Mar 11, 2014

Kyra Stuart: What Does It Take to Make and Break a Competition?

The flooded cross-country course. Photo courtesy of the Cosequin Stuart Horse Trials Facebook page.

Former USEA President and Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Kyra Stuart, reflects on making the disappointing decision to call off the 2013 Cosequin Stuart Horse Trials.

From Kyra:

“Rain, Rain, Go Away”

But it didn’t. It had rained triple the normal yearly amount between June 1-July 4, 2013 in Rochester, NY. As we stood by the water complex of Cosequin Stuart Horse Trials (CSHT) on the morning of Independence Day last year, we knew the dressage area was underwater as well. You needed waders to walk between some of the cross-country fences and the forecast only predicted more rain.

There was no way our footing was going to be safe for horse and rider for any phase of our competition, which started on the 11th. Organizer Heidi Stuart Vahue has competed through the Intermediate 3-Day level (long format) and it was a no-brainer for her to put the safety of horse and rider first. As we realized a year’s work, as volunteers, of organizing every detail was washed away and all for naught, there was only one thing for certain: the show could not go on.

Behind the Scenes of a Horse Trial

Our competition is an annual event on privately owned land. We have to “build a village” for the competition. Stabling; patron, competitor and vendor tents; and, yes, all those porta-potties were set to arrive as well. All of the show jumps and portable shed row barns for stabling would be arriving in two days on a myriad of very heavy trailers, all needing to negotiate a very steep incline for delivery. All of these things, which competitors and spectators may take for granted when coming to a competition, were not even remotely possible to accomplish under these conditions.

It was late morning on the 4th and time for Heidi to embark on a marathon of cancellation calls. The list was enormously long and time was of the essence. Word had to go out immediately to the riders, press, our website, constant contact, and the USEA website. A press release was issued and the cancellation appeared on all the nightly news TV programs and in print the next day.

That was just the beginning for Heidi. Our title sponsor, Nutramax Laboratories, the makers of Cosequin®, had to be notified as did the other major sponsors. The show jump delivery was stopped as were deliveries of the porta potties; brush and shrubs for both cross country and show jumping and the entire tent order cancelled; the caterers were told not to buy all the necessary food; flower delivery stopped; our wonderful adoptable dogs at Lollypop Farm told to stay home, and our piper told she would not be needed on Sunday to pipe in the winners.

And then there was our whole family of personnel to call off: secretary Katie Trafton, the voice of CSHT Brian O’Connor, our fabulous judges, farrier and veterinarians, the ambulances, physicians, paramedics and EMT’s, our entire safety net with the Genesee Valley National Ski Patrol, and our security network with the Ontario County Sheriff’s Patrol and Bicycle Patrol. Over 400 volunteers told to save their special SHT volunteer shirts for 2014.


How to Pull It Off

So how do you unravel a year’s worth of work and try to make it equitable for all involved?

By cancelling a little more than a week before the competition, riders can reroute to another event. We state a “no refund cancellation fee” in the Omnibus, knowing only too well that the vast majority of our expenses are paid out before any competitor ever sets foot on our grounds. It takes much more than competitors’ entry fees nowadays to produce a competition. Riders did receive their USEA and USEF fees, half of their stabling fee, if applicable, and a $50 voucher toward their 2014 entry.

Our sponsors understood safety of horse and riders comes first and this was the first time in 24 years we have had to cancel. Happily, Nutramax Laboratories, the makers of Cosequin, will again be our title sponsor for our 25th anniversary in 2014. Townline Truck and Trailer will also return as presenting sponsor along with Canandaigua Chrysler Dodge Jeep and Ram Truck, our Competitors’ Party sponsor. It means the world when your sponsors stand with you and are excited about returning in 2014.

It has taken 4 months to thoughtfully “undo” our competition. What we have missed the most about having to cancel was welcoming all of our friends back, both two and four legged, and having the horses come off cross-country feeling like gang busters. We cannot wait to welcome everyone back: riders, sponsors, patrons, vendors, spectators and our marvelous volunteers who will be well-rested, having had a year off!

See you July 11-13th, 2014 for our 25th anniversary. Bring your kilt!"

Want to know more? At the 2013 USEA Annual Meeting and Convention, Christina Gray gave a fantastic lecture on the cost involved in running a horse trial and where participants' entry fees go. You can view the slides of her presentation here.

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