A New Way to Show

A ranch horse isolation show takes into social distancing into consideration.

A local ranch horse “isolation show” combines an out-of-the-box approach that keeps exhibitors safe.

This past weekend, I loaded up my 4-year-old green horse gelding and headed an hour an a half north to Gainesville, Texas, despite the recent spread of coronavirus. In general, my family has taken social distancing to heart and hunkered down on our small horse property while we work from home and chip away at projects around the house, barn and garden.

The reason I felt comfortable going to the little open show, put on by Breakin Hearts Ranch, wasn’t because it was in a county with zero confirmed cases. It was because the staff had put great effort into making the event an “isolation show.”

They seemed to have thought of everything to keep exhibitors safe. Entries were paid online prior to the show. Riders signed up online for half hour time slots in which one rider at a time would be able to show in chosen ranch horse classes (up to six classes). Riders were allowed half an hour to warm up in the arena prior to their designated show time, and all gates on the property were tied open to avoid touching surfaces. Staff was frank about bathrooms being closed to the public and that people had to use their horse trailers if they needed a restroom (which don’t we all do, anyway?). Even the awards for high point and reserve high point would be disinfected and mailed to competitors, or the ranch would hang on to the prize until the pandemic subsided, a decision left to the rider.

Ranch horse show
Katie Frank and her Dual R Smokin-bred gelding, Murphy, at a small ranch horse show pre-coronavirus. Photo by TLeeF Productions.

It was strange pulling up to the property and only seeing one or two other horse trailers. And it was even stranger warming up in a huge arena with my horse by myself. I joked that if we screwed up a pattern or picked up the wrong lead, no one but the judge and scribe would be around to see it. I can honestly say I didn’t touch anything on the property and stayed a minimum of 20 feet from any person (which was really just the judge and scribe).

From the time I hauled in to when I left, the show took about two hours. I allowed a half hour to saddle, a half hour warm up, a half hour to ride, and a half hour to untack. I liked the efficiency of the day, but I did miss being able to school my gelding in between classes. Still, it was another wet saddle pad for him and another good day of show experience in the books.

Other horse shows are thinking outside the box, too. On Facebook, there is a group called Ranch Riding Online. It is a virtual horse show that allows riders to compete without ever leaving home. Riders fill out an entry form found on their website, record a video doing the designated pattern, then email the video or post it to the Facebook page. The group’s primary judge is Debbie Cooper, who has an American Quarter Horse Association champion title in ranch riding and is a multi-carded judge.

Another unique event is a virtual reining event hosted by Texas Horse Power Ranch and National Reining Horse Association professional Tell Edgmon. It’s a similar concept in that riders record and submit their reining run via email. Class winners get to choose a local, non-chain restaurant to which 100 percent of the entry fees for their class are donated. 

As downtrodden as everything feels, it’s uplifting to hear all the ways horse enthusiasts are finding ways to ride, show and become better horsemen despite outside restrictions. More than ever, most of us need time in the saddle, the smell of horses on our hands, and to build a sweat on our brow. It offers a much-needed break from the current state of affairs. 

Have a virtual horse event you’d like to share? Email [email protected].

For more information and resources on coronavirus, check out Western Horseman‘s “A Horseman’s Guide to COVID-19.”

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