What a difference a few weeks makes.
At the beginning of April, people were going to the grocery store without masks, horse show managers were cautiously optimistic about getting May shows underway, and we could order almost anything we needed and expect it to arrive in a timely fashion.
It also became clear how devastating COVID-19 was for the horse industry. Barn owners, already running on razor-thin margins, panicked about losing lessons and clinics. Those who made the prudent decision to close to the public risked losing boarders to those who did not. Horse show staff, tack shop owners, photographers, braiders, trainers, shippers—the situation looked dire for everyone.
I’m lucky in many ways. I keep my horses at home and am not at risk of eviction. I’m also lucky to be good friends with two powerhouse humans, Alice Bruno of Shenandoah Sporthorses, and USEF “R” judge Sissy Wickes. In conversations with both of them, I was hearing something similar: “We have to do something to help.”
And that is how the Online Riders Collective (ORC) was born.
We called R. Scot Evans, founder of the Equestrian Aid Foundation, to ask how we could help. The EAF launched in 1996 to help equestrians suffering during the AIDS pandemic and has been operating at full tilt ever since, helping with disaster relief, injured professionals, and carrying out its mission of #HorsemenHelpingHorsemen.
In partnership with EAF, the ORC launched Clinics for a Cause, a program that connects top trainers and riders in all disciplines. For a low price, riders submit up to 15 minutes of video to be evaluated by the clinician of their choosing. The clinician records audio feedback as they watch the video. Then we edit the trainer’s voiceover comments onto the video and email it to the rider, who downloads it so they can watch, listen and learn as many times as they want. It’s like taking a private lesson from your couch, and proceeds benefit the EAF COVID-19 relief fund.
Top trainers from every discipline have volunteered to participate in a truly heartwarming example of the equestrian community coming together to help in a time of near-universal crisis.
Hunter legends including Sissy Wickes, Louise Serio, Sandy Ferrell, Tom Wright, Don Stewart, Leslie Steele, and Val Renihan have given feedback on beautiful junior and adult amateur rounds.
Iconic jumper riders Laura Kraut and Norman Dello Joio reached out to help and joined Michael Tokaruk and JJ Lavieri to form a truly special roster.
Eventing and dressage professionals are never ones to sit things out.
Eventers Boyd Martin, Phillip Dutton, Jennie Brannigan, Liz Halliday-Sharp, Alyssa Peterson, Cathy Frederickson, and Wendy Wergeles kicked off the eventing lineup, with more volunteering every day.
Dressage luminaries Lauren Sprieser, Shannon Lee Dueck, Lendon Gray, Silva Martin, Hilary Moore Hebert, Vincent Flores, Philesha Chandler, Alanna Stefanek, Ali Calkins, Emily Goldstein, Lauren Fisher, and Max Goodman are all giving dressage riders phenomenal feedback.
We wanted to include western disciplines and breeds, so we reached out to gaited horse judge Michael Lynch who jumped on board immediately. Nahshon Cook, Hillary Rapier, Mariah Wilson, Mallory Fields, Jamie Bissell, Jeremy Gates, and Brian Penquite are reviewing natural horsemanship, reining, western dressage, and more.
The response to this effort has exceeded our wildest expectations. In the first two weeks we raised $785 for the EAF relief fund. I have edited videos for riders ranging from brand new beginners to Grand Prix jumpers who want to take advantage of the special expertise available to them. The best part about the editing process is listening to clinicians cheer for riders they have never met, who might never be able to afford a lesson from them, but who want to learn from the finest professionals.
Many riders have been kind and brave enough to let us share their videos on our YouTube Clinics for a Cause playlist, where others can see what a video evaluation is like and can watch and learn from others’ feedback.
To be part of the Online Riders Collective, as either a rider or a clinician, go to onlineriderscollective.com, and join the Online Riders Collective Community Facebook page, which grew to 2,000 members in the first 72 hours.
The negative developments in the last several weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic are extraordinary and can’t be overlooked. But the Online Riders Collective and Equestrian Aid Foundation are working hard to make a change for the better. Join ORC to help equestrians in crisis, then stick around to enjoy the education and supportive community we are creating.