulting Finale Grand Prix, on Saturday night. The circuit culminates on April 3rd with the Hunter Derby Finale as the final Saturday night class. By closing day, the three-months of consistent horse shows will have awarded close to $6 million dollars in prize money.
During the time when the world comes to Wellington, a number of social and charity events spread their wings to embrace the captured audience. Hosts of innovative occasions fill the calendar, including the Step by Step Charity Poker Tournament. Read a bit more about this international night that benefits a worthy cause.
Although always west coasters down deep, many not only flock southeast for the winter, some never leave. One of those converts is featured in this issue, Rebecca Johanson Hofmann. Although only in her twenties, this Wellington woman knows what she’s after. Take note – there’s a new California statute regarding the disclosure of commissions with sale horses. Read about it in Full Disclosure in this issue.
Santana Stables is seeking an “A” level show jumping rider, with American citizenship and fluent in Portuguese, to join their team. To learn more, visit the Santana site and click News.
As Wellington comes to a close, Blenheim EquiSports is just getting started. Opening with three shows in San Juan Capistrano, the Spring Series, their idyllic southern California season stretches into September. And it doesn’t end there. This year Las Vegas National in November will be even better than last year, with NAL finals and more. With 16 Grand Prix events, 4 Hunter Derbies, 6 Medal Finals and classes for every level in 3 fabulous locations over a nine-month period, when are you planning to come?
Can ESP (WEF) + Stone = WEG 2018 for the FEI? The right mix of masters could bring the WEG back to the US, or so we would like to speculate… I had the chance to interview one of the individuals who could make this happen, Michael Stone. We spoke twice this year, once in Wellington during the WEG trials at WEF and then again in Lexington directly before the WEG Final Four on Saturday night. We touched on WEF and WEG impressions and strategies.
Who is Michael Stone?
Born and raised in Ireland, Stone, 52, is a former International show jumping rider. He also competed in Eventing and Dressage at a national level.
Aside from his riding experience, I would venture to say he has an extremely well rounded resume in equestrian sport. Stone has held several titles at the Federation level spanning two decades, including Secretary General of the Equestrian Federation of Ireland from 1987-1997 as well as FEI Assistant Secretary General, FEI Sports Director and FEI Secretary General from 1997-2007.
Plus he has served as Team Manager of the Irish Team and the Irish Junior and Young Riders Teams during several national and international events, including the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and the 1994 FEI World Equestrian Games in The Hague. Before he joined the FEI in 1997, he also spent five years as Management Director of his family’s horse feed business.
Within a week after leaving the FEI, Stone was standing on the polo field at Wellington with Mark Bellissimo of ESP. That was 2007 and after a year of consulting, Stone became a permanent fixture in Wellington.
EqSol: Tell us about all the hats you’ve worn and how they fit.
MS: I feel quite lucky to have worn all these ‘hats’ in so many aspects of the sport. It certainly gives me unique perspective and I don’t think many people have had that opportunity.
I was involved in governing eventing, dressage and show jumping in my role as the Secretary General of the Irish Federation (the title is considered to be synonymous with President or CEO). Government of a sport means constantly learning about the many layers of what makes the sport tick, from the rules and regulations to those who are committed to competition. When I managed the Irish teams it was not only rewarding to further support the sport, but I gained an inside look at how difficult the role of a rider truly is. That experience gave me invaluable insight to working with riders through the FEI and now understanding the exhibitors at WEF and the other events hosted by ESP.
In my tenure with the FEI, what I had garnered in my years serving the Irish Federation helped me to rise to the role of developing and enforcing the rules for the Olympic disciplines of show jumping, dressage, and three-day eventing as well as for endurance, reining, vaulting, driving in more than 130 countries. One of the most interesting projects I worked with was facilitating the establishment of the FEI Coaching System. It’s a system that works with developing not just riders but coaches for developing countries. Many of the South American riders we see here developed under that system. Jeremy Mullins leads it now.
My current position as president for ESP is very different than my previous positions in non-profit, governing organizations. Here we are motivated to create the best show in the world, an equestrian destination.
EqSol: Tell us more about how you landed here and what you do in your current position.
MS: In 2007, I had a disagreement with Princess Haya. Essentially one of us had to go, she was appointed and I was hired, so it was me. I left the FEI on a Wednesday, Mark Bellissimo called me on Friday, Saturday we had a deal and by the following Wednesday I was standing in the polo field. For the first year I worked as a consultant from Switzerland and now I live here permanently.
