Our Virtual Reality — How Clubs and Showgrounds Have Turned to Virtual Showing

Two articles in our August Issue focused on the efforts of organizations to produce shows when no shows were being held. Below, JBarJ the charity that puts on the Oregon High Desert Classics and the Lower Puget Sound Dressage Club share how they have helped riders have access to competition during a summer filled with cancelled shows.

Rachel Long during the 2019 Oregon High Desert Classics Grand Prix

COVID and the No-Show Horse Show — JBarJ and the Oregon High Desert Classics

We knew it might not happen. We adjusted plans and played out scenarios, working toward meeting all requirements of the State of Oregon, Deschutes County, and the US Equestrian Federation. We knew there was the possibility all the planning would be for nothing. We also knew that if we didn’t put in the work and planning, the annual Oregon High Desert Classics (OHDC) Horse Show would be out of the question this summer. When Governor Brown declared no more than 250 people could be at an event regardless of COVID social distancing space, the team was deflated. When we announced the cancellation of the Oregon High Desert Classics (OHDC), disappointment spilled into the wider equestrian community.

Two members of the J Bar J Youth Services (J Bar J) OHDC team are a part of a small networking group of non-profit developmental people around Central Oregon called DREAMjam. Jenni Garner, Event Coordinator, and Eva Gill, Marketing Creative, listened to several stories of other formerly in-person fundraising events pivoting to virtual ones. Luncheons, auctions, and parades which had gone online instead of cancelling. Jenni and Eva, along with Pam White, the Event Liaison to barns and equine sponsors, leapt at the chance to create something fun and memorable for the exhibitors left with no show, and a modified fundraiser for J Bar J Youth Services.

Two weeks later, they launched the No-Show Horse Show. Dozens of participants registered for classes, set up courses in their own barns and are sharing them online. Several barns and trainers held mini-events with their riders, such as Cornerstone Hunters and Jumpers in Portland, Stellar Sport Horses in  Aurora, and Capstone Equestrian in Bend. At Capstone, riders got pledges for their rounds and won prizes for the most money raised for J Bar J.  Their event, held on what would have been the first weekend of the OHDC, included a grand prix level round by trainer Lindsey Garner with Capilano, a multi-year winner of the OHDC Grand Prix.

Lindsey Garner competing in the No-Show Grand Prix at Capstone Equestrian.

Lindsey knows what the OHDC means to J Bar J Youth Services, and commented on Capstone’s commitment to helping: “Tara and I are both moms who love Central Oregon and all of the families that we get to work with here.  The ability for all families and youth in this community to have an opportunity to thrive is something that is very close to our hearts, and the work that the J Bar J organization does is central to that.” 

“I’ve attended the High Desert Classics with my clients every year for the past 18 years and Tara grew up in Bend and actually showed at the J Bar J location in its very first year!  We both know that the show brings so much to our horse community here and is a very important benefit for the J Bar J programs.   We were all feeling the loss of the show this year and being able to do just a little something to bring some joy and fun to our riders with the OHDC NSHS, and to do a little to highlight the importance of J Bar J here in Central Oregon was something that I think everyone was grateful for.  The show has given so much to us and to the community that we were thankful to do something to give just a little bit back to it.”

The Oregon High Desert Classics is held each year on the J Bar J Boys Ranch in Bend over the last two weeks of July. From a bare field, a showground rises for the largest event of its kind in the region. World class horses and riders compete in the Grand Prix and International Hunter Derby, and exhibitors from around the region arrive to participate and share an experience that for many has become a tradition. The OHDC is more than a horse show, it’s also the largest fundraiser of the year for J Bar J Youth Services, a non-profit helping youth overcome adversity and work toward self-sufficiency and personal responsibility.

Riders at Capstone complete an under saddle class for the No-Show Horse Show

J Bar J’s programs are diverse and serve youth and families facing many obstacles such as homelessness, adjudication, and risk of entering the foster care system. The J Bar J Boys Ranch, founded in 1968, teaches boys in the juvenile justice system how their thinking and beliefs shapes their futures, and gives them tools to create change. The Academy at Sisters is a therapeutic boarding school for girls facing many challenges of adolescent life today such as anxiety and depression. Runaway and homeless youth find street outreach, family mediation, and shelter at Cascade Youth & Family Center. Grandma’s House is a safe haven for pregnant and parenting girls experiencing homelessness or abuse. The Central Oregon affiliate of Big Brothers Big Sisters provides mentors to ignite the potential of “littles.” Volunteer mentors rally around families in crisis to help them stay together through Kindred Connections. Besides being a fun event for hunters and jumpers, the No-Show Horse Show raised funds to help bridge the funding loss the horse show created for J Bar J Youth Services and all of these programs.

The No-Show Horse Show culminated with Grand Prix riders participating in a live-streamed event on July 25th. Rachel Long, who participated in the Grand Prix, said: “OHDC is one of our favorite shows to go to, so we were very disappointed to hear it wouldn’t run.  Although we were not able to be there, it was very exciting to be able to compete in the Virtual Grand Prix and help raise funds for J Bar J!”  In this uncertain time, it was great to connect with the equestrian community through social media and come together for the program.”

For the trainers and participants, the No-Show Horse Show was a big success. Cornerstone Equestrian LLC’s Wade Worley told us:  “Thank you so much for providing such an awesome experience for the riders.  This has been one of the most fun experiences we have had in a long time.  We are happy to support such a great organization.” Akiko Hamada with Stellar Sport Horses voiced thanks for putting the show together: “This has been such an amazing experience.  It was just like show day, everyone was so excited.  It brought a huge smile to my face to see them having fun and participating.  Thank you for holding this event.”

