As horse show organizers struggle with competitions that continue to be cancelled or are at the very least moving targets, the reality is that there will eventually be competitions again – but when and how remain the big questions.

All Equestrian Canada-sanctioned competitions have been suspended until June 30; however, from May 1-June 30 EC has advised that ‘competitions may be sanctioned on a case-by-case basis upon request by a Provincial/Territorial Sport Organizations (PTSOs) due to varying timelines across provinces regarding reopening. Mandates from provincial and federal government bodies and public health authorities will be the final factor for sanctioning until further notice.’

The province of Ontario has extended it’s state of emergency until June 2 and continues to have a ban on all gatherings of more than five people. Ontario Equestrian has issued a Guide To Reopening Equine Businesses which, while it concentrates on the important aspect of getting stables up and running again, and not specifically horse shows, includes the highly-detailed World Health Organization’s considerations for sports event organizers. The WHO document suggests that ‘It may be easier to ensure physical distancing advice is followed in outdoor events with nondesignated seating such as horse racing, golf, etc.’

A highly-anticipated announcement from Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Thursday, May 14, is hoped to ease some restrictions on outdoor recreational activities. It appears golf courses will be allowed to open this Victoria Day weekend, according to Hopefully, riding facilities and eventually shows will not be far behind.

In the US, isolation restrictions have started to ease, even though the country leads the world in total number of Covid-19 cases (1,412,440 total and 83,646 deaths as of May 13, with 3,804 new cases reported in the past 24 hours*). US Equestrian has announced that starting June 1st, all USEF competitions will resume again (dependent on federal, state, and local regulations and restrictions) and has released its Licensed Competitions COVID-19 Toolkit that features the USEF Action Plan outlining mandatory requirements and recommended best practices for competition organizers and participants. These include:

  • Requiring a face mask for all staff, officials, volunteers, service providers and participants (when not mounted) where there is a possibility of being within six feet of any other individual;
  • Requiring temperature monitoring for volunteers, officials, competition staff and service providers once daily prior to entering the competition grounds;
  • Refusing entry to anyone who exhibits COVID-19 symptoms, has tested positive for COVID-19 within last two weeks, or has been in contact with someone who has tested positive;
  • Enforcing social distancing via configuring stabling, prohibiting spectators, scheduling horse arrivals and departures, arranging judges’ and other officials’ areas, etc;
  • Creating an Emergency Response Plan specific to a COVID-19 incident or outbreak.

Equestrian Sport Production which hosts the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida have already announced that they plan to run two schooling shows May 22-24 and May 29-31, followed by three straight weeks of USEF “A” Rated competitions. With the Canada-U.S. border expected to stay closed to non-essential travel until at least June 21, any Canadians having thoughts of zipping across the border to show at any of the US venues will be disappointed.

In the UK, which has recently seen another spike in deaths after a couple of weeks of decline, all British Dressage and British Showjumping-affiliated activity is suspended through May 31, which will remain the case until restrictions are relaxed. Horse enthusiasts rejoiced, however, when the government announced on May 12th that equestrian centres could re-open. Brighter news in Ireland where Horse Sport Ireland announced that outdoor equestrian activities fall under the Irish government’s Roadmap for Reopening of Society and Business, Phase 1, due to commence on May 18.

One Canadian Show Organizer’s Plan

In a letter written on May 4th entitled “How can Competitors and Organizers work together to maintain our industry during COVID-19?”, show organizer and competitor Keean White, CEO of Angelstone Tournaments in Erin, ON, outlined suggestions for operating horse shows once the go-ahead is received. It is no surprise that it will not be ‒ possibly for a long, long time ‒ business as usual:

“I would like to begin this letter to Equestrians by stating clearly that COVID-19 is a serious issue, and everything done going forward must have health and safety paramount until we can establish a vaccine or treatment. We must work together to protect our elders, but we must also work together to protect our industry and our livelihood. Can both be achieved? I very much believe so.

We will have to accept, like many industries will, that 2020 will be about adapting. Status Quo is not realistic, but that doesn’t mean we have to operate “Status Quo” or not operate at all. We see industries around the world adapting to the times, and finding solutions to continue commerce while maintaining social distancing. The question becomes, what can we do in our industry, to maintain commerce, development of our horses (serious investments), and our own mental health of having goals to achieve during these fragile times?

Our sport has many advantages that will help us achieve Social Distancing. This would only relate to large venues that have space to accommodate.

1. Athletes compete individually (No contact with other athletes required)
2. Many of our venues are very large and outdoors (60 acres plus)
3. Technology has advanced significantly with ability to give competitors start times, live updates and office capabilities online
4. Competition rings can be live-streamed to give competitors and family the opportunity to watch the classes while not physically being on site.

What is Angelstone’s Plan to operate under COVID restrictions?

We have to work together to achieve social distancing, but here are realistic solutions we will be putting in place.

1. Stables will be secured with once access point in and out. Access will only be permitted to riders, trainers and essential horse care personnel. Security requirements and a health check will be conducted by monitors prior to entering stabling area. Barns will be socially distanced by accepting only a 50% occupancy to put at least 50ft, with partitions between stables. Monitors will continuously monitor traffic in barn area to ensure all person(s) stay within their designated compound.
2. Riders, Trainers and Essential horse care personnel are the only people permitted on the grounds. Parents who must accompany minors will be required to remain in their vehicles.
3. Horses taking part in competitions during the week must be on the ground by Monday at 5pm, and each barn will have designated set up times prior to Monday. No arrivals will be permitted after the 5pm cutoff.
4. Jumps in the schooling ring are 15ft apart. One person is permitted on each side of each jump. Each jump will be cleaned after each person warms up.
5. Every class will have a designated start time and order of go. There will be one access point in and out of the competition ring and warm up ring. A monitor will allow the first 5 horses competing, with one support person (trainer or groom) to enter the competition area. After a horse competes, they must exit the competition area, and the next horse and support person will be allowed to enter the competition area. This will ensure we never have more than 10 people in the competition area.
6. No spectators are permitted
7. Ring will be live-streamed to allow family and friends to watch live, just not from the property.
8. There will be no vendors, no food or beverage areas
9. There will be no lounges on site, which would encourage people to gather
10. Competitors will be asked to arrive as close to the beginning of their competition as possible, and leave directly after
11. Our entire event will run through a virtual office and showgrounds live. All payments will be made with credit card prior to the event starting. All adds, scratches and checkouts will be done through our online program.
12. Numbers will be delivered to stables prior to stables arrival
13. Ribbons will be awarded virtually through our social media platforms
14. Monitors will check temperatures and health at arrival gates prior to anyone entering the property
15. Multiple hand sanitization stations throughout the property
16. Ring will be limited to 150 trips per day with a 5 minute break after every 5 horses

We will be working closely with the town and our governing bodies to ensure we run safe competitions that fit within local health requirements, and allow our industry to continue forward during this difficult time.”