I’m involved in every aspect of the business from sponsorship and marketing to scheduling and special events. I run the business of equestrian show business. And show in this sense truly does have a double meaning – one being top-notch competition for riders at all levels and the other is fabulous equestrian entertainment for spectators of all ages.
EqSol: What have you done and propose to do for WEF competitors?
MS: What have I done? Spent millions changing all the footing. I worked with Mark to find the right people and put new European footing in every ring. I had new jumps built. We bring in top judges, top course designers to a world-class facility. We reduced the entry fees for the Grand Prix classes by 10%. We worked on the show schedule, introduced new classes likes the Young Rider Grand Prix, a $500,000 Grand Prix, a Puissance during Nations Cup Week, and the Charity Event will return this year. We raised $500,000 for charities in 2010, this year our goal is to raise a million.
We are also working with the USEF to give the top thirty riders on the computer list a special deal for their rankings, a similar concept to the invitational style in Europe.
We continue to invest in the property. We consolidated the showgrounds, all competition will be on the north end now. All our numbers – sponsorships, entries vendors – are up, not down. I think what we have done and the continued enhancements planned are culminating to achieve our goal of creating the best for the best. If you want to compete at the top of the sport, you come here.
EqSol: For spectators?
MS: Currently the shows are geared more towards the exhibitors than the spectators. We aim to enhance the spectator experience, but it is a slow process. We continue to promote our evening events. We offer a nice media center and encourage media to cover events. There is a list of great classes worthy of press coverage. We would like to see TV coverage, that comes from bigger sponsors and larger audiences, both of which we are developing.
EqSol: Speaking of world-class, we are fresh off the 2010 WEG. Based on your experience, will you share your impressions?
MS: This is the first WEG where I haven’t had an official role as Team Manager or on staff, so that was a big change. All World Championships are fantastic. It’s the best quality in horses and riders. Lexington is horse country and the setting is beautiful. Both the indoor and outdoor stadiums are fabulous and the courses from the footing to the creative jumps to the design were excellent.
There were some issues with this event, possibly some unavoidable and certainly ones we can learn from. As fabulous as the Kentucky Horse Park is, the grounds are spread out over acres so there was a lot of distance between venues. Not only did that mean a lot of walking for spectators, but more significantly it is a loss of intimacy. In places like Aachen and Wellington the layout is more compact. You feel closer to the riders and the action. Pricing was another factor. It was expensive to truly experience the entire games, so most attended their discipline only. A lot of the other disciplines could have drawn more crowds had seats been available for a low general admission price.
Of course it’s easy to be wise post event. Overall I believe thousands of equestrians from all over the world had a memorable experience.
EqSol: And tell us about your plan to bid on the WEG in 2018.
MS: The bid is due next year. It is an intensely detailed proposal. We’ve been working with Wellington Village, Palm Beach city government and the state of Florida on the plan and the potential economic impact. In Lexington the impact was estimated at $180 million. Already a strong tourist and equestrian state, I think it the impact could be more in Florida.
Our experience at ESP is apparent and the facility footprint is similar to Aachen – compact. With the international arena and the extensive stabling, parking for competitors and spectators with separate entrances, we have an established infrastructure. We would definitely have to expand in particular areas, build more seats, a cross-country course and other details in order to host a World Championship event spanning eight disciplines. But our current team is strong and can run an event of this magnitude.
After we submit our bid we won’t know the decision until April of 2013. That would give us five years to prepare.
EqSol: So what ideas do you have to create the ultimate WEG?
MS: An intimate equestrian experience that supports every aspect of the sport – reasonably priced for the spectators with opportunities to interact with the energy of the event and a fantastic facility for competition.
Economic impact aside, bringing the WEG to Florida would mean the entire state focuses on equestrian sport. It raises awareness, generates improvements to streets and roads, telecommunications and infrastructures. It makes equines and equestrians a central focus and that is ultimately what it is all about – the horse and horse sport.
Thank you Michael for sharing your knowledge and insight. We will see you at future WEFs and look forward to WEG 2018 in Wellington.
We all expect interesting changes due to the economic climate. However our industry is hot to trot – attendance didn’t appear to be light at this year’s USHJA Annual Meeting in Nashville, TN. The interaction at the rule change forum, in committee meetings and regarding program implementation was lively and positive. USHJA is taking big strides for our discipline and participating members are playing a big role.
The meeting covered a wide range of topics over a four-day period. The following is a brief overview of a handful of the impressive developments happening with this five-year-young hunter jumper association.
