With the cancellation or postponement of many horse shows around the globe due to concerns surrounding COVID-19 (coronavirus), equestrian professionals have had to make quick adjustments to their immediate plans. As an industry, we are still in the early stages of this pandemic and its impact is not yet completely clear. Phelps Sports sat down with three top equestrians – Missy Clark, Daniel Bluman and Tori Colvin – to get their thoughts on how the equestrian industry can weather the storm of the 2020 coronavirus crisis.
What was your reaction to the cancellation of many of the current and upcoming horse shows?
Missy: I think everybody is in the same boat. It’s nothing anyone wanted to see happen, but in my opinion, the horse show organizers made the right call. As things are beginning to unfold the seriousness of this situation is becoming more and more apparent. I think any of the naysayers who thought it was too soon when the organizers initially decided to cancel are now all realizing it was the correct thing to do. I completely understood why they did it. Everyone’s health and safety should be a priority.
Daniel: At first, I was very skeptical about the whole situation. I just couldn’t believe it could be so bad. Then I started reading more and learning more about the crisis and understood the gravity of what we are facing. It is humbling and incredible that we are so vulnerable. The cancellation on the shows became totally secondary. Right now, the priority is the health of the people and, of course, the health of the economy. We want life to go back to normal so that the suffering and struggling of so many people can finally end.
Tori: At first, I was shocked and a bit panicked because it affected my business so much, but then my team and I realized that eventually things will get back to normal and we will get back on track. Until then, we just have to do our best.
Did the cancellation of shows so far throw a wrench in your plans for spring 2020? How will you try to offset those cancellations?
Missy: It threw a big monkey wrench into everybody’s plans. We’re just in the wait and see mode right now, but regardless, we’re going to stay in Florida where we will be keeping our horses fit and in work. Our horses all had an easy week after WEF ended early. Since then, we’ve started to gear up again with training and lessons so that we’re ready to roll when the doors open again. With all the recent show cancellations everyone has had to modify their plans. We’re all in this together.
Daniel: 2020 has been totally changed. Fortunately, one of my stronger virtues is to accept and change quickly when needed. We are focusing on working the horses that are more behind and need the most time, while the experienced ones can exercise and relax their brains. We are trying to make the best of the situation.
Tori: Right now, our show plans are pretty up in the air, so we are focusing on the basics, especially for our younger horses. This is a perfect opportunity to be able to give them extra attention to keep their training moving forward appropriately. If you can train younger horses well during normal times, then this will allow you to really make those horses fantastic.
How has all of this shifted your focus on your program temporarily?
Missy: We’re going back to basics, which is nice. We have more time than we ever anticipated, so we can really focus on the training of our horses. And for our riders who are still here in Wellington, it’s great to be able to have the time to slow everything down and concentrate on lessons with them at home.
Daniel: We are taking it day by day. We know that there are most likely no Olympic Games this year and no spring or summer tours. We are hoping that during the second semester, we are back in the show ring. Until then, we will continue the process of training our young horses and be on standby with the seasoned ones until we have new dates of competitions.
Tori: This has caused me to take a deep breath and reevaluate my training and coaching efforts. We are slowing down so that we can train things to perfection. Plus, I find myself better able to explain and explore why we do things, not just how, since I have more time to devote to it and we aren’t preparing for a show immediately.
How have you been handling the “new normal” in your barn?
Missy: I think everybody is on guard. We have hand sanitizer around the barn as well as spray bottles of alcohol. All staff and riders who come on to the property have been sent our North Run protocol of how we’re handling things during this unsettling time. We’re trying to be proactively diligent about distance keeping, mounting horses outside of the barn, not interacting in close proximity with other people on the property, etc. When our students are finished with their lessons or schooling sessions, they leave. No one is hanging out and everyone is very aware of the guidelines and keeping their distance from one another as suggested by the CDC. We have a limited number of people who come to the barn right now. We’re trying to keep the circle tight. This is a moment in time where we all must focus on correct behavior so this global pandemic can hopefully be kept in check.
Daniel: We are taking all safety measures. We don’t want to spread the virus in any way. Right now, humanity must come together to stop this as soon as possible. We are training and clients training, but it is a very limited number of people and nobody is in close proximity to each other.
Tori: Our lessons are all done individually, and only my mom and I are in the ring to instruct and set jumps.
How has this affected your relationship with your clients? What is your communication with them like?
Missy: Like everyone, our clients are concerned. I’ve reached out to all of them to discuss our plans of staying in Florida until further notice. They know their horses will be thoughtfully cared for and that we’re fully staffed in order to and keep things up and running, albeit on a somewhat modified schedule. Some kids are here and others are not, but that doesn’t affect what we do as far as the care, exercise and training program for the horses. We are all working together and we all know there may be a long road ahead of us.
