COVID-19 restrictions have led organizers to cancel equestrian competitions and other events nationwide—but at what cost?

We caught up with Derek Braun, founder and president of the Split Rock Jumping Tour in Lexington, KY, and Mary Lowry of Flying Cross Farm in Goshen, KY, to learn what impact the cancellations have had on their respective organizations.

Split Rock called off the Kentucky Invitational, which was to be held in conjunction with the Land Rover Kentucky Three Day Event (LRK3DE), Apr. 23–26. Flying Cross canceled their mini-trial, originally scheduled for Apr. 18.

According to Braun the cancellation itself “hasn’t necessarily created any challenges. It’s more a disappointment, it was going to be an absolutely incredible Grand Prix.”

The Invitational, which is owned by Equestrian Events International (EEI) and produced by Split Rock, is a CSI3* event that attracts thousands of spectators as part of the LRK3DE. When the three-day event was canceled, so was the Grand Prix.

Braun indicated that Split Rock  is still planning and organizing events for later this year.

“Luckily,” he said, “our events are later in the year, so we’re able to continue planning and organizing events. For me, the only worry would be our May show, which we’re anticipating. Hopefully, it does continue on and can be great just like it always is. We moved to a new location in the Kentucky Horse Park this year, so we’re really looking forward to hosting that for everyone there, and in a new way.

“Whether it’ll be able to continue at this point, we’re not going to make any decisions at all, on purpose, for several weeks.”

Otherwise, said Braun, “the day-to-day continues on and we’re going to keep working and hope this gets under control and everybody does their part and can get back to normal as the summer approaches.”

Braun believes that as soon as COVID-19 is under control, riders will “really want to get back into gear and show again and make sure that the shows that were postponed [will succeed].”

“For me,” Braun finished, “the biggest thing is keeping my staff and family as consistent as possible, ensuring I stand behind them and that their situations don’t change, that they have security in this process. Through this time, that’s the biggest thing for me as an employer and boss.”

Mary Lowry, of Flying Cross Farm, was also forced to cancel competitions in April due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“We canceled the mini-trial because there’s a lot of personal contact. That and it’s considered to be a sporting event in the state of Kentucky—the governor asked that we not have sporting events, which we [Flying Cross] will absolutely adhere to.”

The facility is still allowing cross-country schooling by appointment, in groups of no more than 10, which they’re offering free of charge.

“We asked,” said Lowry, “that people donate that money [$40 to school] to someone that they know is struggling, a 501c3 or charity of their choice, or whatever they’d like—put it back into the community.”

In lieu of horse shows, Flying Cross plans to offer virtual events with dressage, show jumping and combined training (dressage and show jumping) classes. The first one will be held April 18.

Per Lowry, “What we thought with [the virtual shows are], you know, there are many people riding now who don’t have goals, so this is to give them a goal [but] help with education, also, which is what the mini-trials and what we do is about. We’ll continue doing this once a month until we see where this goes.”

When asked how the horse community in her area has been coping, Lowry noted the difficulty of managing the unknown.

“It’s been a very trying time for people,” she said, “It cuts across anyone that touches a horse. Locally, we’ve obviously been following guidelines for our barn, cleaning, not having more traffic than we need, wiping down reins and everything we can in-between rides, etcetera.

“On a broader scale, I’ve seen everybody come together and be supportive of those who have maybe lost their job and can’t pay board or who are afraid to come out and ride their horse. None of us know how long this will last or where it’ll go. We don’t know if we’re just going to not have horse shows through April or if this will last through September, so it’s hard putting on shows from this perspective.

“We can be up and running very quickly at Flying Cross. With a week’s notice we can put together a mini-trial, but the USEA horse trial we hold in September takes us about six weeks to put together and we do a lot of planning [in advance]—if that’s not coming together, then that’ll have a bigger impact on us, obviously, than [losing] the smaller shows.”

Ultimately, Lowry believes the horse community is “very resilient, albeit everyone’s quite disappointed.”

She added, “We’ve dealt with outbreaks before, we know what it is to have a virus or bacteria go through a barn, how to take precautions and work with that, so this is something that’s not unknown to us.”

Lowry believes the biggest challenge the COVID-19 outbreak has created for the industry is uncertainty.

“I think the horse industry can move and react fairly quickly to something that they know, but when there’s an unknown, you know, do you ride your horse, get them fit and point them towards a specific event when you don’t know if that event is going to happen? For instructors, if everyone shelters in place, they won’t teach as many lessons and their livelihood will be impacted. Obviously, if people get sick, that’ll impact what we can do, especially support staff at barns.

“But,” continued Lowry, “the flipside of that is we’re all going back to what’s important, each of us at the barn have been calling two or three people every day who we’ve not talked to in a while, because we feel we need to reach out and ensure they’re okay and reconnecting with old friends and trying to keep that social aspect alive while we’re so isolated.”

For Lowry, while the monetary loss of not holding the mini-trials and potentially their other events, is a challenge, the bigger loss is emotional.

“This is our community and putting on horse shows is our thing and that’s a big time gap to fill—emotionally, it’s difficult,” she said, noting that the farm had already brought ribbons for the year, which they can reuse, and were well-stocked on supplies in anticipation of the year’s show season.

“We have to, no matter if we have shows or not, cut the grass, keep the farm looking nice and continue our day-to-day routine—that doesn’t change. That economic loss, it’ll hurt, but we will get past this and we will have more shows.”