Hard work for HJ
The staff, board members and committee members of USHJA are working diligently on behalf of the hunter jumper discipline – from the grassroots to high performance. It takes an incredible amount of effort to build a brand new organization for a discipline steeped-in-tradition that wants to evolve to new levels. That said, even the traditionalists are opening their minds and participating in some very forward thinking.
Rule changes are a key element of these annual meetings. Seemingly mundane, these sessions can get quite animated as various individuals speak their mind on details that are important to their passion and potentially their livelihood. Covering topics from measuring ponies to splitting an equitation class to heights of Low Junior Jumper Classics, these minute details are important to hunter jumper exhibitors at all levels.
2008 was the inaugural year of the High Performance Hunter. In the form of the USHJA Hunter Derbies, chosen A-rated horse shows hosted these special hunter derbies throughout the country. Not only did hunter, jumpers and equitation horses step up to compete for the money, the points and the fun, but spectators gathered in droves. To watch hunters! The program returns in 2009 and will culminate in the first final in Kentucky this August. The top 75 horses on the money-qualifying list will be invited to a unique two-day competition, offering fabulous prize money and awards to grooms, riders, trainers and most importantly owners. The first International Hunter Derby of 2009 is during Week III of HITS-Thermal with another during the Championship Week. Winter circuit derbies will be held in Ocala, Gulfport and Wellington.
New! Although the details of the program may change as it evolves, the Emerging Athletes Program offers an unprecedented opportunity for young riders at various levels to learn from some of our nation’s top show jumpers. As Committee Co-Chairman Melanie Smith states, “…this program will provide a stepladder for young talent to reach their goals of riding on a team representing the United States someday.” An applicant needs to ambitious and assertive, however they do not need to have competed in ‘A’ horse shows or have a high level horse. So spread the news! Riders who show talent on horse’s with limited abilities, young horses, difficult horses… as well as pony jumper riders all are encouraged to apply. Almost three hundred chosen applicants, twenty-four from each zone will participate in their zone’s 2-day clinic – eight at 3’, eight at 3’6” and eight at 4’. Some of our nation’s top riders and trainers will run the clinics. Participants will do all their own work from horse care to course setting, learning about the skills of riding well from the ground up. A group of twelve from each of the twelve zone clinics will then be selected to participate in one of four regional clinics, narrowing it down to forty-eight riders. The next twelve chosen from the regional clinics will be participate in a week-long intensive session, culminating in a Nations Cup type competition. And the top two from this session will be invited to train for 30-days with an experienced trainer.
EAP offers education for hundreds of riders that they otherwise may never have dreamed of garnering. Not to mention discovering young talent that these top trainers may never have otherwise seen. Auditors and volunteers are welcome – check with the clinic host for details. Since this program is just spreading its wings, watch the USHJA web site for the specifics and for application information.
Trainers Certification Program
Calling all trainers or those who aspire to be trainers – now there is a certification program brought to you and endorsed by some of the nation’s best trainers. It is a voluntary program, intended to enhance trainer credibility and offer ongoing education. The time for this concept to become a reality is way overdue.
In 2005, the USHJA formed the Trainer Certification Program Committee in response to an overwhelming interest from membership. Now that it’s coming to fruition, many have expressed skepticism regarding this new program… And the question is why? Are the critics afraid of how much that they know or don’t know? This group has spent countless volunteer hours over the last three years arguing, developing, changing, discussing, meeting and finally agreeing to create this program. Were they not thinking about what is best for the industry? For the horses and for the riders and for ultimately the trainers? Hopefully all will step up to the plate and participate. Yes, there are hundreds of trainers who should be ‘grandfathered in’ without having to pass Level 1 – but as George Morris expressed, why should they want to? For many trainers Level 1 should be easy to pass. So stay tuned – the USHJA Trainers Certification Program will begin June 2009. Applications and enrollment procedures will be released in May 2009.
Amongst all the other happenings, including creating the USHJA Foundation, USHJA’s staff has grown at an alarming rate. In order to make the transition as well as develop a nationally recognized headquarters at the Kentucky Horse Park, USHJA seeks to raise $6.5 million in the next 24 months. As we know raising capital is a challenge these days. Consider this an investment in your discipline’s future. They’ve developed creative ways to give, for example buying a brick or a bench for the garden. Sponsors
Although I could write more, I am going to conclude with thanking the sponsors and donors whom without we would not have High Performance Hunter Derbies or a new Courtyard and Gardens for USHJA. At the risk of forgetting one, we won’t name them all here. Suffice to say from A (ASG Software) to almost Z (World Equestrian Brands), thank you!