Daniel: It actually has strengthened it. We are all in it together, and we are a team.
Tori: This has actually helped us to grow closer and form better relationships because we really have to work together, cooperate and be patient in everything we do now.
Do you feel the changes from both the virus and the economy will have lasting changes on the business?
Missy: That’s a hard question to answer. Partially because no one knows how long this is going to continue. It’s very likely prices will drop for many horses, however I think horses at the top of the sport are always going to be incredibly valuable. Those horses are so far and few between. Trying to guess what may or may not happen next is impossible. We all have to ride this out and see where everything goes.
Daniel: Without a doubt. How long? That’s hard to say. You can be absolutely sure that sales will dramatically go down and prices will, as well. Like in anything, the best horses will probably see the least impact in prices, and the middle and bottom ones will be hit strongly price-wise.
Tori: In the end, I hope this will help people to get back to the reason that they started in this business. Times are tough for many people, but we can still rely on our love for the horses and the sport. Although unfortunate circumstances, maybe this will help horse prices drop to costs that are more fair to everyone.
Has the virus impacted your business decisions?
Missy: Since more and more shows have been canceled, we’ve had to revise a lot of our plans. It’s a very unusual and unsettling time for everyone. I think the current heath crisis has without a doubt affected nearly everyone’s business decisions including ours. It’s a delicate balance trying to keep all the balls in the air right now, and the last thing we want to do it cut our staff. Since WEF ended early, we had several horses leave to go points elsewhere. As a result, I had an extra staff member who had been planning on leaving at the end of April, but with a few less horses we didn’t need as much staff. Luckily I was able to locate a temporary job for our girl for the next month. If WEF hadn’t ended early I never would’ve had to figure out a plan B for our wonderful employee.
Daniel: From day one, it has affected us. Right now, it is time to cut costs as much as possible without cutting staff. Our team is our priority, and our goal is that everyone keeps their jobs.
Tori: I now have to make business decisions with my parents and grandparents in mind. This isn’t the time to be selfish. In terms of business and personal choices, I have to think of how it could endanger those people that are at higher risks of being affected by the virus. I don’t want to do anything that could put my family members at risk, even if it could have helped the business.
Do you have horses in multiple locations? If so, how are you managing them differently?
Missy: Brian Robinson who has worked for us for over 20 years stays in Vermont to manage the ‘winter herd!’ We check in frequently. We only have about 6 horses up there, and Brian has a quarter horse of his own. He’s on guard up in Vermont too, but at the present time there are no clients in Warren.
Daniel: We have horses in Belgium, New York and Florida. We are taking precautions everywhere, and everyone is on the same note.
Tori: I have one client barn that I go to ride at, and we are very careful to take precautions. It is a private facility, and they are self-quarantining, so I don’t come into contact with other people.
How have your feelings regarding COVID-19 changed as it has progressed?
Missy: I think everybody is on high alert and recognizing that this is a real and serious problem. It certainly makes you take a step back and take a good long look at everything and appreciate what you have.
Daniel: It has given me lots of time to think, reflect and to appreciate our life, what we have and what we take for granted. I have been spending lots of time with close family and enjoying them fully without having to focus on competition.
Tori: I always took the risk seriously, but I do hope that the world implements the proper changes to avoid something like this happening in the future. This has really forced all of us to think about our priorities.
What do you feel the equestrian community can do or continue to do to minimize the risk of the spread of COVID-19?
Missy: Again, I commend the horse show organizers for canceling the last two weeks of WEF. I also think the worldwide cancellations of shows, sporting events, and the Olympic Games was a necessity. If everyone can try to act responsibly, steer clear of social gatherings, etc, etc … hopefully we will all get through this together! All of us have to step back right now, it’s an important moment in time.
Daniel: Stay away from each other and don’t gather in groups. Try to put some money aside for many that will be badly affected. We will need to stick together and push through this as an industry. We all know each other, and many people that we know will have their lives totally upside down these next few months.
Tori: I think the industry has been on the right track so far. Although unfortunate, canceling shows has been the right call and we should all continue to follow practices like social distancing and disinfecting.
The Show Jumping Relief Fund (SJRF) was created to help the many people in the competitive equestrian industry affected by the show closures due to COVID-19. SJRF is calling on all equestrians to band together during these trying times in order to support the unsung heroes who keep our industry operating daily, such as the ring crew, in-gate crew, grooms, braiders, stewards, judges, office staff, security and many others who are now unemployed and facing financial hardships.
For those that have the means to do so, donations for SJRF are accepted on its GoFundMe page. The funds will be used to help individuals and families to pay bills, purchase food and medication, and other daily expenses.