While this virtual event helped offset the loss of the OHDC for J Bar J Youth Services, it couldn’t cover it completely. As you enjoy your summer, attend horse shows that are still able to run, or miss the ones that have canceled due to COVID, consider making a donation to the No-Show Horse Show through www.oregonhighdesertclassics.org. Your contribution will help J Bar J continue to provide innovative options for at-risk youth.

— by Eva Gill, JBarJ

Our Virtual Reality

Christine Erikson from the LPSDC shares how their club is making it work during COVID.

By July we all had hoped that our regular show season would be under way. As unpredictable as our horses, the COVID-19 virus and its restrictions have made planning very difficult, with most show managers and venues canceling their seasons’ activities.

LPSDC Judges review a dressage test.

As a Board Member and the Show Secretary of the Lower Puget Sound Dressage Club, a USDF Region 6 GMO as of January 2019, I wanted to shine some light on how we have adapted.

At the start of 2020, we had planned a full show season with eight schooling shows and an LPSDC Championship show in September. We were excited about working with some new venues such as the Boand Arena in Bremerton and Summervale Farm in Yelm.

As we made the hard decision to cancel the first two May shows, the LPSDC Board felt we needed to offer something to our members and community to fill the void. The idea of a virtual show was born.

Intending to make it easy for the riders, we made a few exceptions for things like arena size, while still keeping it as close to a live show as possible. We offered classes from Intro (including our own special Intro-A Supervised) to FEI, Musical Freestyles, Western Dressage, and Eventing tests.

The first virtual show in May was a great success with nearly 60 rides down centerline, keeping our own “L” judge Lea McCullough busy for 10 hours. Throughout the day we posted results and videos on our Facebook page. We had lots of fun, and it seems the riders did too. We received tons of wonderful comments and cheer. The possibility to use Facebook Live and interactions throughout the day, fast results and sharing the links to the rides ongoing, made our virtual shows different.

With the uncertainty about the reopening phases regarding the COVID pandemic and the related requirements, we educated ourselves with help from our national equestrian organizations USEF and USDF. It became clear that holding a show this summer required a lot of extra work, people, and money. Under these circumstances, much of the fun of going to watch or participate in a show seemed to be gone, and the liabilities added an important consideration.

We brought these factors to our monthly meeting to get a sense of what the membership was thinking and what they would be most likely to do. We agreed that cancelling all the in-person shows was the responsible thing to do.

For many years, the LPSDC has held a wonderful series of summer schooling shows. Nobody felt that sitting and waiting for next year was an option. After the success of our first virtual show we voted to hold a series, with a High Point award for members who ride in at least three of our virtual shows. The average of the three best scores determines the winner in each level and division (Jr/YR, AA, Open).

In June, we completed another virtual show (the first of the series). With another 60 rides, we kept “L” judge Matt Eagan busy all day. Another success! And we’ve learned the maximum number of rides we can handle. The rest of the shows will be held in July, August, September and October. We have engaged all our judges, and we don’t need a venue!

It’s been really fun to see the excitement and creativity from the riders, their various home arenas and some really interesting filming. We’ve enjoyed the “ding-dings” before the ride is to start, riders coming towards the virtual judge at “C” saying “Thank You” after the last halt-salute, the joy of trying to judge a halt and rein back when you only see the upper body of the rider, or commenting on a straight centerline as the sun is glaring into the camera. Homemade arenas in the grass field with cardboard letters, all so awesome and organic.

Why am I sharing all this? When things are not the way we are used to, and when dreams and goals are put on hold, or might feel crushed, those of us on the LPSDC Board see it as OUR goal, obligation, and duty to try and do the best we can for our community and membership.

Our Board read an article recently discussing the status of Adult Amateurs as the “lifeblood of the sport,” and the challenges of being a fulltime parent, a full time worker on a limited budget, but still with the passion for riding and dressage—some with dreams for themselves and their “not perfect” equine partner. We love that group—we are that group, and want to make showing fun, affordable, and as real as it can be. So we made it our mission.

I can’t tell you how many riders who have thanked us for the opportunity to show. Maybe they never tried it before, or they don’t have a trailer to take their horse to a show, or came back to it after an injury or long-time absence, or young kids on their ponies. We have riders from Oregon, Idaho and all over Washington State. Riders we normally don’t see at our shows due to the distance. The virtual shows give them a chance to ride at home where their horse probably behaves better, you get re-do’s, or can dare to try something new. The opportunities are almost endless, and we can also serve a new group of riders rarely accommodated.

We love to help and offer something innovative for this group of riders. In the midst of a crisis, we really want our region to enjoy some fun with their horses. We want to be “movers and the shakers” as our President Lea McCullough puts it.

The world won’t go under if we miss a “normal” show season, but sure it sucks! We hope we are able to brighten the day, give riders an opportunity to do what we all love with our horses, and add a little friendly competition to it. On the up side, our ribbons are pretty; we mail them and your score sheet to you, and you can watch yourself compete from the comfort of your couch!

This quote from Mark Manson really sums up what we learned:
“Life is about ‘not knowing’ and then doing something anyway. All life is like this. Get good at it.”

Christine Erikson
LPSDC Treasurer & Show Secretary

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